South Ostrobothnia - the Food and Bioeconomy Centre of Finland
The food and drink industry is a major contributor to Europe’s economy, ahead of other manufacturing sectors, such as the automotive industry. In Finland, the total annual consumption expenditure on food and beverages is roughly eur 23 billion. In 2015, the number of people employed in agriculture was 83 500, i.e. 3.4% of the employed labour force. In absolute terms, the agricultural sector employed the highest number of people in South Ostrobothnia, Southwest Finland, North Ostrobothnia and North Savo. These regions make up 40% of the total labour force involved in agriculture in Finland. Agriculture also employs around 15,000 in other sectors.
Figure 1. Employed of agriculture and food industry in different regions (2014). Source: Regional Accounting, Statistics Finland. (Click to enlarge)
The food industry employed 37,600 people in 2015, i.e. 1.5% of the employees in all sectors. A quarter of the jobs in the food industry are in the region of Uusimaa, while roughly 10% are employed by the food industry in South Ostrobothnia, 8.2% in Southwestern Finland, and around 7 % in Satakunta. Proportionally, the food industry is the largest employer in South Ostrobothnia (4.4% of the employed labour force).
Sustainable food systems in South Ostrobothnia
Due to the importance and expertise of the sector, South Ostrobothnia has selected Sustainable Food Systems and New Solutions for Bioeconomy as one of its key smart specialisation thematic business sectors.
The key triple helix stakeholders in food systems include:
- Seinäjoki University Consortium – 5 universities cooperating in RDI+E
- Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences, School of Food and Agriculture – RDI +E
- University of Helsinki Ruralia Institute – focus on rural RD+E
- LUKE – Natural Resources Institute Finland
- Foodwest – development and support of food industry
- Into Seinäjoki – Business Development
- AB Seinäjoki – innovation community boosting agrobioeconomy businesses
- Regional Council of South Ostrobothnia – regional administration
The Smart Specialization Strategy also highlights the thematic research areas in South Ostrobothnia. Below some examples of research groups and researchers:
Food development: Prof. Anu Hopia, University of Turku, based in Seinäjoki. Leads a functional food research team (10 persons) in South Ostrobothnia, Seinäjoki, in research theme ‘taste and health’.
Food safety: Senior Researcher Gun Wirtanen, University of Helsinki, Ruralia Institute, Seinäjoki University Consortium. Research areas include Chemical engineering - Hygienic process and equipment design, Cleaning and disinfection; Food Science - Food hygiene, Food safety; Plant biology, microbiology, virology - Biofilms, Surface hygiene, Cleaning and disinfection.
Consumer behaviour in food consumption: Prof. Harri Luomala, University of Vaasa, Seinäjoki University Consortium.
Nutrition: Kaija Nissinen, Licentiate of Health Science (Nutrition), M.Sc. (Health Sci.), authorized nutritionist, Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences.
Insect economy and food tourism: Ilkka Latomäki, project coordinator in ENTOLAB – promoting insect rearing in South Ostrobothnia, Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences.
Commercialization of food: Nina Alkava, Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences.
Food supply chain management and diversified farms: Margit Närvä, D. Sc. (Tech.), Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences.
Figure 2. Potential focus sectors of sustainable food systems. Source: Regional Council of South Ostrobothnia. (Click to enlarge)
Examples of current transnational projects
NICHE project aims to improve existing policies, increase the adoption of research and innovation solutions by food sector companies, and to establish effective regional and interregional open innovation ecosystems. Results: exchange of best practices in connection to digitalization, improving regional strategies in connection to SME development and innovation, and developing regional action plans.
FOOD BAIT aims to increase the competitiveness of companies operating in the food industry. The project will build a learning forum for sharing of expertise, knowledge and experience to support and boost growth and internationalization of food industry-related SMEs in the Botnia-Atlantica region. The SMEs´ knowledge of business development and innovation will be increased through a series of workshops, and new ecosystems will be generated between big companies and SMEs and entrepreneurs in the regions.
SME ORGANICS aims to improve policies and programmes under the Jobs, Growth and Investment priority to enhance the competitiveness and sustainability of SMEs in the organic sector of seven EU regions plus Aargau Canton (Switzerland). The project aims to support SMEs in improving their performance to enforce the growth capacity of the entire organic regional sector in the regional, national, and international markets. The interregional learning process will take place around four areas: i) production and processing; ii) commercialization and marketing; iii) training and advice; iv) organic value chain efficiency and governance.
ECOWASTE 4 FOOD project brings together seven local and regional authorities from seven countries throughout Europe. The aim is to address the crucial issue of food waste, not only to stop the unacceptable situation leading to the loss of up to 50% of the agricultural produce, but also to demonstrate that food waste prevention is a key to resource efficient and environmentally friendly economic development.
Natural Resources Institute Finland, Helsinki 2017: Natural resources and bioeconomy studies 49/2017, Finnish agriculture and food sector, 2016/17, Jyrki Niemi and Minna Väre (eds.)