Today too many of the products we use are derived from fossil fuels. Although we tend to think of energy only, plastics, solvents, lubricants and numerous other inputs to various industries are fossil-based.
This needs to change. In the long term, crops and other biomass sources will supply chemical components and raw materials for numerous bio-products. The biorefinery concept suggests processing (i.e. refining) biomass industrially to extract and separate its various biochemical compounds. These may include: bulk or commodity products of high volume and comparatively low value, such as industrial oils, adhesives, surfactants, solvents, and biopolymers for biodegradable fibers and plastics; and low-volume high-value chemicals for the food and pharmaceutical industries.
This offers an enormous potential to provide renewable feedstocks to those industries, diversify agricultural sectors, and create development opportunities. This is where the idea of Green Value-Chains development comes in. All the way from gourmet chocolate production to the development of biorefineries, these sustainable chains can be critical tools not only to create a bio-based economy but also to reduce poverty.
If adequate innovations and policy instruments are put to use, rural communities worldwide, particularly in tropical biodiversity-rich countries, can leave poverty and jump straight to being part of sustainable economies. Ideally, they would not only be raw-material providers (as the Ivory Coast cacao growers who never tasted chocolate) but effectively climb up to the value-addtion stages of those chains.
What policy instruments could help deliver such futures? What are the barriers? What innovations would be needed, and how could they be put to use in ways that meaningfully include the poor?