New Publication – Sustainability governance of Canada’s agriculture-based bioeconomy
This report, produced in the framework of IEA Bioenergy Task 43 (biomass supply), provides a current Canadian perspective on how the sustainability of the agricultural bioeconomy is governed.
In Canada, the agricultural bioeconomy (in which agricultural biomass is used as feedstock to produce energy, fuels, chemicals, and bio-based materials) is still emerging with liquid biofuels and biogas production being at commercial scale while many other types of bioproducts are still in the R&D and pilot stages of innovation. To date, the dominant feedstocks supplying the bioeconomy are grain corn, canola oil, wheat, soy oil, used cooking oil, animal fat, dairy manure, and food processing waste. There is significant potential for using crop residues, agricultural wastes as well as dedicated energy crops for bioproducts, however these supply chains are not developed in Canada as the demand signal is not yet there. Before agricultural producers can commit to growing and harvesting these other feedstocks, the industrial markets need to exist and the requirements for feedstock quality and sustainability need to be well defined.
Sustainable agriculture integrates aspects from the three dimensions that are constantly interacting in the production of food, feed and fibre: economic, environmental, and societal. Today, numerous sustainability schemes exist to assess and compare the sustainability of agricultural production as well as the bioproducts that are made from agricultural biomass.
- The approach to and design of a sustainability governance system depends on a number of key factors, including the definition of sustainability, the drivers and motivation for the governance requirement, the shape and size of the country’s bioeconomy and its relationship to the agriculture sector.
- Sustainability work in agriculture is currently driven by the demands of consumers in the food and feed markets and, only to a small extent, by bioproducts markets. With respect to environmental sustainability, agricultural producers in Canada must respond to regional environmental priorities that are defined by regulatory standards or government objectives. At times, this requires making trade-offs to meet multiple environmental objectives weighing regional priorities against national goals.
- Communication on agricultural practices and how the system operates is essential to maintaining social licence to operate and increasing public trust in sustainability of economic activities. Industry associations, such as the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops, are providing greater public access to science-based sustainability information on the sector and thereby are enabling agricultural producers to more easily demonstrate compliance with the sustainability requirements of different markets for agricultural products.