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Polish region sets its sights on bio-economy growth

18/03/2014

  • Poland

The eastern Polish region of Lubelskie is putting smart specialisation at the heart of its economic development strategy for the 2014-2020 period, and eco-innovation is set to play a significant role. Lubelskie was a partner in the FRESH Interreg IV C European Union project, which aimed to embed and integrate eco-innovation into regional development policies.

Innovation strategies for smart specialisation (known as RIS3) involve the focusing of limited resources on a select number of sectors that provide the best option for knowledge-based regional development, as opposed to a more general development approach that might result in resources being inappropriately targeted at sectors in which a region has no particular advantages (for more information, see this previous EcoAP article.

For Lubelskie, the RIS3 approach means building on its strength as one of Poland's main agricultural regions. Korneliusz Pylak of the Department of Economics, Lublin University of Technology, who worked on the Lubelskie smart specialisation strategy for the region's Marshall's office, says that “We decided to specialise mainly in the bio-economy - in food production and bio-resources processing, because we are an agricultural region. This is what we have and we have to take advantage of the agricultural side of our economy.”

Lubelskie already has a solid bio-economy foundation. Already, 45% of its employment is in bio-based production - including food, feed, fertiliser and bio-energy. It is not the only European region that is prioritising the bio-economy. Others include the members of the ERIAFF network (European Regions for Innovation in Agriculture, Food and Forestry), which range from Andalucia in the south of Europe to Southern Ostrobothnia (Etelä-Pohjanmaa) in Finland.

For its food sector, Lubelskie has identified a number of broad objectives: investment in research that will lead to improved food quality and processing; to carry out more food processing in the region, rather than exporting food for processing elsewhere; to develop new products and Lubelskie-branded foods; to use green energy for food processing; and to apply sustainable farming practices.

Linked to this is a focus on development of biodegradable products - such as food packaging - based on local resources. In this focus area, Lubelskie plans to build on its academic resources - the region is host to a number of universities and technology institutes - to improve skills for eco-design of products, to promote research into new bio-based materials, and to support projects that transform biodegradable materials into high-value products.

Pylak says that the Lubelskie approach resulted in some criticism that in building on its agricultural assets, the region would be putting resources into a sector that is not innovative. He refutes this, however. The opportunity is to develop “synergies with other sectors such as medicine and biomedical products, which is an outstanding sector of the economy now. So we don't say we will produce fruits and vegetables, but we will try to find the niches that can be to the advantage of the region.”

Lubelskie will also put its agricultural knowledge to work in energy terms - promoting biomass energy, for example. The region will also promote eco-innovation in its construction sector, where there is the opportunity to develop passive housing, to refit buildings, and to build more sustainability into the existing bedrock of local knowledge and skills.

Lessons learned

In preparing its RIS3 strategy, Lubelskie has learned lessons that will resonate in other regions. Korneliusz Pylak says that there was concern from some companies and sectors that they would be neglected because they would not be among the smart specialisation sectors.

“There was pressure from companies that are not included in the specialisation, for example the creative industry,” he says. “But they understood in the end that they can take part even without being included in the specialisation. My own case was similar. I work in the study of management at the Lublin University of Technology. I was under pressure from my own management, who asked why are we not in the specialisation area? I told them that we are but we have to change our approach. We have to think that management is for everybody, so we have to try to find ways to cooperate with the specialisation areas and try to help them to coordinate. We can be the coordinator for projects, so there are plenty of possibilities.”

Pylak adds that the creative sector, for example, is in a similar position: creative industry companies can benefit by providing services to the companies that are part of the specialisation sectors. “People have understood that we can go in the same direction and we can benefit from the implementation of RIS3 in all areas,” he says.

Fine tuning

The Lubelskie strategy is being fine-tuned. It will feed into the region's operational programme for 2014-2020. “We are running research on the technologies now that will be supported in the [RIS3] implementation process,” Pylak says. He hopes that initial and pilot projects to test the strategy can be supported by the operational programme, or with funds from the European Union Horizon 2020 research programme.

For measuring the implementation of RIS3, a balanced scorecard approach will be used, which Pylak says is new for the Lubelskie region. The four areas covered by the balanced scorecard will be learning and development, the region's internal processes to support innovative activity, development of high-value products and services, and the innovation performance of the region as a whole.

Lubelskie faces many challenges in moving onto a more eco-innovative path. Per capita GDP in the region is among the lowest in Poland. Among the obstacles that the region must overcome to meet its RIS3 objectives are development of supply chains for bio-based and degradable products, and the effective marketing of the region to create opportunities for those products beyond its borders. However, Lubelskie has done its homework and expects to pass the tests ahead of it.