Berkeley economist, David Zilberman, says the pandemic increases the need to strengthen the bioeconomy to spur Latin American and Caribbean development
San Jose, 26 August 2020 (IICA) – University of California, Berkeley professor, David Zilberman, one of the leading global voices on bioeconomy, feels that the sector offers numerous opportunities to become the major engine to fuel the development of rural areas of the Americas and to accelerate the reactivation of economies battered by Covid-19.
Zilberman is a professor and Robinson Chair in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California, Berkley. His areas of expertise are agriculture and environmental policies, the economics of innovation, biotechnology and climate change.
Zilberman, who is a globally recognized authority on the bioeconomy, had a virtual discussion with Manuel Otero, the Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), during which he spoke of the potential of the Americas to create an industrial base, by harnessing the region’s abundant biological resources.
“In our economies, most goods are derived from fossil fuels. However, there is a much more powerful source, which is biology. Practically everything that can be created using fossil fuels can be replaced by renewable resources. This could convert rural areas into more than just a source of food”, said the expert.
The bioeconomy is based on a vision that promotes smart industrialization, using biological resources, which are converted into value added products, such as bioproducts, bioenergy and services. This vision also seeks to tackle existing environmental challenges, by mitigating the effects of climate change and reducing the use of fossil fuels.
“Agriculture can produce food, biofuel and chemicals; and while this may seem a far-fetched notion, it really isn’t”, said Zilberman, emphasizing that Latin American countries have a large amount of available land for agriculture and great biodiversity, which gives them enormous potential for bioeconomy-based development.
During the conversation, special mention was made of countries such as Brazil, which has more than 100 million hectares of land available for energy production, and Guyana, which is seen as a potential center for biotechnology research.
The professor maintained that, “There are many opportunities in Latin America that would allow it to generate sustainable bioeconomy-based businesses. The region has been blessed with the best resources in the world and everyone would benefit tremendously if it used them”.
Furthermore, he said, “The region’s problem is that it has strong academic and political leadership but does not have sufficient technical capacity to undertake this effort. A powerful education network must be established. Latin America is already a leading producer of products such as coffee, but it must adopt new technologies and adapt them to develop the supply chain”.
According to Zilberman, the development of the bioeconomy in the Americas will call for the development of practical skills; promotion of public and private investment and more intensive use of new technologies.
He stressed that, “There is a need to invest in education; to transfer knowledge; attract investors and for countries to identify where they have a competitive advantage”.
Zilberman remarked that LAC can still make greater use of digital technologies in agriculture, which “increase precision; enable improved risk management and boost profits. Ecommerce, for example, will be critical for the future”. He pointed out that IICA could be one of the major actors spearheading the production transformation of the region.
“Tropical countries have immense resources”, he insisted, “and the major issue is how to promote the creation of agricultural companies. That is where IICA stands to play a pivotal role, through training and research to creation enable people to develop forest-based businesses”.
Manuel Otero maintained that, “IICA shares the same vision as Professor Zilberman and we believe that the bioeconomy offers Latin American and Caribbean countries the opportunity to abandon the restricted concept of the agricultural sector and instead to consider its potential to produce food, chemicals and fuel, by participating in non-agricultural chains”.
Access the discussion here:
Diálogo virtual: Panorama de la Bioeconomía
Un panorama de la industria de la bioeconomía presentado por el especialista David Zilberman y el Director General del IICA, Manuel Otero.Publicado por IICA en Lunes, 24 de agosto de 2020
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