FAO Report Shares Lessons on Sustainable Bioeconomy Interventions

The 26 case studies in the report reflect on the extent to which the bioeconomy interventions support the SDG

May 2019: The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) has released a working paper that provides policymakers and individuals working in bioeconomy initiatives with key considerations for implementing bioeconomy activities. The 26 case studies in the report reflect on the extent to which the bioeconomy interventions support the SDGs.

The working paper titled. ‘Towards Sustainable Bioeconomy: Lessons Learned from Case Studies,’ uses the definition of bioeconomy adopted at the 2018 Global Bioeconomy Summit: “Bioeconomy is the production, utilization and conservation of biological resources, including related knowledge, science, technology and innovation, to provide information, products, processes and services across all economic sectors aiming towards a sustainable economy.”

According to the report, bioeconomy activities “are not necessarily sustainable,” and can have both negative and positive environmental and socioeconomic impacts. For instance, although sustainable management of natural resources, including biodiversity, forest, land and water, underpins sustainable bioeconomy development, sustainable natural resource management is “often not a primary objective of bioeconomy activities,” but is rather viewed as an issue that needs to be addressed to ensure the sustainability of biomass production and processing. The report aims to increase understanding of sustainability in the development of the bioeconomy through sharing case studies of sustainable bioeconomy interventions from a range of sectors around the world.

Sustainability is not something that happens automatically

The case studies focus on climate change, economic growth, food security, good governance, natural resources management and responsible consumption and production. Each case study addresses the objectives of each intervention, the main actors involved and the context in which the interventions were carried out, key factors that contributed to successful delivery of sustainable environmental and socioeconomic benefits, and lessons learned. The report then highlights 15 lessons learned from across the case studies.

The report identifies seven SDGs that are most covered in the bioeconomy case studies: SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 7 (clean and affordable energy), SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), SDG 13 (climate change) and SDG 15 (life on land). SDG 12 is the most frequently supported Goal in the case studies. In addition, each of the 17 SDGs is addressed in at least one case study. SDG 1 (end poverty), for instance, is addressed in most African case studies as well as case studies from Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia and Malaysia. These bioeconomy interventions aim to tackle poverty by adding value to locally available biomass. In Malaysia, the intervention seeks to lift biomass producers out of the bottom 40% income group.

Many case studies address SDG 15, particularly the African case studies. Case studies from Finland and Indonesia focus on multi-purpose forestry, and one from Uruguay addresses restoration of degraded lands through implementation of good practices to improve grassland and livestock management and increasing agroclimatic capacities. A case study from South Africa examines bioprospecting while ones from Argentina and Italy analyze biorefineries. The Philippines case study shares an example of sound management of hazardous waste from agricultural activities. A case study from Colombia describes pollination ecosystem services.

The report concludes that there are a number of lessons on how to achieve a sustainable transition to bioeconomy. The report recommends a multi-stakeholder effort to achieve synergies and reduce tradeoffs between sustainability goals, underscoring that “sustainability is not something that happens automatically.” [Publication: Towards Sustainable Bioeconomy: Lessons Learned from Case Studies]


Catherine Benson Wahlén


IISD, press release, 2019-06-04.


Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)


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