On November 23, 2022, SABio hosted a panel webinar, “Innovation networks and local value addition in South American bioeconomies: public-private alliances for a sustainable insertion into the global economy”, moderated and organized by SABio researcher, Dr. Melisa Deciancio (Uni Münster) with co-moderation from SABio researcher Pablo Mac Clay (Uni Bonn) and co-organized with support from SABio Research Group Leaders, Drs. Karen Siegel (Uni Münster) and Jorge Sellare (Uni Bonn).
Three panel experts from Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay shared examples, perspectives and highlighted the current realities of the Bioeconomy innovation ecosystems in their respective countries. Forty-five attendees from Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, the US, Germany, Ireland and Denmark tuned in to the event with simultaneous interpretation provided in English, Portuguese and Spanish.
Victoria Santos, head of Decarbonization at the Insituto Clima e Sociedade (iCS), highlighted that while Brazil is home to established industries with specialization in use of biomass and waste streams in biorefinery applications (Sugar, Pulp and Paper, and Oranges), the country’s immense biodiversity and other biobased production chains have been overlooked and under researched for value-added opportunities. Existing waste streams may provide opportunities for fiber, plant-based protein or biochemical applications. A critical hurdle to Brazil’s bioeconomic innovation ecosystem is a lack of funding for entrepreneurs and start-ups trying to prototype and pilot products. Victoria coined these product development stages as the Brazilian bioeconomy’s “Valley of Death” which must be addressed.
Isabel Bortagaray from Uruguay’s Universidad de la República, shared the experiences, successes and challenges resulting from two bioeconomic initiatives. Although these initiatives attained high levels of private sector involvement and public institutional research support, a lack of communication space and time for stakeholders to engage, communicate problems and share knowledge emerged as barriers to innovation. Moreover, narrow and sectoral focused understandings of the bioeconomy emerged as a common obstacle to Uruguay’s bioeconomic development. Changing perspectives to that of Bioeconomies (plural), which embrace multi-dimensional and complex connections of bioeconomic activities and aspects of sustainability, is a necessary paradigm shift for achieving innovation.
Rafael Anta, from the division of Competitivity, Technology and Innovation at the Interamerican Development Bank shared perspectives on bioeconomic innovation and development opportunities throughout Latin America (LATAM) and insertion in the global context. Foremost, bioeconomic policy must contend with factors at multiple levels. Biomass and infrastructure are local, regulation is national, R&D tends to be international and biomass trade is global. In terms of education throughout LATAM, an increased emphasis on bioprospecting in the life sciences as well as increased funding for bioprospecting activities are desperately needed. Furthermore, public policies with strategies are ineffective without funding that supports entrepreneurship and providing the tools that entrepreneurs need, such as biorefinery infrastructure, biological materials and reagents. Following the panel presentations, a robust Q&A session ensued where the panelists and audience members highlighted cross-cutting issues facing bioeconomic development in the three focus countries and more broadly throughout LATAM. Firstly, public policies must reflect the complexity and broad scope of all that is entailed in the bioeconomy and the multi-dimensionality of sustainability. Bioeconomy policies do not belong to one ministry, but rather in an inter-ministerial policy framework that incorporates specificities from the local, national to regional levels. Secondly, funding is crucial, especially in the prototype and piloting stages of bio-based products. Without adequate funding and support for entrepreneurs at these stages, LATAM countries – including Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay – will miss out on their bioeconomic development potential.
The event was recorded and is available for viewing in English, Portuguese and Spanish.