Support Grows for Bioeconomy in Amazon

    31 August 2023

    Brazil's Amazon rainforest has long been home to small and mid-sized sustainable businesses. These companies use the area's nuts, fruits and other materials.

    Now there is a push to increase the number of those businesses. And a new term has come about to describe these kinds of businesses: "bioeconomy."

    Marcelo Salazar has a drink company called Mazo Mana Forest Food. The business partners with communities that live from the forest and gather the nuts, cocoa beans, acai, mushrooms, fruits and other ingredients that go into the drinks. They have received financial support from an investment group in Manaus, Brazil. The hope is that the bioeconomy counters an economy based on forestry and ranching.

    ARCHIVE - View of the forest on Combu Island on the banks of the Guam<I>&#</I>225; River, near Bel<I>&#</I>233;m, Par<I>&#</I>225;, Brazil, August 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres, Archive)
    ARCHIVE - View of the forest on Combu Island on the banks of the Guam&#225; River, near Bel&#233;m, Par&#225;, Brazil, August 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres, Archive)

    Leaders from Amazon countries used and heard the term repeatedly at an August meeting in Belem. The officials expressed interest for policies to protect the rainforest and provide paying work for tens of millions who live in it.

    However, beyond general support for the idea, there was little agreement about what exactly a bioeconomy should look like. Salazar was on a team chosen by Brazil's environment ministry to speak about the subject.

    The idea is not new. It is the latest term for sustainable development, also called the green economy.

    Besides the Brazil nuts and acai harvesters, people are making chocolate from native cocoa. There is a sustainable fishery for one of the world's largest freshwater fish. A community of rubber gatherers is helping produce shoes.

    "The challenge is scale," Para state Governor Helder Barbalho said. His state is believed to be the only in Brazil that has a complete bioeconomy plan. Para is Brazil's top producer of acai, yet its economy is far more dependent on iron ore exports to China. A large amount of land in Para is used by an estimated 27 million farm cows. The state emits more greenhouse gases than any Amazon country besides Brazil.

    But when it comes to larger sustainable companies, there are few success stories. The best example has been skin product company Natura. Twenty years ago it started a product line using ingredients from traditional Amazon communities and family farms.

    When the company started, local people were using ucuuba trees to make brooms. They greatly increased their earnings by leaving the trees standing and selling the seeds to Natura. The change helped conserve more than 2 million hectares of forest.

    Natura bought goods from 41 communities – home to 9,120 families – who in 2022 received about $9 million.

    Para State's plan for the bioeconomy names 43 forest products that could be exported, including acai, cocoa, cassava, pepper, fish species and essential oils for skin products.

    And the neighboring Amazonas state is creating a bioeconomy plan with financial support from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

    But some earlier efforts reveal problems.

    A state condom factory in the Amazon city of Xapuri opened in 2008. It was supposed to provide a market for hundreds of rubber-gathering families. But the factory closed 10 years later, after federal funding came to an end. Locals resorted to cattle ranching and today the area ranks high for deforestation.

    Cocoa beans have also caused problems. The trees can be a way to let forest grow back where it has been cut down. But its appeal in places like the Ivory Coast and Ghana has meant massive deforestation to make way for the trees that earn more money.

    Salazar, head of Mazo Mana, views his company as both social-minded and good for the economy. It keeps nearly 10 percent of its money for its partner community associations.

    Salazar thinks the sustainable companies that succeed and grow big will be those with a mission to solve the Amazon's problems. He says those companies will drive an economy that sees the value of the forest.

    I'm Dan Novak.

    Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by The Associated Press.


    Words in This Story

    sustainable — adj. able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed

    scale — n. the size or level of something especially in comparison to something else

    greenhouse gas — n.

    broom — n. a brush that has a long handle and that is used for sweeping floors

    condom — n. a thin rubber covering that a man wears on his penis during sex in order to prevent a woman from becoming pregnant or to prevent the spread of diseases