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Bioeconomy Ireland Week - Monday - The relevance of the bioeconomy

As part of Bioeconomy Week Ireland, in two maps we will show (a) the development of national bioeconomy strategies in Europe, & (b) employment in the bioeconomy in Ireland as a share of overall employment as one measure of its significance.

Bioeconomy Strategies in Europe (click to see map)

The European Commission produced its first bioeconomy strategy in 2012[1].  It was based on defining the bioeconomy as “the production of renewable biological resources and the conversion of these resources and waste streams into value-added products, such as food, feed, bio-based products as well as bio-energy".  This was reviewed and updated in 2018, as more knowledge was obtained on the benefits of the bioeconomy and the challenges faced in realising its potential.  The revised strategy views the bioeconomy more widely, reflecting a view that the potential contribution of cities to the bioeconomy remains largely unexploited and includes consideration of the services provided by the bioeconomy also[2]

Across Europe, individual member states are at different stages of development. This map shows the member states that have developed national and regional bioeconomy strategies to date.  Ireland, having developed a national bioeconomy policy statement in 2018, is clearly on the map.  The map however belies differences in the stage of development of the bioeconomy with some countries, e.g. Italy, having already reviewed and revised earlier national strategies. 

Considerations behind the development of a national policy statement in Ireland included recognition of its potential to provide economic benefits and employment opportunities, particularly in rural areas and its contribution to climate change.  It was an important signal, nationally and internationally, that Ireland is committed to the development of the bioeconomy.

Share of the workforce employed in the bioeconomy (click to see map)

The bioeconomy is an important employer in Ireland. There is a large variety of sectors that are either fully or partially considered to be part of it. A list of these sectors was compiled as part of the report “Getting (some) numbers right – derived economic indicators for the bioeconomy[3] produced by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC). The report lists the industrial activities regarded as part of the bioeconomy based on the European industrial activity classification (or NAVE Rev.2) which assigns unique codes to specific groups of industrial activity.

Groups considered fully embedded in the bioeconomy are:

Agriculture, forestry, fishing and aquaculture, manufacture of food, beverages and tobacco, manufacture of leather, manufacture of wood products, and manufacture of paper.

Groups considered partially part of the bioeconomy (called hybrid sectors) are:

Manufacture of bio-based textiles and wearing apparel, manufacture of wooden furniture, manufacture of bio-based chemicals, pharmaceuticals, plastics and rubber, and the production of bioelectricity.

Using the NACE classification, employment data can be extracted for Ireland. As part of the 2016 census, the Central Statistics Office reported a detailed employment data, categorised by county and NACE code[4] which we used to create a map of the importance of the bioeconomy as an employer in Ireland. Nationally, the sectors considered fully part of the bioeconomy accounted for 5.6 % of total employment, with the main source of employment being the agricultural sector. The map, however, shows strong regional differences, with the highest rate of employment being reported in Cavan (15.1 %), and the lowest level in Dublin (1.2 %). These numbers only reflect people directly employed in the bioeconomy, and other sectors definitely benefit, such as the hospitality and tourism sectors which will benefit from a strong local food and beverage industry, and the provision of attractive landscapes for example. Furthermore, these numbers do not include the sectors considered to be partially part of the bioeconomy, as the detail of the data does not allow for a reliable estimate of the workforce in these sectors employed in the bioeconomy.


[1] https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/26b789d4-00d1-4ee4-b32e-2303dfd2207c

[2] https://ec.europa.eu/knowledge4policy/publication/updated-bioeconomy-strategy-2018_en

[3] M'barek, R.; Parisi, C.; Ronzon, T. (editors), Getting (some) numbers right – derived economic indicators for the bioeconomy, EUR 29353 EN, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2018, ISBN 978-92-79-93907-5, doi:10.2760/2037, JRC113252. P. 6

[4] Central Statistics Office, StatBank, Statistical Product - Profile 11 - Employment Occupations and Industry, EB049 Population Aged 15 Years and Over in the Labour Force 2011 to 2016 by Detailed Occupational Group, Census Year and County and City