The Amazonian territorial diversity, reflected in its peoples, cultures, soils, flora and fauna, contains unique elements to provide mankind with better living conditions across sectors such as healthcare, food and climate regulation. It is possible to generate wealth and prosperity with quality, adding value to and conserving genetic heritage through excellence in research, development and innovation.
The premise that rational, consistent and long-term economic development should be grounded in knowledge of nature and the understanding that Amazonian biodiversity constitutes the ballast for this transformational process establish the narrative of the bioeconomy as a matrix for sustainable economic development that prevents the excessive simplification of nature that generally occurs when increased production is the objective.
Undoubtedly much has been constructed, both on the political and the economic level, with respect to the bioeconomy. Many sustainable development proposals for the Amazon revolve around this or at least consider it a potential lever. Some authors even advocate that bioeconomy is the “salvation” of the Amazon. The concept has already been defined by diverse organizations, and it has recently been redefined for the Brazilian Amazon context, by Instituto Escolhas and others stressing “social and environmental benefits” and Viana et al. (2020), who shed light on social biodiversity and the empowerment of traditional communities.
Although some scholars have previously identified different discourses on bioeconomy, most of the academic and political discussions neglect the role of tropical forests’ conservation. Besides, the bioeconomy should be driven not only by the conservation of the existing biome, but also by the expansion of such biodiverse areas.
Therefore, the discussion of the bioeconomy in the Brazilian Amazon has little in common with the discourse disseminated in industrialized economies, and even in other regions of Brazil, driven mainly by the substitution fossil-based materials and the promotion of the agricultural sector with a view to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The need to re-qualify a seemly established concept stems from, among other aspects, the concern that the normative implications for the bioeconomy agenda in the Amazon further strengthen some drivers of deforestation and the concentration of wealth and income, which would be extremely contradictory. In short, the bioeconomy embodies a major ambiguity: it may be a panacea for the problems of the region while also representing a threat to the standing forest.
The discussions promoted within the Amazon Concertation have revealed different interpretations and visions for the bioeconomy and, as a result, the need for a comprehensive reference that takes all of them into account.
Drawing on a first exercise to acknowledge the region’s diversity in terms of landscapes and occupation patterns, the group reflected upon different types of bioeconomy for the Amazon.
A framework for bioeconomy in the Amazon
Instead of re-defining the concept, we proposed a typology for bioeconomy that could support a broader comprehension of the subject as a common denominator for a robust strategy, considering the relationships between them, including not only risks and trade-offs, but also synergies and opportunities. The table that follows identifies characteristics that distinguish possible “promotion fronts” for the bioeconomy, in accordance with different approaches and production systems. It is not a conceptual dispute. The purpose of the exercise was not to endorse or dismiss any class of bioeconomy, but rather to recognize the diversity of interpretations.
Neither does the detailing of the three groups translate into a definitive classification. It is merely a stylized representation aimed at illustrating how the economic activities and diverse relevant aspects vary along the spectrum and identifying and proposing more targeted actions. In this respect, it should be noted that the concept of (agro)forestry continuum, illustrated below, is considered in relation to these stylized groups.
The (agro)forestry continuum
Methodologically, the characterization of the currently predominant activities is a starting point for identifying activities that may be promoted, the bottlenecks for the development of the production chains, the actions necessary to overcome these, as well as the business models for each group (click here to check the framework).
What contributions does the framework make?
First, it helps to make the trade-offs and risks of the bioeconomy agenda more explicit, such as the possible net increase in emissions or the loss of biodiversity resulting from the substitution of fossil-based raw materials with the unrestricted cultivation of biomass. Such risks should be recognized and make the monitoring of direct and indirect impacts fundamental. In the value chains, concerns such as these make the socioenvironmental safeguards and certification systems even more important.
From the public policy standpoint, an integrated approach should adopt a clear commitment to protecting biodiversity and the climate. Brazil already has policies that support the bioeconomy from different perspectives (science and technology, family agriculture, regional development, energy, among others). However, they lack a broader overall coordination. In this respect, climate governance in the country could be a means of integrating them to ensure that determined frontiers are not overstepped.
Regarding the consequences for businesses, it may be noted that in each domain there are implications for the scale of production and needs and forms of financing. The projects that involve the use of biodiversity present different risk/return ratios for investors. Consequently, there is a specific set of policies to be adopted to provide incentives for businesses in each context. Similar conclusions can be drawn for philanthropists’ strategies.
Reflection upon business models that add value to the standing forest involves a broader understanding of the bioeconomy that comprehends not only products, but also services, one of which is the contribution to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. It is necessary that both negative and positive externalities be explicitly recognized to enable the economic feasibility of bioeconomy businesses that are compatible with the objectives of conservation and climate protection. The framework could also help to identify synergies in R&D as biodiversity is deemed a sophisticated factory of molecules. Molecule prospection research can benefit innovation in production processes based both on the intensive production of biomass and on extractivism.
Lastly, the bioeconomy framework may help local governments to formulate more suitable public policies for valuing social biodiversity by means of knowledge and the businesses and develop Brazilian and international partnerships to drive an economic matrix based on the premises of a standing forest and reduction of socio-territorial inequalities.
Certainly, other conclusions may be derived from the framework. The next steps include the organization, by those mentioned below, of the Forum for Innovation in Investments in the Amazon Bioeconomy. The state of Amazonas has already used the framework to facilitate conversations aimed at formulating more suitable public policies for the region. Furthermore, based on this initial exercise, we aim to explore business models for each of the bioeconomies that may enable development projects for the Amazon region.
*Bioeconomy Group of the Amazon Concertation
Roberto Waack, Renata Piazzon and Inaiê Santos, Arapyaú Institute
Cláudio Padua, Biobusiness Institute
Marcello Brito, Brazilian Agribusiness Association (Abag)
Tatiana Schor, Secretary of the Amazonas State Department for Economic Development, Science, Technology, and Innovation (SEDECTI-AM)
Mariano Cenamo, Institute for the Conservation and Sustainable Development of the Amazon (Idesam)