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Posted: Friday 15 July, 2022 at 3:29 PM

Food, energy and fertilizer crisis affords an opportunity for Latin America to accelerate the development of the bioeconomy, says IICA at important global forum

By: (IICA), Press Release

    San Jose, 13 July 2022 (IICA) – Although the war in Eastern Europe has had a negative economic and social impact on Latin America and the Caribbean, it has also generated conditions for accelerating the development of the bioeconomy.
    The region’s wealth of natural resources, new global demands for more sustainable production, and changes in the global geopolitical landscape represent a convergence of factors conducive to a more rapid transition towards a bio-based model.
    This was one of the ideas shared by experts brought together by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) to discuss the crisis scenario within the framework of the 2022 Conference of the International Consortium on Applied Bioeconomy Research (ICABR).
    An international consortium of experts in the bioeconomy, agriculture, biotechnology and research, ICABR is one of the world’s leading forums for academic bioeconomy. It comprises renowned universities such as Rutgers, Berkeley, MIT, Campinas, UC Davis, Wageningen and Saskatchewan. As part of its objectives, ICABR seeks to foster collaboration between universities, research centers, governments and private companies, as well as the application of research findings (particularly in public policies). 
    Within the framework of this year’s conference, IICA organized a panel entitled “The bioeconomy and the impact of the war between Russia and Ukraine on Latin America and the Caribbean”. Participants discussed the region’s potential with respect to liquid biofuels, biogas, aviation fuels, biotechnology and bioinputs, among other areas.
    The discussion was moderated by Hugo Chavarría, Manager of IICA’s Bioeconomy and Production Development Program, who also participated as a panelist in two ICABR plenary sessions.
    “We have worked hard to position Latin America and the Caribbean in these global bioeconomy forums. That is the only way in which the region will gain visibility at the highest level and become an active participant in discussions and decision-making among the most influential stakeholders of the academic sector and the science, technology and innovation systems of the bioeconomy worldwide”, said Chavarría.
    The specialist considered that the region possesses the necessary resources and conditions to accelerate the development of the bioeconomy; however, it is important to strengthen them through awareness-raising, training opportunities, the improvement of regulatory frameworks, market promotion and research and development.
    The bioeconomy, which involves the sustainable industrialization of biological resources and principles, allows for designing new production development strategies to meet the growing food and energy demands of the global population, while helping to mitigate the impact on the environment and natural resources.
    The opportunities available

    “The war impacted a region that had already been heavily affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020, Latin America suffered a 7% contraction in its GDP – the steepest decline in 120 years. This led to an increase in poverty, which currently affects 200 million people, 86 million of whom live in extreme poverty”, remarked Eduardo Trigo, a global leader in the field of bioeconomy and advisor to the Director General of IICA.
    However, Trigo underscored the opportunities available: “One of the characteristics of the region is its wealth of biological resources. For this reason, the bioeconomy, which involves capitalizing on biological resources, is a logical solution – perhaps not in the short term, but in our long-term vision for development”.
    “The region, and tropical countries in particular, could make better use of their wealth of biological resources to strengthen their food security. This is not a new process in Latin America and the Caribbean. At least eleven countries have developed strategies to take advantage of these new pathways towards development. So, we are not talking about untapped potential, but rather about realistic processes that are already underway in the region”, explained the expert.
     Materializing expectations
    Agustín Tejeda, Manager of Economic Studies at Argentina’s Grain Exchange, referred to the war’s disruptive impacts, noting that, due to the increase in the prices of inputs, producers in Argentina or Brazil must now invest 50% more dollars to obtain the same products.
    However, Tejeda considered that long-term opportunities are opening up, which would enable the region to consolidate its standing as a global food and energy supplier in the coming years. “We are already seeing an increase in the use of bio-based products that can replace fossil-based products. Perhaps the greatest opportunity available is the possibility to consolidate our own vision, based on the understanding that there is no single approach to sustainability – there are as many approaches as there are productive realities”, he noted.
    Tejeda has no doubts regarding the region’s potential to increase exports and capitalize on the opportunities afforded by the bioeconomy. “To materialize these possibilities, it is important that we review our strategy for participating at the international level and that we reach regional consensus regarding policymaking on production development and international negotiations”.
    Jorge Bedoya, Chair of the Farmers’ Association of Colombia, pointed out that while his country produces 73 million tons of food, it only imports 13.8 million tons. “Everything that has occurred since the invasion of Ukraine has put tremendous pressure on the production costs of crucial foodstuffs for the Colombian population, such as chicken, pork and milk. We have an annual inflation of more than 23% in food”, he said.
    Bedoya highlighted the fact that Colombia could be less dependent on imports: “We have made important strides in biodiesel and ethanol production. We have an agricultural frontier of 40 million hectares, water resources and the presence of domestic and foreign investors, so we foresee a very different scenario emerging in the medium term”.
    Agustín Torroba, IICA Bioenergy Specialist, predicted that the production and consumption of liquid biofuels will accelerate in the short and medium term, while others, such as biogas and aviation biofuels, will grow in the medium term. “The current context affords an opportunity for biofuels because they are cheaper than fossil fuels and serve to guarantee supply”, he indicated.
    Roberto Bisang of the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) outlined the opportunities afforded by biotechnology, while Nicolás Cock Duque of Bioprotección Global referred to the role that bioinputs can play in transitioning towards a more resilient agriculture sector. Lastly, José Roberto Vega, Director of LANOTEC Costa Rica, described the potential of biorefineries (particularly those focused on waste reuse) to produce biofuels or other new bio-products in the new scenario.








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