The vision of bioeconomy of the Government of Thailand is to modernize agriculture by adding value to raw materials from farmers’ fields. This value-addition, in the government’s view, can help Thailand overcome the middle-income trap, in which countries reach middle-income status, but cannot generate further income to reach upper-income status.

But the government’s goals are not restricted to the economy and biotechnology. The bioeconomy development is also intended to reduce inequality and environmental impacts. The two major crops identified for this development are sugarcane and cassava. These two crops are selected since they are already being produced in large quantities and can be development into many value-added products including bioplastics (derived from cassava starch) and biofuels (from both sugarcane and cassava derivatives).

The brief explains the national- and sectoral-level documents that outline Thailand’s vision for the bioeconomysuch as the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy promoted by the Late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the Twelfth National Economic and Social Development Plan that identifies income equality, access to justice, and access to public services, and the Thailand 4.0 policy that targets ten industries such as food, bioenergy, biochemicals, and healthcare for development. A number of agencies representing government, trade associations and industry are involved in decision-making and development of the bioeconomy in Thailand.

The development of the bioeconomy involves environmental concerns including land and water scarcity. Both cassava and sugarcane compete with rice for limited agricultural land. Both require a continuous supply of fresh water for maintaining high productivity. However, the limiting condition is that most cane-growing areas in the Northeastern and Central regions of Thailand currently have only rain-fed systems; only 10% of cane plantations in the nation are under irrigation. The uneven distribution of rainfall and lack of irrigation systems especially in the Northeastern region make sugarcane highly susceptible to drought.

There are also a number of social concerns associated with Thailand’s bioeconomy plans. Existing research shows that inequality in wages and household incomes, and exposure to health risks are among some of the social issues affecting different stakeholders in the bioeconomy value chain.

The brief concludes that achieving the equity and environment-relevant goals of the bioeconomy will require extensive engagement with diverse actors within the country’s bioeconomy sector. This engagement should include all those in the cassava and sugarcane value chains, from the smallest smallholder farmer to the largest millers. Understanding the different perceptions of equity and sustainability among the bioeconomy stakeholders can help ensure that policies and programmes are formulated to achieve equity and sustainability.