Posts Tagged ‘farming’

EFP Brief No. 153: Extremadura Regional Foresight Exercise

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

The Extremadura region has carried out the first regional foresight exercise to help devise a global strategy for the socio-economic
development of the region so as to enhance economic growth. The main agents involved in regional development set out to plan a desirable
future for the region and clearly define investment priorities. The Extremaduran foresight exercise aimed at projecting the position
of key sectors and technologies in the context of future international trends.

EFMN Brief No. 153_Extremadura_Foresight

EFP Brief No. 149: EU-Africa Energy Partnership: Implications for Biofuel Use

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

This brief intends to provide an overview of the rationale underlying the EU-Africa Energy Partnership, in addition to an analysis of the potential implications of this policy on the development of sub-Saharan African nations. It is posited that the partnership could have potentially negative repercussions if critical uncertainties are not sufficiently taken into account, and that it is in the EU’s best interest to ensure that outcomes are genuinely equitable. The research also has implications for other developing nations around the world seeking to further their economies and raise living standards by means of engaging in the global biofuels industry.

Europe, Energy Security and Biofuels

It is widely acknowledged that the energy security of the EU, as a whole, is deficient with respect to meeting future energy requirements. At the same time, the EU has resolved to de-crease its carbon footprint and wean itself off from environ-mentally damaging fossil fuels. A further concern is that even if the developed world manages to arrest the proliferation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions the developing world will still continue to pollute.
To address these important issues, the EU has developed the EU-Africa Energy Partnership. The rationale, broadly speak-ing, is twofold:

  • Secure the EU’s energy supply and allow its member states to meet challenging emissions reduction targets.
  • Provide sub-Saharan African economies with a further export market, in addition to allowing these nations to leapfrog to lower-emissions technologies.

Although the partnership deals with renewable energy in its broadest sense, there appears to be great emphasis on the cul-tivation of biomass used in the production of renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel, for which there is increasing demand within the EU. Despite the ostensibly sound intentions of the policy, it remains to be seen whether the energy partner-ship will truly be mutually beneficial.
The aim of this brief is to examine the critical uncertainties that could potentially damage the workability and equitability of the energy partnership. A key consideration, here, is that the partnership has seemingly been formulated under ceteris pari-bus conditions. Thus, the partnership’s success is predicated on the continuation of existing trends, such as growth in bio-fuel demand and the ability to cultivate biomass at market-friendly prices in the future. Yet, the increasing complexity of technological systems, the advent and potential adoption of new technologies, in addition to climate change, means that it cannot be assumed that all things will indeed remain equal.

EU Biofuel Policy

The EU has set targets for biofuel usage within the member states. Policy measures designed to stimulate biofuel use were introduced in 1992. The overall aim has been to reduce the cost of biofuels in comparison with conventional petroleum products, which otherwise would be higher given the produc-tion costs and economic risk associated with fluctuations in oil price and the value of biomass-derived by-products (Cadenas and Cabezudo, 1998).
The EU Commission set a political target of substituting 20 percent of conventional biofuels by 2020 (European Commis-sion, 2001, p. 45). The even more ambitious COM(2006)845 proposed that biofuel targets for transport fuel should be 20 percent for the same year. The EU Biofuels Directive (2003/30/EEC) requires member states to ensure that a mini-mum proportion of fuels sold are biofuels (see Faaij, 2006). The aim is to ensure that 5.75% of conventional fuels are re-placed by biofuels, although the Biomass Action Plan (BAP) has concluded that these targets will not be reached (Commis-sion of the European Communities, 2006, p. 6).
There is thus a growing requirement for biofuel production within the EU and indeed a growing demand for biofuels (es-pecially biodiesel). Since the EU member states do not have the capacity to increase biomass cultivation without causing an increase in food prices (a politically unpalatable outcome), it has been deemed necessary to look for alternative ways to satisfy this demand.

Energy Partnership

In this context, the EU-Africa Energy Partnership emerges as an important component of the EU’s aim to increase the use of bio-fuels for transport within the member states, thereby allowing the EU to meet challenging biofuel targets, contribute to global GHG mitigation strategies (such as Kyoto), and address concerns regarding energy security. The partnership is argued to be mutually beneficial, since it will also promote economic and social improvement in sub-Saharan African countries and allow such nations to switch to more environmentally friendly patterns of energy use.
The partnership is intended to promote greater interconnectiv-ity between energy systems and ensure a diversity of energy options (Commission of the European Communities, 2006, p. 15). Although there is reference to alternative energy sources, such as hydropower (ibid.), there is clearly an emphasis on greater biomass cultivation and biofuel production, perhaps to the detriment of other energy solutions.
Energy security is obviously an important component of the partnership. Sub-Saharan Africa thus has the ability to sup-plement volatile supplies (and pricing) of OPEC oil with bio-mass cultivated in the region. Although the sub-Saharan re-gion is also clearly not especially stable, it at least has the ca-pacity to offset some of the risk associated with dealing with OPEC countries.

Production Processes

Given the current high cost of second-generation biofuel pro-duction processes (which use the whole organic matter as a feedstock), it can be assumed that the bulk of the biofuel feed-stocks grown in sub-Saharan Africa would be used in arguably inefficient first-generation production processes. Here, only the sugars and starches (rather than the whole plant) are used for ethanol production, while only the extracted vegetable oil is used in biodiesel production (Charles et al., 2007).

Critical Uncertainties

It is necessary to look at the critical uncertainties that could impact on the success of the EU-Africa Energy Partnership.

Climate Change

The energy partnership, in as much as it relates to promoting sub-Saharan Africa as a source of biofuel feedstock, assumes that current climatic conditions will prevail. Yet climate change could mean that climatic conditions in areas currently suitable for agricultural endeavour might militate against prof-itable biomass cultivation.
There are a number of critical factors associated with climate change that need to be taken into account:

  • Increased uncertainty with regard to rainfall patterns: This will problematize when to plant and place pressure on water use, with potential social repercussions.
  • Increased and more severe meteorological phenomena: Floods could wipe out entire fields; storms could damage or destroy harvests, while uncontrolled fires (resulting from co-factors of drought, thunderstorm activity or hu-man action) could do likewise.
  • Increased incidence and severity of pestilence: Changed climatic conditions could make crops more susceptible to pests, thereby increasing the need to employ pesticides (with cost penalties and potential impact on the local envi-ronment and human health).

These factors, when taken together, suggest that it will be more difficult to plan for weather-related phenomena into the future. Thus, claims of increased energy security within the EU resulting from the partnership need to be tempered with the realization that traditional agricultural techniques do not guarantee constant and predictable harvests, while climate change may exacerbate uncertainty.

Environmental Impacts

Agriculture has brought about widespread environmental deg-radation around the world. Thus, it is important to bear in mind the potentially negative impacts that intensified farming practices will have on ecosystems in sub-Saharan nations, in addition to the region as a whole.
The possible factors that could lead to negative environmental impacts are as follows:

  • Increased use of fertilizers: Run-off from fertilizers in-creases the incidence of algal bloom in aquatic environ-ments; fertilizers lead to an increased level of atmospheric N2O harmful to the ozone layer; and fertilizer production and distribution is energy inefficient and contributes to greenhouse gas proliferation.
  • Increased use of pesticides: Pesticide run-off pollutes local watercourses, results in a loss of biodiversity when food supplies for higher organisms are reduced, can flow throughout food-chains, thereby leading to chemical build-up in higher organisms, especially avian fauna; pro-duction processes and distribution incur GHG penalties, can be harmful to human life and can contaminate water supplies (of particular importance in developing nations).
  • Increased threat of deforestation: Expanding biofuel mar-kets may prompt changes in land-use, potentially leading to deforestation, entailing significant biodiversity and CO2 penalties.

These factors could be aggravated if a greater demand for bio-fuels in the EU member states is occasioned and if changing weather patterns result in a need to ‘make hay while the sun shines’. Such a demand could effectively see the EU exporting local environmental degradation from its member states to sub-Saharan Africa. Environmental degradation could also lead to opportunity costs resulting from a loss of potential eco-tourism income.

Technological Change

Biofuels, at best, will be an important component in a future energy mix. There are no indications that biofuels will ever replace petroleum-derived products on a one-for-one basis (Di Lucia and Nilsson, 2007). Biofuels enjoy a clear advantage over other potential energy solutions, especially since they take advantage of existing infrastructural systems (Foresight Vehicle, 2004). This ensures that switching costs are reduced.
On the other hand, there is the threat that biofuels will be ren-dered redundant by other technologies. There is much evi-dence throughout history to suggest that over-reliance on a single natural resource for a nation’s prosperity is not sustain-able over the long-term. For example, Chile, which prospered on the basis of its export of sodium nitrate (saltpetre), lost this advantage when scientists developed a synthetic alternative.
Some threats to the increasing importance of biofuels are as follows:

  • Increase in use of nuclear energy (and thus ‘clean’ elec-tricity).
  • Switch to cleaner second- (and third-) generation biofuel production processes.
  • Development of a hydrogen economy (predicated on the availability of clean, renewable energy, such as from the sources listed below).
  • Other energy paradigms, for instance, geothermal, hy-droelectric, photovoltaic, wind etc.

Thus, over-capitalization in biomass cultivation for first-generation production processes (in particular) may lead to un-sustainable increases in foreign debt, in addition to severe job losses and resultant social upheaval. In a worst case scenario, more efficient technologies, if they become widely adopted around the globe, could lead to the biofuel industry’s collapse.

Opportunity Costs

Even if the biofuel industry remains important, over-emphasis on biomass cultivation could result in a failure to develop in-dustries that have the potential to contribute greater value added to sub-Saharan African economies. This would espe-cially be the case if insufficient attention were paid to process-ing the feedstock in sub-Saharan Africa, as could occur in na-tions traditionally focussed on exporting natural resources.
Biomass cultivation, in the event of an ever-increasing de-mand for biofuels, would not merely translate into sub-Saharan African countries gaining an OPEC-like significance on the world stage. This is especially the case given a) the potentially wide dispersal of biomass cultivation and b) the high likelihood that biofuels would remain one of several al-ternative energy solutions. African biomass would also have to compete with that cultivated in North and South America, and also in South-East Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Given that these regions are already more highly industrialized than most sub-Saharan African nations, it is plausible that greater value added would occur in these regions.
There is also a danger that biomass cultivation in sub-Saharan Africa could engender an increased dependency on multi-national corporations involved in agribusiness. There are al-ready substantial links to agriculture in developing nations and the research-intensive products, including seeds, support sys-tems and expertise, being offered by multinational agribusi-ness entities.

Export Commodity Dependency

Sub-Saharan Africa has a long history of supplying European nations with raw materials to be used in value-adding produc-tion processes. There is thus the potential for this situation to continue if Europe resolves to view the region merely as source of inexpensive feedstock for biofuel production, rather than as a knowledge-intensive producer in its own right.
Many of the economic and social problems faced today in sub-Saharan Africa are deeply rooted in history. When the Euro-pean colonial powers partitioned Africa, they viewed the colo-nies as suppliers of raw materials for their factories. Farmland traditionally used for food cultivation, even after the inde-pendence of the former colonies, was turned over to cash crops such as cocoa, cotton, coffee and rubber. The result was that Africa exported what it did not need, and imported what it did, thereby leading to substantial trade deficits and continued indebtedness (Carmody, 1998). This is because the low price obtained for cash crops rarely if ever matches the relatively high price paid for imported food, in addition to luxury goods and hardware desired by affluent members of society.
It is important to be awake to the potential for ongoing com-modity dependence to occur, especially if the EU pays insuffi-cient attention to developing sub-Saharan Africa as an energy producer rather than merely an agricultural supplier.

Investing in Sub-Saharan Future

It is possible to formulate a number of potential policy impli-cations that would add rigour to the energy partnership.

  • Moving away from first-generation biofuels: A continued emphasis on first-generation biofuel production processes reinforces sub-Saharan Africa as a supplier of cash crops.There are inherent problems with first-generation biofuel production processes. A failure to address these and move demand towards more efficient second-generation proc-esses could lead to a global undermining of confidence in biofuels as a source of renewable energy.
  • Ensuring environmental sustainability: This is tied closely to the previous consideration, but also with the necessity of preventing local and regional environmental degrada-tion as a result of poor farming practices or indeed wide-spread change in land-use. There is a need to develop mechanisms to ensure that increasing demand for biofuels within the EU does not lead to catastrophic environmental impacts in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Investing in sub-Saharan Africa’s future: The energy partnership should be used as a component in an overall strategy to enhance economic development in the region. A failure to do so will result in greater amounts of envi-ronmental degradation (including greenhouse gas emis-sions) over the long-term.

In short, the nations of the region need to acquire their own energy security and processing infrastructure. The EU-Africa Energy Partnership must serve as a vehicle to promote these ends. To achieve this end, sufficient political will over the long-term to propagate cleaner biofuel production processes is required. If not, the biofuels market could be irreparably com-promised and the partnership with it, with grave implications for not only the EU and sub-Saharan Africa, but also the planet as a whole.


Authors: Michael Charles
Sponsors: Southern Cross University, Australia
Type: Single issue, energy policy
Organizer: n.a.
Duration: n.a.
Budget: n.a.
Time Horizon: 2018
Date of Brief: July 2008

Download: EFMN Brief No. 149_EU-Africa Energy Partnership

Sources and References

  •  Cadenas, A., and Cabezudo, S., 1998. Biofuels as sustain-able technologies: perspectives for less developed coun-tries. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 58(1–2), 83–103.
  • Carmody, P., 1998. Constructing alternatives to structural adjustment in Africa. Review of African Political Econ-omy 25(75), 25–46.
  • Charles, M.B., Ryan, R., Ryan, N., and Oloruntoba, R., 2007. Public policy and biofuels: the way forward? En-ergy Policy 35(11), 5737–5746.
  • Di Lucia, L., and Nilsson, L.J., 2007. Transport biofuels in the European Union: the state of play. Transport Policy 14(6), 533–543.
  • European Commision, 2001. Green Paper: Towards a European Strategy for Security of Supply. Directorate-General for Transport and Energy.
  • European Commission, 2006. Communication from the Commission: An EU strategy for Biofuels—Impact As-sessment. Commission Staff Working Document COOM (2006) 34 final.
  • Faaij, A.P.C., 2006. Bio-energy in Europe: changing technology choices. Energy Policy 34(3), 322–342.
  • Foresight Vehicle, 2004. Foresight Vehicle Technology Roadmap: Technology and Research Directions for Fu-ture Road Vehicles, Version 2.0.

EFP Brief No. 143: Teagasc 2030: Reinventing the Irish Agri-Food Knowledge System

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Teagasc means ‘teaching’ or ‘instruction’ in Gaelic. It is the name of the food and agricultural research, education and advisory body in Ireland. By 2006, fundamental changes happening to the Common Agricultural Policy in Europe were already being felt throughout the Irish agri-food sector. New and emerging issues were gaining importance and looked likely to have an impact on the sector. It was necessary to ask how Teagasc could maintain its relevance to clients and stakeholders as it moved ahead. The study builds upon previous foresight exercises and long-term strategic studies undertaken in Ireland and the EU.

Employing Knowledge for  Developing a Positive Vision  and Creating Opportunities

Teagasc 2030 was designed to establish a broadly-shared vision of what the Irish agri-food and rural economy would look like in 2030 and a vision of what Teagasc could become as the leading science-based knowledge organisation in the sector. It set out to develop the strategic capabilities of Teagasc, improve its ability to provide proactive leadership on complex issues, identify strategies and mechanisms to maximize the impact of its knowledge generation and procurement, technology transfer and education activities through innovation support and to develop an internal culture of continuous renewal.

The Steering Committee (SC) included key Teagasc managers, high-level representatives from relevant organisations, such as the university system and the Environmental Protection Agency,influential business leaders from both the farming and food sectors, as well as international experts. The members of the SC played a decisive role in the process in that they were fully engaged and provided constructive input each time the group convened. The Working Group (WG), consisting of Teagasc employees aided by two international consultants, was responsible for the detailed planning and execution of the exercise. The Foresight Panel (FP) consisted of experts from Teagasc, representatives of the farming and food sectors, as well as experts from the research community, including a commercial research service provider. FP members participated in and contributed to workshops and other activities organized by the WG.

Early consultations with the SC reinforced the need for a structural approach that went beyond the traditional sectoral view. The SC emphasized the need for new strategic capabilities that would enable the organisation to operate in a rapidly changing context. One of the first tasks of the WG was to review foresight exercises on food, agriculture and the rural economy that had been conducted previously, whether in Ireland or around the world, start a discussion on the scope of the exercise and get agreement on the nature of the results it should provide. The first observation of the WG was that previous foresight exercises on food, agriculture and the rural economy tended to focus on problems related to commodity markets and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) system of payments. It was resolved at an early stage that Teagasc 2030 would have to do more than this by identifying how knowledge could help create opportunities for young people in the sector and by developing a positive and realistic vision of an innovation-led rural economy.

The work itself was organized in two phases. A Divergent Phase, where the main purpose was to study issues relating to the organisation, the sector and the broader economy in a creative and exploratory fashion, brought in outside knowledge and expertise, as well as relevant case-studies from abroad. The second Convergent Phase focused on choices to be made about desired outcomes, long-term visions for the future of Teagasc and the context in which it would operate, as well as the practical immediate steps to be taken on the basis of an action plan. Just before the end of the Divergent Phase a Radical Thinkers Workshop was organized to challenge peoples’ thinking and try to overcome any remaining inertia or scepticism as regards new ideas and the necessity for change.

The Divergent Phase

This consisted of paper writing on a number of key topics that provided important background to the members of the Foresight Panel. The papers were especially important as they allowed people who are not experts in a domain to get an overview of what is happening. The real action, however, was in a series of four workshops (WS).

Turning Towards a
Knowledge Based Bio-Economy

WS1 consisted of a scoping and profiling activity to determine the boundaries of the Teagasc 2030 exercise and to verify that the FP included a sufficiently broad range of actors. Important discussions arose concerning how agriculture and food related to the use of land in Ireland, the relationship between this and both the rural and national economy, how both the theatre and the actors might be changing, and how there was a need to revisit ideas of who the typical Teagasc client was, is now or would be in the future. The immediate output of this workshop was strongly criticized by the SC as not being radical enough. It was thought too traditional or sentimental in its attachment to ‘land’. The modern reality consists of urban agriculture, gardens on the sides of buildings, forests, marine and lake habitats, greenhouses and bio-reactors, as well as a food industry that has long outgrown a dependence on local production and that in some sectors relies almost entirely on imports for raw material inputs. This workshop started a process of reflection that lasted until the end of the exercise.

The feedback of the SC on the results of this first workshop was very important. Its intervention ensured that some of the issues addressed in the workshop did not conclude pre-maturely, but stayed open and continued to be debated for the best part of a year. New ideas need time to mature. The workshop started a process whereby traditional and ultimately limited thinking about farming and the rural economy were replaced with entirely new thinking about the knowledge-based bio-economy or KBBE.

WS2 focused on trying to understand relevant drivers of change, the factors shaping the future of Teagasc and the environment in which it operates. The focus was on identifying the drivers and the impacts that they could have on the economy in 2030. The discussion included references to trends and trend breaks. The exercise was intended to help people develop their ‘intuition’ about 2030.

WS3 focused on strategic issues and started the process of formulating the opportunities and challenges that the various sectors and stakeholders would face in 2030. By this stage the concept of the ‘Sustainable KBBE’ had started to come into focus.

WS4 was about developing scenarios to further develop thinking about the ‘Sustainable KBBE’ in 2030, to further explore and define the issues and challenges, and to identify the big questions, whose answers would impact on the structures and programmes of Teagasc going forward.

A Radical Thinkers Workshop was timed to take place between WS3 and WS4 to provide new ideas to the ongoing foresight process. This consisted of a series of talks followed by discussions, involving speakers from a variety of areas who were capable of presenting challenging views on relevant topics. It involved scientists, geographers, venture capitalists and policy makers. For some participants it was an opportunity to hear for the first time about a renewable chemicals industry based on crops grown for their chemistry rather than for food, feed or fibre. For others, it was an opportunity to hear what foreign experts think. A venture capitalist provided his vision of where important opportunities for investment would arise in future. A Danish speaker raised important questions about the organisation of research and innovation when he explained that, while Denmark performs about 1% of all global research, Danish industry requires access to the other 99% of global research if it is to achieve or maintain global competitiveness.

The Convergent Phase

This consisted of a series of three workshops involving the FP and had to provide an actionable plan for the transformation of Teagasc. Such a plan would require the commitment of Teagasc senior managers. It had to be something they would own and act upon. To make sure that they were adequately prepared, a series of internal meetings was arranged involving senior managers and representatives of the WG to help them understand the implications of the exercise, identify the main axes of change for the organisation and anticipate the detailed requirements of the last workshop. Although the foresight workshops were usually animated by members of the WG with help from the external consultants, the goal was for key sessions of the final workshop to be led by members of senior management with support from the WG. At the same time, an internal dissemination or consultation process took place involving all parts of the organisation. The goal was to explain what was happening and gather feedback on the changes required for moving forward. An external consultation process separately involved farming and food industry representatives. It too explained the ideas that were emerging. It gathered feedback and inputs from Teagasc clients as inputs to the final stages of the foresight exercise.

WS5 was dedicated to the development of scenarios about the Sustainable KBBE. In particular, the goal was to develop more specific thinking about the role of knowledge, learning, research, innovation, training and advice in the sector in 2030.

WS6 was used to finalize the scenarios and flesh out a vision for the sector in 2030 along with an identification of its knowledge requirements and the role that Teagasc would occupy in the system.

WS7 was devoted to the issue of organizational transformation and the directions of change for Teagasc. The senior management meetings played a significant role in determining the structure of this last meeting. Based on their discussions it was decided to focus on transformation under the major headings of leadership, partnership and governance.

The issue of leadership originally emerged in meetings of the SC and was echoed in discussions with industrial stakeholders. Leadership gaps emerged on long-term scientific and technological issues not only for small and medium-sized enterprises, but for larger companies as well.

The Vision of a  Sustainable Bio-Economy

One of the most important results was the development of a vision for the Agri-Food and Rural Economy in 2030 as a knowledge intensive, innovative, internationally competitive and market-led bio-economy. This helped to place the sector at the centre of something big and positive, with significant opportunities that would play a role not only in the rural economy, but also in the general knowledge economy, via its contribution to climate change, energy security, sustainability and the transition to a post-petroleum era.

Recognizing that countries with excellence in agriculture have opportunities for moving up the value-chain by selling not only their products but their know-how, the final report speculated about a time when the most important export of the dairy sector in Ireland might no longer be its milk, cheese, yoghurt and functional foods, but its management expertise and its technical knowledge about the organisation of competitive dairy production systems.

The Four Pillars of the KBBE

From an Irish perspective it made sense to complete this vision by distinguishing four pillars of the KBBE:

  • Food Production and Processing, which mainly represents mature industries where competition is relentless and global, where competitiveness often relies on efficiencies of scale, automation and process technologies, as well as scientific management and competitive sourcing.
  • Value-Added Food Processing, which includes advanced food processing and food service, functional foods, as well as food-additives and ingredients, bio-actives, nutraceuticals and cosmaceuticals. This sector is fast moving and innovative. There is continuous adoption and improvement of technologies for production, processing, distribution and preparation. Supply chains are constantly changing and considerable attention is given to intangibles such as patents,brands, provenance and traceability.
  • Agri-Environmental Goods and Services includes foodsafety and traceability, animal welfare, energy security, climate, clean air and water, fertile soils, bio-diversity, areas of public amenity, natural beauty and those of importance for cultural heritage. Although these are normally treated as spin-offs from other activities based on multifunctionality, they are given a separate identity in recognition of the overall role they will play in the quality of life of citizens, in energy and climate security as well as in the overall sustainability of society and the economy.
  • Energy and Bio-Processing includes the production of feedstock for bio-fuels and bio-polymers. This sector makes substantial investments in harnessing knowledge. It places great importance on knowledge as a factor of production. It corresponds to new and emerging areas of science and to entire new markets. It is characterized by a high level of risk and provides opportunities for government support to lead markets. This sector is where highvalue-added and commodity sectors of the future are being created.

Demographics Facilitating Change

A key observation concerning the future of Irish agriculture was the observation that approximately 40% of farmers in Ireland would retire in the next 10 years and that almost all farms would change hands at least once by 2030. This pointed to an opportunity to use the unavoidable dynamic of retirement and property transfer to restructure the farming sector so that land as a natural resource could make the greatest possible contribution to the economy. This would include enabling successful farmers to increase the area they manage and less successful ones to move on perhaps using models based on leasing.Discussions arose about ‘future farmers’ and ‘foresight farmers’. It is possible that the land transfers that will happen in the coming years will give rise to a younger, better educated and more international generation of farmers. Armed with agricultural MBAs, or degrees in bio-technology, many will approach farming as a business more than a family tradition or vocation. Their approach would be less sentimental and more scientificentrepreneurial. Such farmers represent very different clients for Teagasc than those it has served before.

Leadership, Partnership and Governance

One of the most important currents of debate throughout this foresight exercise concerned the traditional push-approach to technology transfer, the so-called ‘linear model’. The old approach was summarized as follows

whereas Teagasc in 2030 would need to focus on innovation support that would resemble something more like this:

One challenge that emerged was the need to become more demand-led as an organisation. Another challenge emerged from the recognition that no organisation can meet all of its research or knowledge needs internally and that an increasing share of these would need to be sourced outside. This is something that traditional research organisations are not used to doing, and, in future, they will need to engage both private and public service providers, as well as cooperate with international knowledge networks.

The vision that emerged for Teagasc as an organisation in 2030 was that of an organisation suffused with a culture of support for innovation by its clients, capable of:

  • providing leadership where necessary on innovationrelated issues,
  • developing and maintaining the partnerships required for research, innovation, technology transfer and education,
  • employing governance mechanisms to assure relevance and accountability to its clients and stakeholders.

Creation of a Permanent Foresight Unit

In many ways, the implementation of the action plan started even before the exercise was finished. A part of the action plan is a natural continuation of consultations with major stakeholder groups that was started as part of the foresight process. The most immediate and tangible result was the creation of a permanent foresight unit within Teagasc to oversee the implementation of the Teagasc 2030 action plan and to support other foresight activities as needed within the organisation.

The action plan is outlined in the Teagasc 2030 report. It includes steps to create a broader culture of innovation within the organisation and to intensify systematic interaction with client groups and stakeholders. It addresses reform of personnel structures to enable greater mobility of staff within the organisation, facilitate transdisciplinary work and align incentives with the needs of clients. Other structural reforms include a focus on network-based activities, as well as timelimited project-network-like interventions such as technology platforms and commodity working groups that pool the resources of partners and involve stakeholders in management.

The general message of Teagasc 2030 is a positive one based on the opportunities offered by the KBBE, not only for actors currently involved in the agri-food and rural economy, but for a whole new generation of bio-entrepreneurs who may have no prior link to the land.

The key to success continues to be innovation. What is new is the pace of innovation and the need for organisations such as Teagasc to operate simultaneously on several fronts in a more international context and in shorter time frames. The challenge for Teagasc in the future will be to increasingly channel its efforts and resources towards support for innovation, in particular for the development of the knowledge-partnerships required by clients for innovation in the KBBE.

Authors: Patrick Crehan –, Lance O’Brien –, Gerry Boyle –, Owen Carton –
Sponsors: Teagasc the Irish food and agricultural research, advisory and training body
Type: Structural foresight
Organizer: Teagasc, CKA and SEZ
Duration: 1.5 yrs
Budget: €300,000
Time Horizon: 2030
Date of Brief: July 2008

Download: EFMN Brief No. 143_Teagasc 2030

Sources and References

All background papers, scenarios and proceedings as well as the final report are available from the Teagasc 2030 website at The papers and presentations of the Radical Thinkers Workshop are available at
Lance O’Brien is the head of the new Foresight Unit. He can be contacted at

EFP Brief No. 138: Results of Lab on ‘Old and New Energy’

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

The Club of Amsterdam set up an ‘Old and New Energy Lab’ designed to generate novel and potentially viable plans of action for dealing with energy issues by leveraging brainstorming methods to produce innovative thinking and bypass preconceived ideas and assumptions. The process tapped into the expertise of ‘thought leaders’ chosen for their diversity so as to maximise the fertility of discussions.

Lab Challenges to Think Outside the Box

Diminishing reserves of fossil fuels, climate change, geopo-litical factors and a wave of technological advances are bring-ing complex pressures to bear on the landscape of energy gen-eration and consumption. Change seems inevitable, but react-ing appropriately is a challenge. This is especially so when limited modes of supply and consumption have been en-trenched for extensive periods, as is the case with the energy landscape. This can make it very hard for people to think ‘out-side the box’ – arguably much needed at the moment.Thus the challenge addressed at ‘The Lab’ was to bypass pre-conceptions and traditional ways of thinking. Participants were called upon to brainstorm possibilities and then validate the resulting ideas with some tangible, realistic scenarios.

Conceiving Future Scenarios – the Methodology

Principal approaches employed were Socratic discourse and a future scenario method. Participants were asked to identify a set of driving ‘values’ deemed desirable (e.g. equal access to resources, freedom, quality of life, stability etc.). Socratic dis-course and other techniques were applied to open up discus-sion to the broadest possible level. The outcome was the ob-servation of numerous facts, trends, constraints etc.
The resulting ‘facts’ were then fed into an analysis based on the future scenario method. The values identified earlier were used to drive the scenarios, which were to envision a positive future ten years hence (the goal being to identify possible so-lutions).
Four scenarios were created by choosing two drivers of change: governance and economy. Note that there is nothing absolute about the choice of drivers or even the number of drivers con-sidered, but these were the ones considered most important.
These drivers define the axes of a graph depicting four different environments (symbolized by the numbered circles in the diagram)derived from the possible combinations of extreme cases of both drivers. These environments provided the basis for the scenarios.


Keep in mind that these scenarios are not predictions but simply tools to guide discussion from exploration to identification of potential solutions and analysis of important trends and factors (political, cultural, technological, etc.) and their interactions.


Four ‘thought leaders’ brought expertise to help keep discussion realistic, whether on technological, economic, political or social levels. Their backgrounds included

  • analysis of new technologies and their commercial and social impact;
  • understanding corruption and conflict resulting from exploitation of natural resources and international trade systems;
  • energy resource analysis and prediction in the context of the International Energy Agency;
  • nuclear policy and law.

Energy Futures – the Four Scenarios

Observations on trends and forces will be split into socioeconomic and cultural, and technological and sectoral. The four scenarios based on these trends and forces will then be outlined before looking at identified opportunities and challenges, which are in turn fed by the scenarios.

Scarcity of Supply, Potential for Conflict, and Environmental Concern – Socio-economic and Cultural Trends/Trend Breaks
  • Rising energy production costs.
  • Concern about climate change (global warming).
  • Increasing sensitivity to energy supply disruption.
  • Concerns over energy dependence and vulnerability.
  • Impending scarcity of fossil fuels with increasing demand from rapidly advancing nations such as China and India.
  • Increasing global tension relating to energy supplies and the possibility of resulting conflict.
  • Environmental concerns about nuclear energy.
  • Increasing interest in alternative energy sources.
  • Increasing interest and efforts in energy conservation.
  • Development of carbon trading schemes.
More Choices and Technological Advances –  Technological and Sectoral Trends/Trend Breaks
  • Capability (in some markets) for energy purchasers to also sell to the grid.
  • Choice (in some markets) over source of energy bought.
  • The nanotechnology ‘revolution’ impacting multiple, interacting energy-related technologies.
  • Multiple parallel and rapid advances in solar technologies promising greater efficiency and/or lower cost.
  • Advances in fuel cells (in many sectors).
  • Advances in batteries and ultracapacitors.
  • Developments in thermoelectrics offering promise for waste heat reclamation and geothermal energy.
  • Availability of smart energy-saving materials (electrochromic or anti-IR window coatings etc.).
  • Lighter/ stronger metals, ceramics and composites.
  • Efficient lighting (especially nanostructured LEDs).
  • Improvements in coal/gas/biomass-to-liquid processes, often driven by improved technology (e.g. nanocatalysis).
  • Advances in hydrogen production and storage.
  • Potential developments in artificial photosynthesis.
  • Potential for low-loss electrical transmission.
  • New CO2 separation technologies.
  • Improved nuclear fission technologies.
The Four Scenarios

Four scenarios were framed assuming environments as described in the methodology section. Remember that they are designed to be optimistic views of a situation ten years hence. Their creation allowed disparate ideas to be brought together in a framework where interactions and socio-economic and political realities could be considered.

Not all the scenarios were recorded in the same degree of detail. Different groups of participants chose different styles of presentation.

 Scenario 1 – ‘Harvesting Energy’ (emerging economy, minimal governance)

The environment envisaged was a poor, sub-Saharan country with village communities as the dominant settlement pattern, poor access to resources and minimal infrastructure. The village in this scenario was assumed to be remote but not overly far from a principal city.

The one plentiful resource is sunshine. New cheap photovoltaics and microloans allow the village to produce electricity. This gives rise to increased productivity and enables more flexibility in trading of staples such as vegetable and meat produce through refrigeration.

The small economic boost and decreasing costs of photovoltaics allow expansion of generating capacity. Direct energy sales become attractive in a future where fossil fuel is expensive and supplies unreliable and the village becomes a supplier of power from solar energy. Improved battery technologies and high fuel prices lead to more electric or hybrid vehicles. Households in and outside the village increasingly use batteries and pay for recharging.

The village has effectively shifted from subsistence agriculture to ‘farming’ sunlight, with batteries as the means of distribution.  The availability of power for transport attracts more vehicles and infrastructure improves. Then cables are laid to directly supply electricity to the nearby city. After all, the village now has the generating capacity, the expertise, and plentiful lowvalue land for expansion. Infrastructure experiences another boost, including communications. The village buys computers and the community now has Internet access. Educational opportunities increase dramatically. Over time the community becomes generally well-educated and thus capable of engaging in even more diverse and complex commercial activities.

Some time in the future (although maybe not in the ten-year frame), solar energy could be captured in a fuel created by artificial photosynthesis, allowing wider export of energy and opening up the solar farming model to more remote communities. This would require importing water (limiting displacement of battery use), but importing water is certainly preferable to importing oil in this (future) day and age.

Scenario 2 – ‘Central Energy Planning’ (emerging economy, strong central governance)

This scenario assumed a top-down, centrally-organised society with an emerging economy. China was offered as an example, on the assumption that much of the traditional communist philosophy still permeates the government, which regulates the allocation of resources. Short-term (business) thinking is constrained for the benefit of the collective when it comes to something as fundamental as national energy supply.

The immediate need for more energy to support growth is urgent. Coal is abundant and coal-fired power stations proliferate, with little thought given to environmental concerns. But this is only the first, quick fix, part of the plan, which is also influenced by oil imports for vehicles, the need to transport energy over great distances and the fact that even coal resources have limits.

Coal-to-liquid processes are used to produce clean diesel to help ease the dependence on oil imports, while a massive research effort creates low-loss electrical transmission based on high-temperature superconductors (doubly important because of the chosen alternative to coal – photovoltaics).

Huge solar ‘plains’ grow in the country’s remote, arid and impoverished west, bringing employment and commerce. Ultimately, the technology becomes simple plastic sheets that can be rolled out and clipped together. They contain nano-engineered structures that exploit the highly-efficient initial step of photosynthesis but feed the liberated electrons into the superconducting transmission lines and on to the energy-hungry coast. China soon becomes a major exporter of these technologies.

In the cities of the East, electric and hybrid cars are encouraged and manufactured. Coal is increasingly used only to produce diesel and dependence on foreign oil now rapidly disappears.

 Scenario 3 – ‘Energy Caps and Taxes’ (strong economy, strong central governance)

Sweden, which aims to become oil-free by 2021, might be an example.

A progressively increasing carbon tax is introduced for individuals and corporations. A flexible power supply network allows individuals to avoid a carbon tax by purchasing energy from sustainable sources. This encourages development of such sources – from the logging and papermaking industries using waste to produce electricity, heat and biofuels, down to individual households generating energy and selling any surplus to the grid.

Central support and legislation for energy-saving technologies in housing and transport increases their uptake through various means. The carbon tax imposes a cost on manufacturers for the lifetime emissions of their products.  The tax alone triggers substantial change, but more comes through governmentdriven, large-scale geothermal, hydroelectric and combined heat and power schemes.

 Scenario 4 – ‘Communicating Energy’ (strong economy, minimal governance, individual action)

This scenario is one of change through popular movements. Analogies might be seen in the growth in the popularity of ‘organic’ produce or that of ‘fair trade’ products, both of which evolved out of grass roots concern. For instance, we can help the environment by buying local produce rather than that shipped great distances, or eating less meat (such unlikely action probably highlights limits to this approach). Other individual contributions are switching lights off, car-pooling, capturing rainwater to water one’s garden or carbon offsetting schemes.

The key is understanding what can be done and creating a culture of willingness and responsibility. Communication is key and the Internet makes this possible as never before.

To some extent this scenario is happening now, but there are clearly limits to how much it can achieve without some topdown initiatives (or economic imperatives) added to the mix.

Top-down Action and Technological Advances are Critical for Seizing Opportunities

The fact that all but one of the scenarios could conceivably address all the main energy issues points to much opportunity. Exploiting this rapidly enough is a major challenge. Another obvious challenge is highlighted by Scenario 4, which suggests that, at least in the developed world, ‘people power’ is not enough and top-down governmental action may well be necessary. Economic and practical pressures would achieve the necessary changes eventually, but it is probably not advisable to wait for the hurricane to prove that you should not have made your house of straw. As for opportunities, the scenarios explored highlight those best. Scenario 1, ‘Harvesting Energy’,
perhaps best illustrates the dramatic achievement that might be had given only certain technological advances. Many other scenarios are possible, of course, and those developed were deliberately positive. But the consensus at The Lab was that all the scenarios were credible, so they probably do represent real opportunities.

Diverse Solutions, Proactive  Government and Advances  in Technology Are Key

In view of policy implications, the full two days of discussion and debate might be briefly summarized in the following manner.1

Oil dependence is a danger that needs addressing

Despite much disagreement about how close ‘peak oil’ is, all seemed to agree that action is needed now to reduce the developed world’s dependence on oil.

Solutions to the problems being faced will be diverse

Different environments are likely to beg different solutions and the diversity of technological developments that bear on the issues prevent simple answers and argue for multiple alternatives to be investigated.

The variation across the scenarios developed suggests that multiple approaches will be needed in parallel, covering conservation, alternative forms of generation, and storage and transmission technologies. The best solution or combination of solutions for a given region will vary with external factors (climate, population density, access to water, etc.) and with developments in numerous interacting technologies. The appropriate focus can vary dramatically depending on the existing situation. For example, a focus on coal in the short-term is sensible for China, if the aim is energy independence, while France might see nuclear in a similar light. In lower latitudes, solar energy will be more quickly economically viable than in higher latitudes, where geothermal may be a better choice. In all cases, conservation makes sense as a priority and gives the most rapid return on investment.

Given this diversity and uncertainty, it seems sensible to recommend broad investment in energy-related R&D and a systematic, inclusive, and iterative analysis of the energy situation at regional scales.

It is worth noting that only two currently achievable sources of energy are sufficient for global needs in the long-term and truly sustainable. They are solar and geothermal energy.

Areas of technological focus to be considered are just as diverse – see section 2 on technological and sectoral trends.

In the developed world government action is probably essential

The ramifications of energy supply disruption and the time needed to change our infrastructure suggest that appropriate change cannot be expected to arise from market and social forces. Accordingly, governments need to be a key player in developed countries. Proactive action from government is almost certainly necessary to avoid the risk of severe economic disruption.

Much of the rest is down to technological developments and their impacts on the economic competitiveness of certain technologies. Though solar emerged from the Lab as the winner in terms of chief long-term global energy sources, the means of capturing it, transporting it and using it produced no clear favourites. The range of possibilities from domestic to industrial to automotive applications in a diverse range of environments suggests that all avenues of research should be actively explored. Since solutions will likely be more complex than the current rather monolithic systems, flexibility, interoperability and rapid adaptability are critical success factors.

In the under-developed world, small changes or actions may have a large and lasting positive effect

When tackling the issue of poverty on a global scale, there may be a possibility of achieving much with little (Scenario 1), given certain technological shifts.


Authors: Paul Holister        
Sponsors: Club of Amsterdam
Type: Field/sector specific
Organizer: Humberto Schwab,, Felix Bopp,
Duration: April 2007
Budget: n.a.
Time Horizon: 2017
Date of Brief: April 2008

Download: EFMN Brief No. 138_ Energy Lab

Sources and References

Club of Amsterdam, Lab on Old and New Energy, April 17 and 18, 2007, in Girona, Spain. 655&contenttypeid=9 

The participating thought leaders were:

  • Nathalie Horbach – Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy, University of Dundee;
  • Simon Taylor – director and co-founder, Global Witness;
  • Christof van Agt – independent participant, formerly at the International Energy Agency;
  • Paul Holister – technology impact consultant.

Humberto Schwab, director of the Club of Amsterdam and innovation philosopher, led the process.

EFP Brief No. 129: Rural Areas: One of the Most Important Challenges for Europe

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

This brief presents an overview of major trends and policy options for rural areas. A number of social, technological, economic, environmental and political trends as well as strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats will be highlighted, followed by ten major policy options in view of two traditional and conflicting objectives: rural socio-economic development and countryside protection.

EFMN Brief No. 129_Rural_Areas