Concepts, Markets, and Regulations: hurdles and opportunities for a sustainable Bioeconomy in Brazil

by Guilherme de Queiroz Stein, Trevor Tisler, and Renan Magalhães

On December 14th, 2021, the SABio project held a workshop on the Brazilian Bioeconomy. SABio researchers Guilherme de Queiroz Stein and Trevor Tisler organized and facilitated the event which saw the gathering of 45 participants from various governmental, academic, non-profit, and private sector organizations who are committed to the development of a sustainable bioeconomy in Brazil. The main objective of the event was to promote an open debate and an exchange of experiences related to how the addition of new laws related to biodiversity, conservation and ecological restauration to Brazil’s environmental legal framework may shape the development of Brazil’s bioeconomy.

“Gerardo Germano da Silva harvesting agroecological cotton in Ceará, Brazil” by farmingmatters. Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

At the onset of the debate among workshop attendees, the existence of different understandings and perspectives on what the bioeconomy is (and what it is not) were discussed, and moreover, how these differences guide separate and distinctive promotion and regulatory strategies for various bioeconomic activities throughout Brazil. The conceptual heterogeneity surrounding the bioeconomy poses methodological challenges to research projects and policy formulation. However, as this reflects the inherent complex and diverse characteristics of the bioeconomy, heterogeneous understandings cannot be ignored. For this reason, the conceptual development of the bioeconomy is still a hurdle to overcome, especially in the context of Latin America, where realities are much different than those in which the European and North American concepts of the bioeconomy were formed. In Europe and North America, the bioeconomy is repeatedly defined by the traditional boundaries of the economic sectors in which it is considered to cover and by the products these sectors develop. These sectors include agriculture, bioenergy, food production, biomass processing, high value-added biotech products, and biodegradable waste. Albeit important components of Brazil’s economy, such a limiting focus on traditional sectors and products overshadows Brazil’s potential for broader bioeconomic development especially if focus is placed upon processes of production rather than on the products produced.

Photo by Guilherme de Queiroz Stein

Workshop participants overwhelmingly emphasized that the concept of the Brazilian Bioeconomy needs to be formed in face of the country’s unique realities and potentials, which include placing the country’s biodiversity, immense natural capital, and socio-cultural diversity as central elements of the bioeconomy. The employment of these potentials must translate into the development of new activities, sectors, and industries capable of increasing aggregate value while simultaneously fostering endogenous development dynamics that break Brazil’s dependency on commodity and biomass export-oriented development. To this end, the economic dynamics in which these new processes operate must be monitored and their contribution to sustainable development must be quantified. Sustainability depends less on what is produced, but rather more on how and to what extent adopted business models, constructed values chains, and developed governance arrangements ensure environmental preservation, promote pro-social development, and respect human rights. In this light, the promotion of a new bioeconomy is necessary, one capable of valuing the immense diversity-based potentials and which can be attained via payments for ecosystem services, industrialization of natural products, and ecological recovery of degraded landscapes and lands. Furthermore, there is a place for the promotion of low-carbon agriculture, agroforestry systems, as well as innovations coming from bioprospecting, molecular biology, biomimicry and the use of micro-organisms for industrial solutions.

“Quebradeira de Côco Babaçu – Brasil – Tocantins – Pequizeiro ” by JcPietro. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

The legal frameworks that regulate the development of the aforementioned sectors will be important in the structuring of their future markets and for setting boundaries to the expansion of the bioeconomy, the parameters of which should focus on guaranteeing the bioeconomy’s socio-environmental sustainability. Nonetheless, these parameters by and of themselves, will not suffice to lock down on a guaranteed sustainable development trajectory. The commitment of actors involved in ensuring the sustainability of the processes and products of Brazil’s bioeconomy is of utmost necessity, arising from investment in new business models for both profitability and generating well-being. Furthermore, the implementation of policies to tackle bottlenecks is essential, and may involve remedying the lack of professional training in strategic geographic regions, ending the scarcity of venture capital and start-up support services, as well as bring stabilized and sustained levels of public investment in scientific research and innovation to avoid sudden budget cuts.

It must be emphasized that the creation of new markets, such as those linked to carbon emissions markets and ecosystem services, will only find stable footing and consumer confidence through verifiable environmental compliance and tangible progress toward meeting Brazil’s internationally assumed environmental commitments. This hinges on the reestablishment of the Brazilian state’s command and control capacities, especially in the environmental area, with an emphasis on achieving zero deforestation in Brazil as quickly as possible. The current political trajectory guiding Brazil’s federal administrative apparatus likely poses the largest current hurdle to achieving the aforementioned goals, as it has -beyond deprioritizing the goals- moved to deliberately reduce the capacity of state agencies to ensure and maintain environmental protections as well as promoted predatory activities such as, but not limited to, illegal and unregulated mining in the Amazon.

Photo by Guilherme de Queiroz Stein

Both regulatory policies in combination with active promotion of the bioeconomy will only be capable of achieving social inclusion if the active participation of civil society is guaranteed through adequate mechanisms in the formulation, implementation, and monitoring stages of the public policy process. Appropriate valuation (beyond the scope of monetary value) of the country’s ecosystems and their immense biodiversity should only occur with active engagement and dialog with indigenous peoples and their knowledge systems, traditional communities (including but not limited to Brazil’s maroon communities), and smallholder farmers, segments of which have developed and maintained knowledge systems and management practices for the sustainable use of biodiversity. A pre-condition for such a dialogue requires that the basic human rights of these peoples are guaranteed, which includes secure tenure and free unhampered access to their lands. This condition can only be achieved in a democratic state, in which the defense of democratic values becomes a fundamental factor for the promotion of a new bioeconomy that genuinely promotes sustainable development.

Below you will find the links shared by workshop participants, which include scientific publications related to the bioeconomy in Brazil and around the world as well as websites for Brazilian projects and research groups working on bioeconomy topics.


A sustainable bioeconomy for Europe:

Bioeconomia da Sociobiodiversidade no estado do Pará:

Coalizão Brasil Clima, Florestas e Agricultura: 

Diálogo Florestal:

Financing mechanisms to bridge the resource gap to conserve biodiversity and ecosystem services in Brazil:

Fórum Florestal da Amazônia – Plano Estratégico:

Grupo de Economia do Meio Ambiente e Desenvolvimento Sustentável (GEMA) – UFRJ:

Grupo de Pesquisa SABio: 

Portal de Bioeconomia:

Science Panel for the Amazon – Amazon Assessment Report 2021: 

Onde Estamos na Implementação do Código Florestal? Radiografia do CAR e do PRA nos Estados Brasileiros – Edição 2020:

Lei nº 13.123/2015 (Acesso ao Patrimônio Genético e Conhecimento Tradicional Associado):

Decreto nº 8.772/2016 (regulamenta Lei nº 13.123/2015):

Decreto nº 10.844/2021 (altera Decreto nº 8.772/2016):