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Pará has the potential to lead the bioeconomy globally, but still needs to overcome obstacles

Biodiversity-based economy has been generating more and more income around the world and is the path to a shared sustainable future

Eduardo Laviano / O Liberal - Translated by Bruce Morais - CCAA Belém

Many debates gain repercussions year after year on World Environment Day, celebrated on June 5th. Few of them, however, are as comprehensive as the concept of bioeconomy and are so full of possibilities for a sustainable future and social well-being, generating employment, income and environmental preservation.

 

 

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Focused on innovation, the bioeconomy has three pillars: science, technology and biodiversity. The bioeconomy ranges from ice cream with Amazonian fruits to genetically modified plants to connect intense summers, passing through the development of biomass and biofuels. The aim of the movement is to ensure that the benefits reaped from the resources are shared by all.

"While we have 11 thousand km of deforestation in this forest, that it's the source of the bioeconomy, we're destroying our raw material" - Joice Ferreira, biologist.

With 42,730 plant species distributed known in different biomes, Brazil has the greatest plant genetic diversity in the world, which gives the country the opportunity to command the ship of the bioeconomy on a global scale, with a special focus on the elements of the Amazon, which it currently supplies raw material for several products all over the planet.

(Everaldo Nascimento / O Liberal)

"We have always worked with biodiversity. We have always had extractivism, whether of açaí or nut. When we talk about bioeconomy, the differential is the application of more science and developing new products, having more laboratories", summarizes biologist Joice Ferreira, from the Company Brazilian Agricultural Research (Embrapa).

"We have the smallest budget of the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development of the century (...) How will communities collect materials? (...) We have to be realistic: either we change this paradigm or we are just dreaming" - Joice Ferreira.

Despite the vast natural potential of the Amazon region, Joice believes that Pará and its neighboring states still face basic problems for the local bioeconomy to gain more and more strength and develop a positive image globally.

"I see that in Pará there is good articulation around the bioeconomy. Decision makers are committed to this vision of development. But we need to resolve some fundamental issues: while we have 11 thousand km of deforestation in this forest, that it's the source of the bioeconomy, we're destroying our raw material," she says, who in 2019 won the British Society of Ecology award in the Ecological Engagement category.

Joice Ferreira is a biologist at Embrapa (Adriana Sena / Ascom Embrapa)

The obstacles do not stop there. According to Ferreira, more investment in science, research and infrastructure is needed. "We have the smallest budget of the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development of the century. Public educational institutions, as well. We have many infrastructure problems too. How will communities collect materials? How will they transport them? How will they be trained to relate to the market? As long as there are employees (audience agencies public) being threatened, as long as there is no road, energy, how can we talk about super equipped laboratories? We have to be realistic: either we change this paradigm or we are just dreaming. People to do research, use computers, manipulate DNA," she says.

Joice recalls that there are many possibilities and paths that the bioeconomy can follow in Pará. She highlights the great international interest in açaí, cocoa and nuts, for example, it can attract more and more investments that should go beyond extraction, also encouraging research and incorporation of local communities into the daily economic activities of large companies and corporations.

(Igor Mota / O Liberal)

"In the açaí chain, everything is still very rudimentary, as well as the issue of pharmaceuticals, which has gained momentum here in recent years. The activities of large companies need to be well regulated, but compared to our gigantism, there are still few companies that are focused on the bioeconomy in Pará. It is necessary to ensure that communities have symmetry to negotiate on equal terms, with training. Communities work in an extractive, rustic way, but have a lot of value because of the knowledge accumulated over time. It is an exchange", she says.

Amazon has the “know-how” when it comes to bioeconomy

In addition to the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, the Amazon region has a wide range of institutions working to strengthen the values of the bioeconomy in the region. One of the examples, the Emílio Goeldi Museum, is currently developing more than 250 projects in partnership with institutions in Brazil and abroad.

Since 1866, the research institution's activities have focused on the studies and cataloging of the Amazon's natural and sociocultural systems, in addition to the dissemination of knowledge and collections related to the region and the peoples that inhabit it.

So much technical capital and accumulated Amazonian intelligentsia give Pará a privileged place in the international debate on bioeconomy. This is what the institution's current research and graduate coordinator, Ely Simone Gurgel, believes.

(Ronaldo Rosa / Divulgação Embrapa)

"With persistence and determination, it is possible to advance further. There is no lack of positive examples. We have a Japanese colony in Tomé-Açú, with agroforestry systems that have been working for decades. Another example is the Mixed Agricultural Cooperative of Tomé-Açu, which sells fruit pulp in the state for 30 years. On the other hand, we see that the reality is not the same in many regions. In Transamazônica, for example, there was a less successful experience in the implementation of agroforestry systems. There, it is difficult to sell and produce, but it is a region of very rich soil, with immeasurable potential", says Gurgel.

She recalls that the flow of production is a sensitive point, especially in the South and Southeast of Pará, where producers suffer from a lack of adequate logistics. Local production is still very dependent on some ports, such as Manaus, in Amazonas and Santarém, Belém and Barcarena, in Pará.

"People go to the mall and look at an imported product with great appreciation, but they have a certain dislike for what is local (...) When we value local fairs (...) this is to encourage the bioeconomy, helping the development of the place where we live, which is unique" - Joice Ferreira.

The coordinator believes that, once the impasses related to infrastructure are resolved, the development of the bioeconomy in the state will take place in a natural way, as it is a vocation of the state and of the research institutions involved in these processes.

"Our research is fundamental, as we range from the discovery of new species, with a strong taxonomic bias, to the scientific identification of fungi and animals, to the research that is carried out on medicines that are produced with natural organisms, by riverine communities and indigenous communities who know the correct use of each plant. More than researching in the name of the future, we preserve the memory so that this knowledge is not lost", he emphasizes.

It is impossible not to talk about Pará's competitive advantage when it comes to Pará's bioeconomy without mentioning açaí. The export of the fruit has grown almost 15,000% in ten years, as revealed in a recent report by Liberal Amazon.

"Today, I can say that açaí is the cornerstone of our bioeconomy, as it involves local culture, the population, strict international standards and income for vulnerable communities. It is a set of values that interact with each other", says Mário Jardim, engineer of forest that coordinates the Goeldi botany area.

Jardim has been researching açaí and the management of açaí trees since 1988. According to him, who holds a doctorate in biological sciences and ecology, the açaí production chain changes according to each municipality. Despite the large volume of fruit in the state, he believes that it is necessary to think about the future, even if the açaí palm is currently not at risk of extinction.

“There is the issue of maintaining the natural açai palm populations. It is a plant widely used for commercial purposes. Another point is to value the actors involved. I have been working with extractivists in the community for many years and I see that there is still a lot to improve for them in terms of quality of life. More than bioeconomy, we need to promote bio-entrepreneurship, with young people and entrepreneurs investing in natural products with cooperatives, in a shared way. My suggestion, at this time when Environment Day is celebrated, is that they plant a seedling of açaí wherever it is, for the generations to come", warns Mário.

Consumers can support bioeconomy with simple acts

According to a Nielsen study, carried out in 2019, sustainability is the third biggest concern of the Brazilian consumer. Seven million homes in the country declared to have sustainable habits and they are the ones that concentrate almost 20% of the sales of hygiene and beauty products, an area in which the Amazon also has potential.

(Igor Mota / O Liberal)

The branch has large industries installed in Pará, but small entrepreneurs also drive the cosmetics sector in the Amazon. When Laura Loisy created Eulauea Natural Cosmetics, the aim was to solve a longstanding personal problem.

"The brand has existed since 2019. I've been a vegetarian for seven years and I've always been looking for vegan products and I never had many options, even because of the lack of money too. So I started researching how to make shampoo and soaps with local ingredients. Besides, I'm from “Candomblé” and I've always worked with herbs. After a while, people realized that I was using different products and they became interested", she, who is 20 years old, says.

Laura Josy manufactures cosmetics (Tarso Sarraf / O Liberal)

The shampoos, soaps and facial care products developed by Laura are a success. Over time, other concerns emerged in the entrepreneur's mind, all related to the bioeconomy and sustainability. She made a point, for example, of valuing local suppliers, and making consumers aware of the disposal of containers, which are all returnable.

"I was also noticing the issue of garbage, plastic, and ecological care. I only use Amazonian products too: Amazonian oils, Amazonian butters, from the purchase to the making until the person receives it, everything is thought of. My main supplier is Amazon Oil, from Ananindeua, which unfortunately few people know about. In addition, I use rosemary, chamomile and other herbs, all bought at Ver-o-Peso market", says she, who does everything herself and, sometimes, counts on her girlfriend's help.

Despite the reach that social networks have given to Laura's business, she believes that there is still a lack of incentive in Pará, despite the state's potential to lead this new economy in the cosmetics market based on sustainability.

(Igor Mota / O Liberal)

"I see a lot of people who are interested, a lot of people buy to resell and there are many producers. People are curious about this. Before, I had a niche, here in the center of Belém, nowadays it has expanded a lot. But some chemicals for the shampoo I have to buy in São Paulo. There is a lack of diversification and dissemination as well," she understands, who has been increasing production since moving to a bigger house.

For Joice Ferreira, from Embrapa, citizens can contribute to strengthening the local bioeconomy with simple actions.

"People go to the mall and look at an imported product with great appreciation, but they have a certain dislike for what is local. Valuing the bioeconomy is valuing the products of our biodiversity. When we value local fairs, local producers, and choose our representatives, who give value to the forest, and are going to work towards forest conservation, and the culture of gastronomy, all of this is to encourage the bioeconomy, helping the development of the place where we live, which is unique," she advises.

Liberal Amazon
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