What does it take to measure the sustainability of bioeconomy?


The new technical report, ‘Indicators to monitor and evaluate the sustainability of bioeconomy. Overview and a proposed way forward’, offers technical assistance to countries and stakeholders in monitoring and evaluating the sustainability of the bioeconomy through nine carefully explained steps.

The work builds on FAO’s Aspirational Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Bioeconomy, which were agreed upon by the International Working Group on Sustainable Bioeconomy in 2016.

“Selecting relevant principles, criteria and indicators and knowing the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches are essential to countries, if they want to monitor and evaluate the sustainability of their bioeconomy effectively.”

Explained Anne Bogdanski, a Natural Resources Officer coordinating FAO’s project on Sustainable Bioeconomy Guidelines.

Monitoring approaches on two levels

The report reviews existing monitoring approaches to identify available indicators, both at the ‘territorial’ level (sub-national, national, regional and global levels) and the ‘product/value chain’ level. The review builds on major lists of indicators and data that are available, and on which countries/stakeholders may already be reporting, such as the SDG indicators and indicators used for standards, certificates, and labels.

For example, at territorial level, it is recommended that food security be measured through several indicators including an assessment of domestic food production, changes in the import and export of foodstuffs and changes in levels of malnutrition, as well as SDG indicators. In this case the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity in the population, would be based on the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (SDG 2.1.2) and the Indicator of food price anomalies (SDG 2.c.1 ).

Good practices

The main gaps and weaknesses in indicator sets that emerged through a literature review are presented in the report. The links between territorial and product/value chain levels, as well as the use of good practice monitoring, and potential trade-offs and synergies between different sustainability issues are also explained.

The availability and quality of data for the indicators is a key issue for monitoring and evaluating the sustainability of the bioeconomy. One issue is that data for many indicators are not always collected on a regular basis and data quality is a key problem for the estimation of some indicators. The study describes the suitability of certain good practices as proxy indicators to complement detailed measurement.

Local needs and circumstances

Moreover, the study identifies solutions and potential ways forward to help countries and practitioners in their monitoring and evaluation efforts. The recommended methodology is a stepwise approach grounded on participatory methods; which allows some flexibility to reflect local circumstances and specific stakeholder needs. It also facilitates the inclusion of new indicators in order to improve the monitoring approach over time.

“This approach reflects the need to be rigorous, comprehensive and also cost-effective without being prescriptive, because the way to measure the performance and impact of bioeconomy ultimately depends on local needs and circumstances”, confirmed Olivier Dubois, Senior Natural Resources Officer and Technical Advisor to the FAO project on Sustainable Bioeconomy Guidelines.

The findings in this report are also being used in a Guidance Note that FAO and the EU Joint Research Centre (JRC) were asked to develop for the Bioeconomy Indicator Working Group of the International Bioeconomy Forum.

The report is a product of the FAO project ‘Towards sustainable bioeconomy guidelines’ funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture.

What we measure shapes what we collectively strive to pursue – and what we pursue determines what we measure” (Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, 2019).

Link to the report.