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Sowing the seeds of bioeconomic transition

The SEI Initiative on Governing Bioeconomy Pathways is holding a series of regional policy dialogues with stakeholders in Northern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Eastern Africa to investigate barriers to and enablers for a more inclusive and sustainable bioeconomy.

Photo: Sebastian Kopp (EyeEm) / Getty Images.

Ekaterina Bessonova / Published on 28 February 2019

Creating a modern bioeconomy that would offer sustainable, resource-efficient and climate-smart production systems for food, feed, and fuels – is increasingly seen as a viable way to reduce poverty, and to spur transitions towards more sustainable development.

The SEI Initiative on Governing Bioeconomy Pathways aims to bridge key knowledge gaps on these issues. “Our work will investigate the variety of biophysical and socio-economic pathways across a wide range of local and global contexts,” said Francis X. Johnson, SEI Senior Researcher and a leader of the initiative. “We will engage directly with key public and private decision-makers across four continents in a highly structured series of case studies, policy dialogues, and sustainability assessments. The outcome will be a thematic and methodological synthesis on how to achieve a sustainable bioeconomy.”

Nella Canales, SEI Research Fellow and one of the experts working with the initiative, said, “I look forward to discussing how to move towards a sustainable bioeconomy in different contexts. This is a great opportunity to co-create knowledge for policy making, including perspectives from the people working with bio-based development on the ground in their home countries. The bioeconomy is a relatively new field, and we have a chance to develop strategies and action plans that are responsive to unique local socio-economic and environmental features.”

Policy dialogues on creating a bioeconomy for sustainable development are supported by the Sweden’s innovation agency VINNOVA, as well as by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), and are implemented in partnership with Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE) and the Gothenburg Centre for Sustainable Development (GMV). In addition to upcoming dialogues in Tallinn, Estonia, and Bangkok, Thailand, further dialogues will be held in Latin America, Asia and Africa, leveraging the global presence of SEI.

Photobioreactor in lab algae fuel biofuel industry. Photo: Toa55 / Getty Images.

Even though there is a consensus about the future significance of the bioeconomy, there is less agreement on how to achieve it. High-income economies may emphasise capital-intensive or growth-oriented pathways, often mimicking problems associated with fossil fuel-based economic sectors. Low-income countries tend to choose lower-productivity regimes, which risk perpetuating resource degradation and poverty.

Additionally, different ways to envision the future bioeconomy are emerging. For instance, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) emphasises the central role of biotechnology. By contrast, the Swedish bioeconomy strategy has a broader societal transformation outlook, addressing wider implications related to climate change and food security. Other actors give priority to ecology and circular economies.

Clearly, no “one size fits all” formula applies to the issues surrounding the bioeconomy.  Instead, every region will likely have its own vision, which could be implemented through various pathways, each of which will have to be highly contextualised in light of the vast differences in levels of development, infrastructure, institutional maturity, and human resource capacity.

The international series of policy dialogues by the SEI Initiative on Governing Bioeconomy Pathways will draw out and compare the various routes that different countries and regions might adopt to create a sustainable bioeconomy in the future. In close consultation with the local decision-makers and representatives from business and civil society, the dialogues will empower key actors and organisations to institutionalise and mainstream knowledge and strategic thinking on the bioeconomy into their work.

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