Making money from our resources
'Bioeconomy' more than just a buzz phrase and could add value where it counts, writes Anchalee Kongrut
Since the military government came to power, new economic policies have been rolled out and economic catchphrases coined.
An early one was the "digital economy", then "Thailand 4.0" and a new one is "circular economy" -- economic activities based on resource reuse, which Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak introduced early this month.
Another new business term which the public can expect to hear is "bioeconomy", or using diverse biological resources to generate sustainable development, according to Suvit Maesincee, Minister of Science and Technology. The idea was conceived by the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), an innovation-driven agency within the Ministry of Science and Technology.
Mr Suvit said then charm of bioeconomy lies in its inclusiveness. "Critics say some economic policies such as high-tech automation and infrastructure benefit only a few groups. But they cannot criticise bioeconomic principles for lacking inclusiveness," Mr Suvit told the Bangkok Post.
Anchalee Kongrut writes about the environment in the Life section, Bangkok Post. InquiryLines, published bi-weekly on Mondays is a Bangkok Post column to present in-depth details of a range of issues from politics and social interest to eye-catching everyday lives.
Bioeconomic activities can be diverse and dovetail into different income brackets. "Companies can open factories processing food and farm products while local farmers launch a community product brand. Individuals can launch start-ups selling organic fruit or the local community can open low-carbon resorts," said Mr Suvit adding this economic policy falls in line with the self-sufficiency economy principle introduced by the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The Science Ministry expects the business value of bioeconomic activities could reach 25% of gross domestic product (GDP) in the first five years after the policy is implemented.
NSTDA said the policy will create 16.5 million jobs.
Currently, revenue from this business such as farm products and foods is 21% of GDP.
Mr Suvit said the principle is suitable because Thailand is rich in biological resources. "In the current global market and business, it is almost impossible that one country will excel in every industry. But it is possible that the country can have real expertise in particular areas."
The ministry, he said, decided to propose the policy because the country lacks a clear direction about it.
"Thailand is resource rich, representing over 8% of the biodiversity in the world.
"Yet, we overlook natural resources and fail to add value to them. We do not have a clear national policy or good management plan," he said.
The ministry will target four groups of businesses. The first is agriculture and food. Digital technology and innovations such as the internet, automation, drones and biotechnology will be used to help farmers adopt more precise harvesting technologies. The ministry will help farmers develop food quality.
It will also help local communities or farmers register and acquire Geographical Indication (GI) labels. GI is a label which states the uniqueness of a product's origin or process of manufacture. Famous GIs include champagne, French wine and cheese.
The second group is energy crops and bioactive ingredients. The NSTDA will use technology to develop more bioactive ingredients from natural materials. It will promote the energy crops to reduce fossil fuel. It aims to use recycling innovation to create new economies.
The third group is biopharmaceuticals and wellness. The authorities will upgrade traditional medicines and use local plants for making medicine and offering medical treatment.
The fourth is tourism. The ministry will supply innovation to reduce pollution, especially plastic garbage. The authorities will help resorts upscale into low-carbon resorts. It will build capacity for national parks in forest and marine areas to register as Unesco world heritage sites.
The ministry will also roll out a "Biodata Bank." A budget of 900 million baht will be earmarked for helping universities, or local farm communities with potential to create the banks, which Mr Suvit said will protect biological resources and data. They could also serve as assets for researchers to develop biological products such as medicine or plants.
Under its bioeconomy policy, the ministry will ask the private sector and academic institutes to disseminate knowledge and policy. At the national level, the bioeconomy will become part of Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), special economic zone at Eastern Seaboard region. The EEC is created for 10 targeted industries, half of them related to bioeconomic industry -- biotechnology, agriculture, food, energy and health-related medical technologies.
The science ministry will work with private sector and NSTDA to create a special research unit to improve innovation on biological products in the EEC. For instance, the NSTDA plans to work with companies to open "Medicopolis" in the EEC to improve research and innovation on bioactive ingredients to produce medicine and new materials to replace chemicals.
At the local level, local and regional universities such as Khon Kaen University, Chiang Mai University, Suranaree University, Prince Songkla University will serve as focal points.
The ministry already has created science parks in the region, said Mr Suvit, adding these regional science parks will be where researchers and companies come to ask for help to upscale their biological products.
"We will use academic institutes as agents to drive innovation and groom resources and manpower. Local institutes, especially the 38 Rajabhat Universities across the country, will hand it down to local people."