Ideas & Debate

Bioeconomy is central to?growth revival post-Covid

AheroRice

With modern practices, agriculture can play key economic revival role post-Covid. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Summary

  • As the world is grappling on how to adopt the new ways of enhancing economic growth post Covid-19, the answer could be in the bioeconomy.
  • Seen as the oldest business model in the world, bioeconomy is making us change our business model to: “Nothing wasted, everything used and reused, with Nature as the powerhouse”.

As the world is grappling on how to adopt the new ways of enhancing economic growth post Covid-19, the answer could be in the bioeconomy. Seen as the oldest business model in the world, bioeconomy is making us change our business model to: “Nothing wasted, everything used and reused, with Nature as the powerhouse”.

And now a growing number of the world’s top CEOs, investors and leaders are thinking that this is the blueprint for a post-Covidworld. So, what is this circular bioeconomy and how can it help build a more sustainable and equitable future for Kenya?

Taking a step back to 1970s, when the ideas of modernity were inextricably linked to fossil fuels. And also new affordable vehicles, global aviation, amazing branded packaging, plastics everywhere, new textiles, and construction. It was all about the versatility of oil and our growing addiction. But the consequences of endless burning and processing of fossil fuels, shows us a world filled with pollution that is harmful to both people and planet.

The circular bioeconomy seeks instead to draw on nature-based solutions to our everyday needs. With an expanding range of innovative products from agro-forestry and biological processes, consumer markets are opening up to biobased solutions across the world. The circular bioeconomy has the potential to solve the multiple challenges of encouraging local investment, generating livelihoods and improving health, education and food security whilst protecting ecosystem services such as clean water, biodiversity and cultural heritage. So how does it work and could it happen here in Kenya?

Since Kenya has many millions of rural farmers, many barely making enough to provide food or school fees or medicine. With well-devised policies on land stewardship and well-articulated product regulations, many different biobased industries could be established in Kenya to the benefit of local farmers.

Novamont, an Italian company, has been able to generate new bioproducts, as well as increase rural employment, reinforce community resilience and increase soil health through land regeneration. Using the principles of agroecology or regenerative agriculture for improving soil health and productivity, the company has integrated composting and all streams of organic waste from crops and vegetation into the industrial production of bioplastics and lubricants. This has enabled local communities to flourish and enjoy the financial and social benefits of locally derived resources.

Vava Coffee is a Kenyan company with a commitment to sustainable and ethical growing practices. Working with local producers to create a specialised product of washed coffee it has buyers all over the world wanting to combine an excellent product with the knowledge that local farmers are benefitting. Expanding the co-production of specialised crops, such as coffee and tea, within the setting of a healthy, biodiverse forest with intact ecosystem services, is another way that Kenya can become a global leader in the circular bioeconomy.


Investing in the circular bioeconomy

Imagine a setting where virtually everything that is used in everyday life could be biobased and reused or recycled. The flows through the economy would add value without creating the large-scale negative externalities associated with fossil fuels and chemical pollutants. However, the circular bioeconomy does more than simply reduce externalities, it can fundamentally shift the risk profile of an investment. Whether it is impact development bonds, green financing or social impact bonds, the evidence is that investments in nature-based solutions and bioeconomy are top-tier.

Therefore, investing in nature to transform the post Covid economy[1] sets out six transformations and four enabling actions to build the new circular bioeconomy, within ‘The Great Reset’ as outlined by the World Economic Forum. In it, researchers from leading institutions around the world, including Strathmore University Business School, present a new economic model that builds on transformative policies, purposeful innovation, access to finance and risk-taking capacity and new sustainable business models and markets based on valuing nature.

The potency of these ideas are now gaining traction globally. And Kenya already has many of the ingredients that would enable it to benefit from a shift to a circular bioeconomy. Already, there are vast areas of land linked to bioproduction, significant forest resources with a political and social commitment to increase their extent, recognised innovative entrepreneurs, a young and increasingly literate population and a vibrant market economy connected to global export markets for some of its specialist crops.

Turning these around into a circular bioeconomy where biobased value chains are enhanced through domestic processing and manufacturing and the wellbeing of communities could become the core of a prosperous future that can be realised by Kenyans.

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