An Overview of the Bioeconomy in Brazil

The population growth projected for the coming years and the consequent increase in consumption of water, food, energy and natural resources have been causing unprecedented impacts on our ecosystem (BNDES, 2018).

The impacts and challenges caused by the population growth, associated with the growing urbanization, the overexploitation of natural resources, the dependence on fossil resources, the consequences facing the current health crisis and the uncertainties related to climate change on a global scale require the search a paradigm shift for world economic development (BNDES, 2018).

Integrated with global sustainability objectives and goals for mitigating climate change, the new economic model must ensure the production and consumption of food, water and energy in a more secure and sustainable manner; and to promote the development of industrial processes with less environmental impact based on bio-based technological innovations.

Thus, Bioeconomy emerges as a promising response to current demand, based on the rational use of biodiversity and increasingly being considered as a political and economic strategy for a more sustainable global development.

The European Union gains prominence in the bioeconomy worldwide, moving around 2 trillion Euros and generating around 20 million jobs. In this market, the food sector is the economic activity with the largest participation, representing about 44%. In addition, activities related to the bioeconomy represent approximately 14% of the EU’s GDP, according to the OECD – Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

In Brazil, conceptually, according to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovations, the bioeconomy emerges through technological innovations based on the biological sciences, enabling the development of more sustainable products, processes and services (MCTI, 2021).

The first practices of the bioeconomy in Brazil began in the 1980s, resulting in the creation of the Sectorial Biotechnology Fund, which allocates financial resources to encourage Brazilian scientific and technological development based on the training and qualification of human resources, aiming at expanding the base of national knowledge (FINEP, 2002). Since 2004, biotechnology was placed as a strategic area for national economic development, as part of several policies (DIAS et al., 2016).

A study carried out in 2011 by the Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning (Cebrap), in partnership with the Brazilian Biotechnology Association (BrBiotec), Rio de Janeiro Technological Park (BIO-RIO Foundation) and the Brazilian Agency for the Promotion of Investiments (Apex-Brasil) resulted in the Brazil Biotech Map 2011, a mapping of Brazilian companies that had biotechnology as their main activity, as well as those companies that developed projects in the area (DIAS et al., 2016).

In this study, 237 Brazilian companies were mapped, 40% of which are in the State of São Paulo, the majority being small and medium-sized companies. In relation to economic activities, more than 40% of industrial activity is related to human health, followed by animal health, especially in the development of medicines and vaccines (DIAS et al., 2016).

In 2018, the Action Plan on Science, Technology and Innovation in Bioeconomy (Bioconomics) (PACTI Bioeconomy) was launched valid until 2022, which highlights the five main thematic lines that will deserve focus to overcome challenges and take advantage of opportunities presented by the national bioeconomy. These themes are related to the valorisation of biomass; processing and biorefineries; bioproducts; creation of a Brazilian Bioeconomy Observatory (proposal submitted in August 2020) and a National Bioeconomy Committee.

In response to PACTI Bioeconomy, in the end of 2020, the Productive Chains of Bioeconomy Program was launched by MCTI with the objective of promoting the productive chains of Brazilian biodiversity. The program has already invested approximately US $ 1 million in projects related to the production chains of açaí, cupuaçu and pirarucu, in the Amazon region and Licuri in the Caatinga.

The bioeconomy has been seen as a great opportunity for the Brazilian agriculture sector to use and improve its full potential for producing food, fibres, energy and new products. Biological control is a topic widely discussed in the agricultural sector and has been gaining expression in the national market due to the international requirements and experiences for food production.

From the point of view of energy production from biomass, Brazil has great potential to lead the world market, not only with power generation, but mainly in the biofuels sector. Ethanol is a biofuel present in the Brazilian energy matrix before the 1930s. With the arrival of RenovaBio, it is intended to bring greater competitiveness to the sugar-energy sector and more investments, generating jobs and income (UNICA, 2019).

It is worth mentioning that RenovaBio is a federal program, launched in 2017, considered as the new National Biofuel Policy, with the objective of expanding the participation of biofuels in the Brazilian transport matrix, contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the country.

Still on the energy sector, Brazil has the most potential worldwide to generate biogas (and consequently, biomethane), and this potential has been (has being) mainly related to the sugar-energy, agricultural and urban solid waste sectors. Just to put it in context, Brazil has the potential to replace approximately 40 billion liters of diesel oil with biomethane; and generate more than 170,000 GWh / year of electricity from biogas (ABIOGÁS, 2020).

It is clear, therefore, that the capacity to produce bioenergy at scale, the multifunctionality of agriculture linked to the abundance of natural resources derived from biodiversity, makes Brazil one of the main protagonists of the global bioeconomy. According to Embrapa, one of the main trends in the country is the use of biomass as a raw material for the development of bioproducts and bioindustries, with potential for application in several sectors of the economy (EMBRAPA, 2021).

According to the National Confederation of Industries (CNI), the perspective for industrial biotechnology alone, can bring US $ 53 billion to Brazilian GDP per year, over a 20-year horizon (CNI, 2020). According to the Brazilian Bioinnovation Association (ABBI), of the US $ 53 billion annually, a budget of US $ 20 billion is projected from 120 plants for the production of second-generation ethanol and US $ 33 billion of bioproducts derived from cellulose (ABBI, 2016).

It is known that Brazil has the greatest biodiversity in the world, with more than 40 thousand mapped plant species distributed in its different biomes (Amazon Forest, Cerrado, Atlantic Forest, Pampa, Caatinga and Pantanal) (BNDES, 2019). However, investments in research and more consistent policies for the development and innovation of the Brazilian bioeconomy are still lacking.

The importance of bioprospecting and mapping new species of Brazilian biodiversity can attract investments in the order of billions. In addition, regulations, and standards more appropriate to the use of biodiversity and intellectual property can bring faster and more concrete results. Currently, legal uncertainty is the subject of discussion at the Parliamentary Front of Bioeconomy (launched in 2019). Another subject widely discussed at the Parliamentary Front is the regulation of biobased inputs to manufacture fertilizers and pesticides, considered the next wave in the sector of products used in agriculture.

In May 2020, the National Bio-input Program, managed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (MAPA) was launched. The program’s proposal is to contribute to the development of new technological solutions for the production chains related to agriculture, livestock and aquaculture (MAPA, 2020).

In view of the countless opportunities that the bioeconomy can offer to the Brazilian market, its progress still depends on improvements in the country’s innovation system. However, Bioeconomy can place Brazil in a strategic highlight in the global economy, being a real protagonist in favour of the sustainable development of our planet.

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