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A look into Eastern Africa’s bioeconomy strategy

Since 2018, seven countries in Eastern Africa have worked on developing a regional bioeconomy strategy, culminating in the presentation of a draft summary at the Eastern Africa Bioeconomy Conference held from 21–22 October 2020.

Rocio A. Diaz-Chavez, Ivar Virgin, Lawrence Nzuve / Published on 14 November 2021
Rural farm in a village in Kenya with green grass and trees in foreground

A rural farm in a village in Kenya. Photo: Lawrence Nzuve / SEI.

The East African Science and Technology Commission (EASTECO), with support from SEI Africa and the BioInnovate Africa Programme and partners African Network for Technology Policy Studies (ATPS) and Scinnovent Center from Kenya and Bio-Innovations from Kenya and Uganda developed the strategy through a project known as BiSEA.

Through these efforts, an Eastern African Regional Bioeconomy Strategy developed by EASTECO and partners, with support from BioInnovate Africa Programme was adopted at the meeting. An Eastern Africa Bioeconomy Observatory portal was also launched during the conference to serve as a knowledge repository and to enable the monitoring of advances in the bioeconomy in the region.

The project aims to develop a regional bioeconomy strategy focused on innovations shared by the countries of the Eastern African region in the seven BioInnovate countries of Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. The project has made great strides and is important for the region.

Stakeholders met in Kenya in 2020 for the third National Working Group Consultation, which feeds into the Eastern Africa bioeconomy strategy.

Stakeholders met in Kenya in 2020 for the third National Working Group Consultation, which feed into the Eastern Africa bioeconomy strategy. Photo: Rocio Diaz-Chavez / SEI.

The bioeconomy may not be a familiar term and stakeholders may even wonder about the need of a bioeconomy strategy and the return on investment for the beneficiary countries of the project. Most people may not even know what the real impacts and effects are.

SEI conducted interviews with two coordinators of the bioeconomy strategy for Eastern Africa who shared their knowledge and contribution towards advancing the state of bioeconomy in the region as well as coordinating activities of the project.

SEI spoke with Dr Julius Ecuru, Programme Manager of BioInnovate Africa Programme at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, and Fortunate Muyambi, Acting Executive Secretary/Principal Officer of Innovation, Technology Development and Acquisition at EASTECO, about the project and why it matters.

Sugar processing farms near Lake Victoria in western Kenya

Sugar processing farms near Lake Victoria in western Kenya. Photo: Lawrence Nzuve / SEI.

Many people are unable to distinguish between bioeconomy and the regular economy. How can we define bioeconomy?

Bioeconomy is a concept with a broad meaning. According to Dr Ecuru, experts around the world are working under the umbrella of the Global Bioeconomy Summit to come up with a unified definition of bioeconomy. Closer to home, the bioeconomy is the use of scientific knowledge to make biological resources more economically and socially valuable to people and their communities. Muyambi sees the bioeconomy as an innovative way of adding value to primary produce, optimizing biomass use using or adding value to bioresources in new and innovative ways, including using agro or bio residues not used today. This includes recycling biowaste and converting them into useful products and broadening the use of bioresources in the region like building a new industrial base for a variety of products. It also involves the production of environmentally friendly goods using natural resources.

How have stakeholders been included in developing a bioeconomy strategy for Eastern Africa?

The development of the regional bioeconomy strategy for Eastern Africa is led by EASTECO. Stakeholders have been included in the project by the commission according to their interests, powers and expertise in a bioeconomy. They were engaged during the drafting and reporting period of the bioeconomy strategy. Stakeholder consultations also took place to validate the BiSEA study report and draft Regional Eastern Africa Innovation-led bioeconomy strategy, according to Muyambi. Dr Ecuru added that the commission has used a variety of approaches to engage with stakeholders in and outside the region, including policymakers, researchers and academics, industry leaders and NGOs. He noted that the engagement ensures that no one is left behind as the strategies for a sustainable economy are implemented.

Regional Drafting Group workshop in Kampala, Uganda in November 2019

Regional Drafting Group workshop in Kampala, Uganda in November 2019. Photo: Rocio Diaz-Chavez / SEI.

What is the outcome of developing a bioeconomy strategy for Eastern Africa?

Muyambi said that the outcome of this project will be increased knowledge and awareness about the state of bioeconomy issues, landscape, and development in Eastern Africa. Through the project, East Africa Community governance bodies will approve an innovation-driven bioeconomy strategy for Eastern Africa. He added that a bioeconomy strategy will create a supportive environment for a wide range of role players, including government line ministries, departments and industries, identification of areas of improvement in public policy and incentive creation, as well as encourage innovation and promote partnership among stakeholders. Dr Ecuru added that the regional bioeconomy strategy will create new prospects for business. He looks forward to seeing more scientists partnering with businesses to bring new sustainable solutions to the most pressing development challenges, such as the need to eat healthy food, reduce air pollution by travelling in vehicles powered by clean fuel and producing safer and more efficient medication. Such business opportunities will not only empower communities, but also transcend borders to improve lives around the world.

What is the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the Bioeconomy and BiSEA project?

As Covid-19 affects our lives and businesses in many ways, it has also influenced the progress of the bioeconomy. On the one hand, the pandemic has delayed progress in achieving a bioeconomy strategy due to the social distancing measures and restrictions in place in different countries. This has resulted in most meetings being postponed and others taking place online, while other activities are pending and various staff members work from home, said Muyambi.

Dr Ecuru noted that this crisis has highlighted the value of a bioeconomy as well. Nearly all the remedies deployed or suggested to manage the pandemic, including the need for more nutritious food, better diagnosis of diseases, and vaccine and medicine delivery, are all biological-based. Covid-19, devastating as it may be, is a wake-up call for us to do more in developing and promoting a sustainable bioeconomy.

Drone image of yellow oilseed rape fields, Serbia

Drone image of yellow oilseed rape fields. Development of bioeconomy and bio-based industries. Photo: Drazen_ / iStock / Getty Images.

Appraising goal achievements perspectives of BiSEA project

To assess the current achievement and perspectives, Dr Ecuru said milestone activities undertaken by BioInnovate Africa include working with scientists and researchers in universities and research organizations, as well as private companies and businesses in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda to bring innovative biological-based products to the market. The range of innovative products include insect-based proteins, biofertilizers, biopesticides, biofuels, enzyme-based leather processing, post-harvest management, clean sweet potato planting materials, healthy foods from sorghum, millet and sweet potatoes, and effluent management technologies. These are a small part of bioeconomy development efforts and will impact lives and communities on a wider scale. According to Muyambi, EASTECO has conducted activities in partner states, with bioeconomy national working groups involved in data gathering for empirical studies to inform the drafting of the strategy while ensuring wide consultations within BioInnovate countries, including all EAC partner states and across the region, particularly Ethiopia. Various stakeholders have undertaken consultations in different countries in collaboration with the National Working Group through workshops and meetings. These activities have gathered stakeholder views, concerns and recommendations for consideration in the regional strategy draft.

External authors

Dr Julius Ecuru is the Programme Manager of BioInnovate Africa Programme at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology.

Fortunate Muyambi is the Acting Executive Secretary/Principal Officer of Innovation, Technology Development and Acquisition at EASTECO, an institution of EAC.

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