Partner Workshop: Delivering the forest-based circular bioeconomy

Held virtually on Zoom, 10 December 2021


Background and purpose of the workshop

Despite the massive economic crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, global GHG emissions continue almost unabated. The objective to “build back better” requires a better economic model respecting the planetary boundaries and involving a circular bio-economy with sustainable management of forested landscapes.

Diverse landscapes provide a multitude of bioproducts that provide food, animal feed, timber, fuels and many other products that, properly managed, could help reducing dependence on fossil fuels and building better livelihoods while sustaining productive landscapes.

This workshop was organized to give our partners an update about the latest developments of the program and to reveal the opportunity to give feedback. It created a platform to exchange different perspectives and ideas on the topic and served to identify further opportunities for practical collaboration in this program.

The workshop

After many individual interviews with potential partner organizations held in the second half of 2020, partners and experts were brought together in a “round table” setting at this virtual workshop. It took place via Zoom on the 10th of December from 10-12 CET (UTC+1). Around 40 participants took part, stemming from (I)NGOs, academia, research institutes and ministries. The workshop agenda is available below.

Key results

Three key results of the workshop can be identified:

  • Biodiversity and private sector buy-in as central issues that are missing in the framework proposal.
  • The importance of social inclusiveness as cross-cutting issue due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
IntroductionFeedbackThe three themesGroup workCovid-19 effectsSuccess factorsNext steps

Introducing the theme

Vincent Gitz, director of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) at (CIFOR) provided the global context in his welcoming words to the participants. Vincent is the co-author of CIFOR-ICRAF’s circular bioeconomy framework proposal, together with Alexandre Meybeck (Senior Technical Advisor at FTA) and Christopher Martius.

Vincent underlined the need for more trees and forests to limit tIntrhe global warming. However, he also shed light on pressing issues, such as a strong growth in demand for wood and what it means for the supply side and the effects for the value of wood and how the role of the circular economy could add more value to wood.

Next, Christopher Martius, Managing Director of CIFOR Germany located in Bonn, presented the framework proposal of the programme with the three thematic sub-areas:

  • Going Green: Developing new biomaterials from forests, plantations and agriculture: Traditional and innovative wood products.
  • Choosing Goals: Global societal debates and decisions on diets, products, land use, and emissions: Modeling and debate.
  • Weaving Together: Advising businesses and developing coordination, integration and efficiency across value webs: Integrating value chains, reducing waste.

Additionally, he underlined three cross-cutting principles of the new programme, which reflect CIFOR-ICRAF’s program strategy, which are

  • Inclusiveness, i.e., participation of the underprivileged,
  • social responsibility, i.e., social benefits addressing gender and youth, and
  • (forest-based) rural-urban linkages.

Feedback from the audience: what is missing?

After the presentations, the partners and experts at the workshop were asked to provide input via regarding the following questions:

  • What is most relevant to you in this framework (one word)? – The emerging most relevant word was bioeconomy, perhaps not surprising given the workshop theme, followed by more general concepts such as transformation, justice, circular, sustainability, resilience and by more specific ones, such as plastic substitution, private sector buy-in, and rural-urban linkage.
  • What do you think is missing in the framework? – Biodiversity came out first, followed by private sector buy-in. In addition to these concepts, other ideas showed up, such as gender, finance, local people buy-in plus bottom-up approach, business models and economic potential – all important ideas to consider when developing the project concept note further.
  • Which other aspects should be considered as cross-cutting issues? – Governance came out first, scalability / replicability second, and other terms such as sustainable environment and value creation emerged, too.

The three themes of the program

After this interactive session, each of the thematic sub-areas was highlighted by one research project:

  • Kenji Umemura, professor at the Laboratory of Sustainable Materials at Kyoto University in Japan, gave a presentation for the pillar Going Green with the “Development of sustainable wood-based materials.” 
  • Lauri Hetemäki, Assistant Director for Policy Support at the European Forest Institute (EFI) in Finland presented for the pillar Choosing Goals: “Dynamics of the bioeconomy market with focus on wood.”
  • Mary Njenga, a Bioenergy Research Scientist at World Agroforestry (ICRAF) based in Nairobi, Kenya, presented for pillar Weaving Together with the topic “Bioenergy circular approach.”

Group work fleshing out additional ideas

Next, the workshop participants split into breakout groups, each to discuss one thematic sub-area along three guiding questions:

  • Which (additional) relevant research fields do you recognize within pillar?
  • Which concrete research questions come to your mind?
  • Which topics do you think are, within this pillar, most relevant in the global South?

The discussions in the groups were memorized by rapporteurs. After the breakout sessions, the plenary again came together, shared the highlights discussed in the groups, and put them into the broader framework of the proposal.

In all three groups, the participants highlighted the importance of taking up a holistic perspective instead of silo-thinking, cultivate an integrative systems’ view that is not limited by sectoral boundaries. For such a program to make a difference, the participants stressed the relevance of employing many different lenses, e.g. using the viewpoint of biodiversity and landscapes, and the economic, political and social viewpoints. Consequently, it was understood that this holistic view would lead to multi-stakeholder collaborations as partnerships. Limits of the bioeconomy concept have to be clearly defined and communicated.

Additionally, all three groups highlighted the relevance of life-cycle analysis and creating key indicators to successfully operate any activity under this umbrella.

Finally, the research programme should not only look at the (final) shape of the circular economy but also at transition opportunities to reach this required model.

Covid-19 effects on the circular bioeconomy

In the following plenary discussion, Covid-19 and its implications on the programme played an important role. Some experts stated that the pandemic reinforced inequalities in societies, and that the programme should therefore contribute to a greener and more socially inclusive development, which should also be targeted by governments. Additionally, value chains should become shorter and more local to become less prone to disruptions as was seen during the pandemic. 

Success factors for a circular bioeconomy approach

Then, another session was used to collect the views and opinions of the participating partners regarding the question “What is the one thing that will make a forest-based circular bioeconomy program successful?”

In response, business cases as well as systems view became central, followed by single answers such as partnerships, local experience, accessibility, material production, private sector buy-in, equity, adaptability, monitoring and appropriate technologies.

What do we do next?

Finally the question was asked through “What do you expect from the programme’s next steps?” Multiple answers were possible, and the following suggestions came up amongst the answers:

  • Partnerships, i.e. build partnerships; identify key private sector partners; partner with (fellow CIFOR-ICRAF Transformative Partnership Platforms (TPP)) on Greening Forest and Tree Product Value Chains; and define generally how other partners can collaborate.
  • Strategy, i.e. concrete definition of goals; define entry points for each pillar; identify low-hanging fruits and projected outcomes; develop strategic market linkages.
  • Case studies, i.e. develop case studies; identify 2-3 key landscapes to start with; identify priority species; business models for smallholders.
  • Fundraising, to make the program realization possible.
  • Communication, i.e. to hold a Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) event with this topic. 

A discussion about next steps of the programme rounded up the workshop. In the end, the participants were asked what they see could be their role and engagement in the next steps of the programme. Here, many participants offered their organizations’ strengths and perspective to enrich the circular bio-economy programme, which will greatly advance the forest-based circular bioeconomy programme.



10:00Welcome AddressVincent Gitz, Director CRP on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry
10:10Forest-based circular Bio-Economy:
what it means and why we need it
Christopher Martius, Bonn Hub Leader & Managing Director of CIFOR Germany
10:30Exemplary presentations per pillar:
Going Green: Development of sustainable wood-based materials
Choosing Goals: Dynamics of the bio-economy market with focus on wood
Weaving Together: Bioenergy circular approach
Kenji Umemura, Professor at University of Kyoto
Lauri Hetemäki, Assistant Director European Forest Institute (EFI)
Mary Njenga (PhD), Research Scientist at ICRAF
11:00Set focus: Deep dive into thematic pillars (breakout groups)Malte Kaßner (PhD), Facili-tator / Consultant at CIFOR
11:25Share results in the plenary with Q & AMalte Kaßner
11:45Conclusions and next stepsChristopher Martius
11:55Check out and goodbyeMalte Kaßner