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Bioeconomy: a new market emerges in the Amazon

Amazon Region is the entry passport for a new order in the global economy. Brazil holds the potential for turning up as a low-carbon environmental and agricultural authority, and provider of environmental services on a national and global scale

Natália Mello / O Liberal - Translated by Silvia Benchimol and Ewerton Branco / UFPA

The traditional knowledge of Amazonian peoples and the richness of the region's biodiversity have attracted international attention for some decades. More recently, contrary to the practices of devastation which have worsened along the 20th century and the dramatic images of open areas in the forest, associated with monetary values, another factor has been increasingly outstanding: the contribution of the standing forest resources for the generation of employment and income to the region. In the midst of this scenario and aiming at giving visibility to this new development model based on economy that comes from nature, emerges the World Bioeconomy Forum in 2018, in the city of Ruka, Finland. In 2021, for the first time, the Forum was held outside Europe, precisely in Belém do Pará, one of the gateways to the Brazilian Amazon.

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The world's views regarding the role of the Amazon in this new perspective of doing economics still provokes divergent opinions. When deciding to bring the first edition of the event to Brazil, and more specifically to Belém, the founder of the forum, Jukka Kantola, reinforces the reason for selecting the host city, alleging that the bioeconomy was effectively born in the region, which has one of the largest biomes on the planet. Kantola also highlights the role of Brazil in this global scenario, which is home to a large part of the planet's indigenous population.

Jukka Kantolla was the creator of the Bioeconomy Forum (Sidney Oliveira / O Liberal)

“It is the biggest ecosystem in the world embracing the richest biodiversity. We are here to promote expertise and there is no better strategy than launching a forum for exchanging  experiences with the most distinct locations. This is not about a single bioeconomy. Each region has its own bioeconomy, based on its local reality. So, it is wise and suitable to bring this event to the Amazon, in order to value the region's biodiversity”, defends Jukka.

The forum's founder says he expects a great leap towards the economic development of the Amazon region as a whole and as a consequence of holding the event in the capital of Pará. For him, the bioeconomy “will effectively come into being” in Brazil and in Latin America. “I think people are really interested in talking about the bioeconomy, and that's the good thing. The desire to develop bioeconomy in the Amazon is what I intend take along in my trip back to Finland, because I see people interested, I personally witness a market movement, a model based on new possibilities. And this enthusiasm towards bioeconomy, I will bring home”.

(Tarso Sarraf / O Liberal)

The issue became recurrent in the international economic agendas. The 7th of July is already remembered as World Bioproduct Day – the date on which Jukka emphasized the opportunity for companies and consumers to share their experiences. He reaffirms the forum, in short, represents the ambition for continuous improvement of this concept, which is still faced as a challenge. “But knowledge about bioeconomy is spreading among consumers. Encouraging the bioeconomy is one of the promising avenues able to move people from illegality into legality, contributing to other initiatives and reducing deforestation, in addition to improving the generation of jobs and income”, he ponders.

"The Amazon is a provider of environmental services on a national and global scale. It is the largest forest carbon reserve on the planet. It circumscribes the greatest terrestrial biodiversity. And it's unparalleled in terms of water resources" - Beto Veríssimo, researcher.

It is worth noting that this spotlight, which results in fixed gazes on the Amazon, results from a climate emergency, recalls researcher Beto Veríssimo, one of the founders of the Instituto do Homem e do Meio Ambiente da Amazônia [Institute of Man and the Environment in the Amazon] (Imazon). Veríssimo asserts that the region is the passport for Brazil in the 21st century, and that conservation of the largest forest in the world is necessary and absolutely strategic for the country to position itself in the international scene.

“In order to preserve the Amazon, it is necessary to develop it in a sustainable way, aiming at a low carbon economy, that is, generating wealth with very little carbon emissions. In agriculture, this will mean, for example, improving soil management [fixing more carbon in the soil] and taking advantage of areas which have already been deforested. It is important to remember that the Amazon stretches along eight other countries, although Brazil holds the majority [approximately two-thirds]”, says Veríssimo.

Researcher Beto Veríssimo (Druso Frota / Divulgação)

Beto believes that if Brazil manages to take care of the Amazon with proper discernment and wisdom, the forest he classifies as extraordinary will place the country in a position of environmental and agricultural authority. “Low carbon power in a world that will reward sustainable business and punish predatory business. If deforestation remains out of control, the Amazon takes us out of the world. This destructive attitude is a serious risk of boycott and divestment for our economy”. As for foreign investments, which generate some concern regarding Brazilian sovereignty, the researcher is assertive: the economy is global, and the market is an important part of the solution for the Amazon.

Beto also reinforces the relevance of the Amazon region for the planet: “The Amazon is a provider of environmental services on a national and global scale. It is the largest forest carbon reserve on the planet. It circumscribes the greatest terrestrial biodiversity. And it's unparalleled in terms of water resources. Much of the rain that falls in South-Central Brazil depends on the Amazon. Without the Amazon, we will have deeper and more catastrophic water crises. It is in our interest to conserve, protect and sustainably develop the region”.

Internationalization of the Amazon, Brazilian sovereignty

Professor and PhD in International Relations Mário Tito guarantees: when the issue is  Brazilian sovereignty over the Amazon, a topic that from time to time is brought back to debate, given the various international and national interests at stake, one should remember that the management of a territory is an attribution reserved to its government sphere. Only in extreme situations the United Nations (UN) can authorize the use of external force. Thus, Tito reaffirms that the management of the Amazon is the sole and non-transferable responsibility of Brazil. However, he clarifies, agreements may be established between countries or international organizations so that technical and financial cooperation can take place to help manage the Amazon.

“However, these agreements do not mean Brazil would no longer exert sovereignty over the region. The possibility of internationalization of the Amazon, as much as the loss of Brazilian sovereignty over the region within its territory, are practically nil. The sovereignty of a National State is the basic principle of respect for any country, enshrined in the Charter of San Francisco, the Constitutive Treaty of the UN”, he explains.

(Tarso Sarraf / O Liberal)

That being said, it is possible to approach international interest in the Amazon in two ways: “The first, relates to its wealth and biodiversity, which attracts all sorts of agents trying to profit from it somehow, even illicitly, that is, biopiracy, mining, mineral resource appropriation etc. The second, relates to the legit intention to preserve the region, because of its importance to the world’s environmental and climate balance, and the desire to cooperate with Brazil in maintaining  such balance”, highlights Tito. 

(Tarso Sarraf / O Liberal)

“It is important to ‘sift the wheat from the chaff’ concerning those interests. One of the most prominent claims in international forums related to the Amazon internationalization is the perceived lack of responsibility on behalf of Brazilian government concerning the Amazon, caused by the loosening of environmental laws, the absence of efficient monitoring and control in the region and the increase of economic activities that are damaging the forest cover. Although a powerful argument, it should not be regarded above Brazilian people’s autonomy in the supremacy of that process, without international interference”, affirms Tito. 

What is bioeconomy, after all?

Bioeconomy is a term that integrates different comprehensiveness and views, but it stems from the same idea: using traditional knowledge and resources obtained from the nature in a certain region to enhance employment and income, respecting the forest preservation. That concept is also related to the term sustainability, defined as the conscious exploitation of natural resources to the basic needs of the current generation, avoiding impacts on the future life on planet Earth (harmony amongst mankind, environment and economy). 

Bioeconomy originates from bioproducts deriving from seeds, fruits, trees, or even from the knowledge of traditional peoples. The main objective is preserving and developing, socially and humanly, transforming the standing forest and the traditional knowledge in economic development and compensating efforts towards the reduction of carbon emissions caused by the deforestation and forest fires – carbon credits. 

(Sidney Oliveira / O Liberal)

Indigenous peoples and aggregated value to the traditional knowledge 

The knowledge and the culture of Kayapó indigenous people from Novo Progresso, municipality in the southwest region of Pará state, has been passed on by generations, from parents to children. Today, one can see it turned up in bags, earrings and other kinds of handcrafts. In partnership with the Kabu institute, which sells bioproducts also made from Castanha-do-Pará [Brazilian nuts], cumaru [a local fruit], babaçu oil, and other raw materials. It is possible to buy an item made from the biodiversity and also to contribute to preserve millions of Amazon rainforest hectares.  

Businessman Marcel Campos (Thiago Gomes / O Liberal)

How is that possible? Biologist form Mato Grosso [a central state in Brazil] Dulciane Souza, community leader and Kayapó’s art promoter for 12 years, explains: “By valuing their products, we recognize their history, territory and location. The Institute project helps 300 families, that benefit from it regardless of whether they sell their products or not, since the resources all return to the village. Everyone benefits equally from this economy round model. Our objective in taking part in the Bioeconomy World Forum is to become visible for state departments and institutions such as Serviço Brasileiro de Apoio às Micro e Pequenas Empresas- Sebrae [Brazilian Small Business Support Service], for example”. She also points out this had been the second time Kayapó products were sold in Pará state and remarked they are currently commercialized to other Brazilian states, such as Brasília (Federal District), São Paulo and even abroad. 

Bioproducts generate environmental benefits. 

A startup company created in Belém envisaged the seed of açaí berry as a profitable opportunity to generate income. Beyond that, it projected the possibility of helping the environmental preservation. According to Marcel Campos, from Açaí Forma company, 300 tons of açai seeds are thrown away daily in Belém. By using that residue, for example, it is possible to reduce the amount of plastic used in packages, which later will aggravate the capital trash production. 

“We process the seeds aggregating value, working with polymer composites. Every time we use seeds, it means less plastic on the streets or polluting the environment. The forum was fundamental for us. First, because we are part of this theme. Secondly, because we work with biotechnology, which results in products of a circular and sustainable economy. Here is the ideal place to present these new products to the world, says Campos. 

Marcel remarks that açaí is, alone, richness of endless possibilities, besides its nutriment value. “It is the essential input to products which can reach the whole world, because it has the potential for that. It can also be a development vector. The truth is Pará is already living on bioeconomy. We are now proposing a model of bioeconomy with more technology and aggregated value. We need to verticalize processes, because açaí is our raw material and it is already being verticalized abroad, and the same should be going on here.”

Liberal Amazon

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