THE NEW GLOBAL FORMULA: SCIENCE PLUS ECONOMY EQUALS BIOECONOMY
YBhg Dato’ Dr Mohd Nazlee Kamal, CEO
From satiating mankind’s curiosity, science has evolved to be one of the major contributors towards economic and societal wellbeing through innovation and commercialisation. The integration of science, particularly life sciences with business and society is what Bioeconomy is about.
In the light of the rapid developments in the field of biotechnology, the agriculture, healthcare and biobased industry needs a drastic overhaul.
I came across a very insightful and inspiring report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations entitled “Biotechnologies at Work for Smallholders: Case Studies from Developing Countries in Crops, Livestock and Fish” (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, 2013). The report illustrated the implementation of biotechnology in farming practices to increase agricultural yield and farm income substantially. This involved the cooperation and integration between key stakeholders.
Agriculture has become the backbone for a number of industries – pharma and nutraceuticals, biofuel and other biobased industries. It is no longer merely a source of food and feed. Biofuel, high-value industrial compounds such as sugars, ethanol, and enzymes, and pharma and nutraceutical products are the derivatives of agricultural raw materials. As non-conventional products are expected to be produced from the farms, it is not business as usual in the field of agriculture. Genomics, genetic markers, bioinformatics tools and genetic engineering techniques are opening up new opportunities that would benefit a broad spectrum of industries that relies on agricultural products.
While the technologies are ready to be deployed with the establishment of BioNexus Partners (BNP) that is aimed at supporting Malaysia’s bioindustry with high-end research facilities, infrastructure and services, there is still a glaring missing link.
The supply chain of the BioNexus companies that rely on agriculture for their raw materials needs to be studied and established. Currently the demand for raw material is not well met. Inconsistent supply and quality of raw material are two major problems. These challenges have huge impact of the productivity of BioNexus companies and their status in the global market.
A pragmatic approach is needed to put these challenges to rest and one such approach is the Malaysian Bioeconomy Community Development Programme (MBCDP). This is a two-pronged approach which offers economic benefits to farmers and BioNexus companies. Utilising a complete value chain approach, the MBCDP enables the farmers to increase their income with opportunities for contract farming at the top of the value chain. The raw material is then supplied to BioNexus and multinational companies to be transformed into high-end biotechnology products.
BiotechCorp will play a key role in linking all players of the supply chain. This is expected to create a healthy ecosystem for the bioindustry to thrive while the spill-over effect will be enjoyed by the peripheral sectors.
Once the supply chain is strengthened, the next hurdle would be to strategise marketing and branding approaches. This would take great efforts including huge financial resources, at times far exceeding the initial cost of product development. But one has to remember that global companies such as Amgen, Celgene, Merck, Monsanto, and Novozymes among others were not built overnight.
For that reason, BioNexus companies need to pull their acts together and re-think their strategies. Having a cohesive branding strategy for bio-based products will take away the redundancies of marketing and provide lasting economic benefits. The goal would be to reduce cost, to enhance local companies’ capability to penetrate and explore new markets and to boost their competitiveness when competing at the international front. Forming alliances similar to the cooperative model will help these companies to leverage on each other’s strength.
Malaysia has all the potential to take the lead in the bio-based economy in this region. However, a lackadaisical attitude will put us behind emerging economies like Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.
Therefore, I cannot stress enough the importance of coordination and cooperation between the corporate, academic and governmental sectors to realise the Bioeconomy agenda for Malaysia. BiotechCorp has an important role to play as a mediator in bringing these three major components together. The emergence of biotechnology hubs around major universities in the USA is an evidence of the role academic institution in the development of the bio-based industries,
The Bioeconomy Transformation Programme (BTP) brings public-private partnership, focus and actions to a single platform that will stimulate technological innovation and economic advancement. The Government’s Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) is indeed the strategy that differentiates Malaysia from the rest. To see the fruits of BTP and ETP, BiotechCorp is rolling out programmes such as the Malaysian Bioeconomy Development Programme. With these initiatives, I am optimistic Malaysia is on the right track.