Sustainability and inclusiveness in the Thai bioeconomy

In a recent policy forum on bioeconomy in Thailand, Dr Wijarn Simachaya, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Biodiversity-Based Economy Development Office (BEDO), said, “BCG can create development links from local to global and the BCG is expected to narrow income disparities. It is likely the best model to revitalize a Thai economy battered by the Covid-19 pandemic”.

Tunygaluck Charoenpru, Acting Director General of BEDO, emphasized the importance of meaningful community participation in this model. “The BCG model also focuses on strengthening community economy by using natural resources, creativity and modern technology to leverage the value chains,” she said.

Other keynote speakers, including Dr Raweewan Bhuridej, Secretary-General of ONEP and Prof Sanit Aksornkoae, Board Advisor of BEDO, as well as Dr Chayanis Krittasudthacheewa, Deputy Director of SEI Asia, highlighted the importance of community engagement in sustainable management of natural resources for developing the bioeconomy and emphasized on the role of biodiversity to make a better future.

This BCG visions align with the overall vision of the bioeconomy to reduce inequality and environmental impacts enumerated in the Thailand’s 20-year national strategic plan (2018–2037) , which states that bioeconomy will improve the quality of life, fairness and environmental sustainability.

Though this overarching vision of the bioeconomy has been laid out, the pathways to achieving this vision is manifold with approaches differing based on the goals, motivations and priorities of different policy actors.

The forum’s panel discussion, titled “Envisioning Social Sustainability in the BCG economy”, aimed at sharing these different perspectives on the challenges and opportunities for promoting a sustainable and inclusive bioeconomy in Thailand and Southeast Asia.

The panelists highlighted the many gaps between the vision of the bioeconomy and policy action in Thailand. “There is a big gap between industrial bioeconomy and grassroots bioeconomy in term of opportunity, finance, infrastructure, innovation and market access,” said Dr Tanit Changthavorn from BEDO.

In society, the impact of these gaps leads to unequal opportunities and benefits between different groups of people. Policy actions need to ensure that workers in industries integral to the bioeconomy such as sugarcane receive equal pay and decent working conditions regardless of nationality, gender and ethnicity.

Ha Nguyen from SEI emphasized the need for considering equity in bridging the gap between vision and policy actions. “We need to ensure that equity and inclusiveness are embedded in the bioeconomy policy mandate for Thailand, as it is currently unclear of whether the country would like to promote inclusive opportunities or just income generation,” she said.

The panelists also emphasized the health and well-being of communities and biodiversity as foundational to a strong bioeconomy and called for solutions that are community centric as well as contextualized to fit the needs of different groups.

“It is very important to transfer knowledge and innovation to farmers, small entrepreneurs and micro-business community – they are the grassroots, source and origin of biodiversity of bioeconomy,” said Suriyon Thunkijjanukij from the Office of the National Economic and Social Development Council.

“There is no one-size-fit-all development model,” added Dr Tanit. “There is a need to mix and match different tools or game changers for different context of each community-driven bioeconomy.”

The forum recognized the need for multidimensionality and collaboration to bring together different perspectives on the economic, social, technological and cultural dimensions and share experience across countries.

“We should put these concepts and actions through all the mechanisms at the national and regional levels,” said Dr Nattavud Pimpa of the ASEAN Centre for Sustainable Development Studies and Dialogue. “We need a task force to streamline across ministries to synchronize the work and see the impact quickly.”

This piece is co-written by Dr Tanit Changthavorn, Suwee Ngandee and Piyarat Hunthong from the Biodiversity-Based Economy Development Office (BEDO). It is based on an online policy forum on 27 August 2021, “Bioeconomy policy forum: Development of a sustainable, inclusive and community-driven bioeconomy”, to foster collaboration on development of an inclusive, sustainable, and community-driven bioeconomy through knowledge exchange and dialogue between policy experts and practitioners. The forum was hosted by the Biodiversity-Based Economy Development Office (BEDO) under Thailand’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and SEI.