In July, the Partners for the Amazon Platform's Business Acceleration and Impact Investment Program started the Wheels of Connection, bringing together entrepreneurs, partners, researchers and companies to debate important issues for the ecosystem of Amazon impact businesses.
The first guest was Ricardo Abramovay, senior professor of the Environmental Science Program at IEE/USP and author of the book “Amazônia: For an Economy of Nature's Knowledge”. Integrates the bioeconomy group of Science Panel for the Amazon (SPA), cooperative project to bring together scientific research on the Amazon biome, with support from the United Nations Sustainable Solutions Network on Climate Change. The group, made up of 150 experts and leaders from different areas, is expected to release a first report in early 2020, pointing out conservation and policy solutions.
The conversation revolved around the theme Entrepreneurship and business in the Amazon: solutions for deforestation, climate change and post-covid-19 economic recovery, and had more than 40 participants.
Abramovay began his speech contextualizing the process of economic reprimarization that not only Brazil, but Latin America is going through, with basically agricultural and mineral products, and highlighted, in the Brazilian scenario, a lack of strategy to change the bases of economic growth towards something more innovative and inclusive. He recalled the recent manifestations of investment funds in relation to Brazilian production, pointing out the risk of the country becoming less and less relevant in the supply of global goods and services and in innovation.
“The process of deforestation in the Amazon does not come from today, although it has been aggravated a lot during this government. This lack of strategy to modify development and promote less unequal and more innovative growth has produced and produces backwardness, income inequality and distance from the global innovation frontier. Where can we be competitive? We can have global relevance in the knowledge economy of nature. Our greatest chances of participating in the global innovation process lie in the sustainable exploration of biodiversity, with innovation and technology. What is important in your work is the combination of decentralized entrepreneurship and innovation. This is precious, something that Brazil does not have”, evaluates Abramovay.
In his research in global literature on biodiversity, he reports that he found no mention of tropical forests and not even the fight against inequalities, two points that he highlights as strong in the Acceleration Program. A network of entrepreneurs committed to changing the dynamics of resource use in the Amazon, with opportunities provided by the information technology hub in the state of Amazonas and by the existence of an important academic community in the region, willing to participate in this process.
“You are introducing something new, which is the entrepreneur who relies on active participation in the economic base of society. Profit and economic opportunity do not arise from the homogenization of landscape and people. On the contrary, what you do is based on diversity and quality. And in each of these businesses, sustainability is at the heart”, he says.
Entrepreneurs, partners and members of the Acceleration Program present at this first Connection Wheel raised issues such as subsidies to traditional development models at the expense of investing in more sustainable models, the scale versus sustainability dilemma, the role of international organizations, public policies and impact of traditional communities.
“My question is how much impact these initiatives will have in the medium and long term. We do not know how much impact we will actually have on the Amazon's GDP, or what scenario to envision for the interior of the Amazon. I believe in these initiatives [businesses accelerated by PPA], but I'm not sure of their scalable potential, given the size of the Amazon region,” said Denis Minev, CEO of Bemol and a member of PPA.
“The answer is in the idea of a network. A multitude of small businesses will be needed. The secret to generating impact and wealth is the network that will be formed”, evaluates Abramovay. “The impact is more linked to management and biodiversity than to scale. A precaution that should be taken, if these businesses grow, is that this multiplication does not restrict the way of life of forest peoples. ”
Still on the question of the type of development that would be sustainable for the Amazon, Camila Sobral Barra, from Garupa, a partner organization of the Serras Guerreiras de Tapuruquara business, pointed out the challenge of managing resources and businesses while respecting the governance of indigenous communities and, at the same time, maintain a quality experience – Serras Guerreiras de Tapuruquara works with community-based tourism in Indigenous Lands. Fernando Mariano, from Cacauway, highlighted the competition from large brands that buy cocoa from the Amazon and use the forest as a sales attraction, with more robust structures for this, achieving better marketing conditions, as one of the challenges in this equation.
“In the case of cocoa, in the manufacture of chocolate, the niche market has very strong power and is increasingly important. It is the network that will attest to what is behind the product,” says Abramovay. “As for contacts with communities, the relationship of these populations with nature must be very well taken care of. And we must not look at the use of these resources only from the point of view of traditional populations, but also encourage the involvement of farmers, settlers and ranchers interested in doing everything within the law, with sustainability, including promoting forest restoration”, he adds.
Ted Gehr, director of USAID Brazil, questioned Abramovay about the role of other governments and international institutions in developing the bioeconomy in the Amazon. In response, he highlighted the importance of international cooperation so that Amazon issues are also considered globally, as they affect the planet as a whole, and cited as examples the Science Panel for the Amazon and the Amazon Fund as examples of this cooperation. Encouraging exchange networks between foreign students was also mentioned by Abramovay as one of the strategic actions, especially because many of the businesses with an impact end up being created in an academic environment.
Another point raised by Abramovay is the urgent need to think and define what kind of infrastructure is wanted to support this economy in the Amazon: “Society mobilizes around the preservation of the forest, but it is difficult to mobilize for the sustainable economic exploitation of the Amazon. Reflection on this is still very precarious, and this work you are doing is very important. Even for democracy in Brazil, because it is a work that rebels against the way people work with nature and with other people”.
Encouraged to list strategic fronts for structuring a bioeconomy in the Amazon, Abramovay highlighted: innovation and technology; infrastructure; intensifying the study of entrepreneurship; and relationship with large companies in the Amazon.
Next Connection Wheels
The Program will promote another three Connection Wheels over the next few months, focused on:
O New financing and credit channels = presentation and guidance for current credit and financing opportunities, including emergency lines arising from the pandemic;
O Requirements for insertion in large retail = presentation of requirements and processes to insert products in large retail;
O People management and self-care = presentation of a discussion on relationship and care with the business team, partners, communities and entrepreneur's self-care in times of pandemic.