Nature and Biodiversity

What is a socio-bioeconomy and how an innovation ecosystem can contribute in the Amazon Basin

 There is an opportunity to position the Amazon as the primary catalyst for a low-carbon economy in the region.

There is an opportunity to position the Amazon as the primary catalyst for a low-carbon economy in the region. Image: Unsplash / Marcos Paulo Prado

Allison Voss
Innovation Ecosystem Lead – Nature, World Economic Forum
Janice Rodrigues Maciel
Green Economy Manager, CERTI Foundation, Fundação CERTI
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  • Protecting tropical forests is crucial to achieving the climate targets laid out in the Paris Agreement.
  • The countries in the Pan-Amazon have a transformative opportunity to position the region as the primary catalyst for a low-carbon economy.
  • There is an opportunity to create a new narrative - one where the Amazon region can showcase what a socio-economy for people and the planet looks like.

In recent years, the Amazon region and its tropical forests have captured growing interest. This focus arises from the widespread recognition of the global climate crisis and the dire consequences that could result from the destruction of these forests.

The stakes are high: the loss of tropical forests could make the Paris Agreement's targets unachievable.

The countries in the Pan-Amazon region are thus presented with a transformative opportunity - to position the Amazon as the primary catalyst for a low-carbon economy in the region. Missing this chance could lead to irreversible environmental damage, worsen inequality and bring us dangerously close to an ecological tipping point.

But, the question arises: how can we unlock the region's potential and craft a development strategy that blends social and economic growth with environmental sustainability?

Here, we aim to offer an alternative view of the Amazon, not as a wild, untouched land, but as a lively centre of biodiversity that could lead to a sustainable economic transformation. We explore the potential of a forest-based bioeconomy and investigate how this model could contribute to global climate objectives while driving economic development in the region. In doing so, we explore how this aspirational vision could transform into tangible reality through innovation and a paradigm shift in economic thinking.

The current state of the Amazon

The Amazon rainforest, the world's largest tropical forest, covers a vast 5.5 million square kilometres across nine countries.

As a biodiversity hotspot, often referred to as 'the lungs of the Earth,' the region faces severe threats. Deforestation, primarily due to land grabbing, logging, agriculture and mining activities, has escalated in recent years and the detrimental effects of climate change further aggravate this situation. Rising temperatures, altered precipitation patterns and more frequent and intense wildfires are putting additional pressure on this fragile ecosystem.

The recent severe drought and the fires in the Amazonas States, impacting thousands of human and animal lives, exemplify these consequences. This was considered the worst October for fires in the last 25 years in the Brazilian Amazon State, according to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE). Since September 2023, the state has declared an environmental emergency. The capital, Manaus, has been rated as one of the worst cities on the planet for air pollution due to the level of smoke, according to the World Air Quality Index.

Together, these factors could push the Amazon towards a critical tipping point, transitioning from rainforest to savanna, with devastating effects on biodiversity and climate. Given the current alarming scenario, there is an urgent need for innovative and sustainable management solutions for the Amazon. Here, a socio-bioeconomy approach presents a compelling path forward.

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An emerging socio-bioeconomy

The concept of socio-bioeconomy acknowledges the intricate ties between biodiversity and socio-cultural systems. It advocates for sustainable production chains, protects genetic heritage, values traditional community knowledge, stimulates job creation and income generation and positions itself as a strategy for climate change adaptation.

Applied to the Amazon context, the socio-bioeconomy approach presents a vast spectrum of opportunities for generating innovative products, all the while promoting sustainable economic growth and preserving biological, cultural and social diversity. This bioeconomy already exists, but it´s far from reaching its full capacity.

Key opportunities include:

• The development of nutrient-rich superfoods production, such as the products produced by Awi Superfood. This company turns natural ingredients, such as açaí, cupuaçu, camu-camu and nuts, into sorbets and ice creams.

• The manufacturing of natural rubber used in tyres, shoes and fashion, such as produced by VEJA shoes.

• Products based on the traditional knowledge of Indigenous Peoples, such as cosmetics produced by Yari Colombia.

• Advanced scientific research on plant species for developing new health products. Ecoflora, for example, has developed a stable, natural blue colourant for the food, beverage and cosmetic industries.

• Sustainable tourism that showcases the region's rich biodiversity and cultural heritage could also thrive. Sumisawa is showing what can be done here.

• Beyond direct biodiversity use, technology-driven businesses have vast potential to enhance forest and bioeconomy competitiveness, with startups addressing the region's unique energy, water, logistics and fire management challenges. For example, Umgrauemeio, with its Pantera platform, provides integrated solutions for fire risk prevention, instant and early detection, fast response and impact analysis, helping to mitigate the devastating effects of mega-fires in various ecosystems.

There is a great opportunity for innovative businesses to address the challenges faced in the growing socio-bioeconomy market. It means that those industries that use forest products and adopt sustainable and regenerative supply-chain practices will play a pivotal role in accelerating forest chains and promoting value on a significant scale for forestry. Yet, these industries often lack organized supply chains, making it hard for them to meet their needs.

Connecting these different parts of the market and bridging this gap presents a significant opportunity for innovation.

This is what Certi Amazônia is doing by developing Bioconex, a digital replica of bioeconomy value chains that allows for simulations and predictions of future demands and guides the structuring of capabilities. Similarly, Fundación Pachamama promotes the development of innovative value chains for Amazonian products, strengthening local associations of producers and connections with local and international markets. This kind of innovation can play a transformative role, driving the Amazon bioeconomy towards its full potential.

There are a multitude of opportunities to drive sustainable economic growth while preserving the region's rich biodiversity and cultural heritage. Yet, transforming this vision into a reality demands a coordinated effort and strategic investment in areas such as research and development, infrastructure, capacity building and fostering an entrepreneurial and innovative culture in the region.

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Activating the innovative ecosystem

While the Amazon socio-bioeconomy holds immense promise, there's a significant gap between its current state and the envisioned future. The competitiveness and potential of standing forests largely depend on the growth and diversity of innovative, scalable businesses. Therefore, faster and more assertive support is crucial to generate a qualified business pipeline in the region.

A shared vision of sustainable development should be the common goal of governments, corporations, entrepreneurs, accelerators, incubators, the scientific community, capital providers, multilateral agencies and local communities. Governments can establish regulations promoting sustainability and innovation while preserving indigenous rights and biodiversity. Corporations and entrepreneurs can stimulate economic growth by investing in sustainable technologies and eco-friendly business models. The scientific community can play a crucial role in understanding biodiversity and developing new technologies.

Capital, accelerators and incubators can significantly foster this ecosystem by providing the necessary funding and support. Knowledge networks are essential for exchanging ideas and promoting shared learning. Lastly, as guardians of the Amazon, local communities are a key element of this ecosystem. Their traditional wisdom and sustainable forest lifestyles are invaluable, and their economic and social empowerment is crucial to the Amazon's sustainable development.

Constructing a sustainable ecosystem means combining strengths, aligning goals and working together towards a thriving Amazon bioeconomy. Each entity plays a crucial role in ensuring economic growth, social progress and environmental conservation.

Working towards a collective approach

The Amazon bioeconomy is a unique chance for Pan-Amazonion countries to encourage sustainable economic growth, social improvement and the conservation of the region's rich biodiversity.

It can potentially revolutionize the economy, establishing the region as a global leader in sustainable practices and bio-based production. Realizing this potential, however, requires a concerted, inclusive effort from all stakeholders. This includes substantial investments in research, science and technology, attracting top talent, collaborating with the Indigenous Peoples to share their knowledge and effective financing and incentive mechanisms.

Since 2020, the World Economic Forum, through its 1 Trillions Trees initiative, has sought to close some of these gaps and has run two innovation challenges via its UpLink platform to source and scale bioeconomy 'ecopreneurs' - entrepreneurs who put the environmental impact at the core of their business models. Through this work, a regional 1t.org innovation ecosystem has taken root, with close engagement from investment funds, local accelerators, research institutions, public officials, environmental ministries, non-profit organizations, indigenous leaders, local communities and others to support the development of new sustainable economic pathways for the Amazon region.

Bringing together all these actors to think and collaboratively create a proposal to catalyze the innovation ecosystem of the Amazon region was the main goal of the event Accelerating the Amazon's Ecopreneurship Ecosystem. This took place in Manaus, Brazil, in early September this year. It was hosted by The World Economic Forum, with the collaboration of the Inter-American Development Bank under the framework of its Amazonia Forever Regional Programme. The event's discussions emphasized the importance of nurturing an 'ecopreneurship' culture, boosting regional capabilities and fostering collaboration across diverse regional players to solidify these solutions.

There is an opportunity to create a new narrative - one where the Amazon region can showcase what a socio-bioeconomy for people and planet looks like. It's clear that Brazil and all other Pan-Amazon countries now have the opportunity to leverage the unique assets of the Amazon, positioning themselves at the forefront of a standing forest socio-bioeconomy discussion.

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