We hear reports on a daily basis on the impact of the crisis on public health, employment, world trade, and the economy. Meanwhile there are intense discussions on how we should recover from this.
Should we fuel the economy with cheap oil? Or should we rethink by investing in environmentally friendly technology, climate-neutral energy, and sustainable food production?
A positive effect
A month ago, a number of bioeconomy experts, practitioners, and researchers were asked how the pandemic will affect the growth of the bioeconomy in their country. The bioeconomy is about extracting products from the earth, forests, and seas more efficiently and sustainably than we do currently while replacing fossil fuels and materials with bio-based alternatives.
56 percent responded that the effect will be positive.
Short supply chains reduce risk
One of the reasons stated is that the crisis has demonstrated the vulnerability of global supply chains to the closure of national borders. This experience will benefit the local and regional production of everything from food and energy to chemical products and medicines.
“The global lockdown has really put supply chains to the test. Companies that have experienced bottlenecks due to the pandemic are looking to ensure the supply of goods. They may therefore become more interested in locally produced products to reduce their dependence on global supply chains,” explains Alberto Giacometti, a young researcher in regional development at Nordregio in Stockholm and a participant in the survey.
Local brands to benefit
It is thought that local food producers have the biggest potential for growth, as well as producers of high-value health products that can be extracted from local bio-based resources. Examples of how the bioeconomy can increase the degree of processing and the value of raw materials include companies that extract health products from fish waste, energy from household waste, animal feed from seaweed, and proteins from dairy waste streams.
Safe food and secure jobs
Several of the respondents emphasised how the pandemic also underscores the social aspects of the bioeconomy. In times of global crisis, people look for safe food and secure jobs.
“The pandemic has really made people think about what’s important in life and where they want to live. Here in Latvia where I live, people have moved out to the countryside and realised that they can work here. I’m certain that this will benefit rural businesses,” says Joanna Storie, a researcher on rural development at the Estonian University of Life Sciences.
When respondents were asked to rank the benefits of bioeconomic growth on a scale of 1 to 5, they ranked benefits to society highest (3.9), just above environmental benefits (3.8) and economic benefits (3.7).
Reaffirmed political promise on sustainability
Several respondents believe that the pandemic has reinforced existing sustainability trends, not least politically.
For instance, the European Commission has promised that the European Green Deal will be the catalyst for the recovery of the European economy, which will mean investments in renewable energy, renewable fuels for the transport sector, and sustainable food production. Respondents see the potential for increased support for the bioeconomy through public legislation and informed consumer choices.
- The survey is part of a larger study of leading bioeconomy trends in the Nordic and Baltic countries. The study is being conducted by Nordic Sustainablility on behalf of the Nordic Council of Ministers and will be published in the autumn of 2020.
- In 2018, Nordic co-operation established a Nordic Bioeconomy Programme with the aim of “facilitating the transition from traditional agriculture, forestry, and fishing to technologically advanced industries and small and medium-sized businesses”.
- 122 bioeconomy experts and practitioners took part in the survey. Some expanded on their responses in follow-up interviews. The respondents come from 13 countries in the Baltic Sea region and North Atlantic.