Latin America lacks bio-economy strategy but shows advances

Latin America overall lacks a “bio-economy” strategy although there are some important advances  most notably in Argentina and Brazil, but also in others countries such as Cuba, a United Nations representative recently told Latin Business Daily.

Brazil, which has made advances in biofuels based on sugar cane, and Argentina, with its processes of improvements in seeds and crops, stand out, Adrian Rodriguez, chief of the Agricultural Development area at the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America, said. 

Argentina has made advances in “production of seeds, biological supplies for industries, matters related to animal health” as well as in the production of corn, cotton and products that have been genetically modified. The country also produces biodiesel based on soy, and some modified soy crops are resistant to droughts and more tolerant of pesticides.

Brazil has a large development in biofuels. The country has advances in bio-refineries and is maximizing the use of biological material to generate products such as electricity, as well as bio-plastics, Rodriguez, who lives in Chile, added.

One factor that led to Latin America being identified as having a large bio-economy potential is the region´s large biological diversity. That bio-economy is already very important to the region´s exports. There also is much generation of biological waste in the region, which is not being used.

“There are countries where more than half of the total exports are of products related to the bio-economy,” Rodriguez said. That is the situation in countries such as Uruguay, Panama, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Argentina and Paraguay. Exports include products from agriculture, livestock, fishing, wood as well as manufacturing related to those products. 

Government regulations often stand in the way, Rodriguez said. For example, some countries have legislation that make it impossible for agricultural industries to connect electricity produced from waste-related biological resources into national energy grids, he said.

In other cases, there are barriers to enter some markets because of oligopolies in distribution and retailing, Rodriguez added. Another issue is the lack of financing to escalate some good initiatives.

“Another issue is the education of (Latin) consumers in terms of generating awareness about the relevance of biological products,” he said.

In the cases of some countries, biological products are relatively small in exports because of the bigger weight that minerals or hydrocarbons have on their economies. That is the case in countries such as Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela.

In the case of Chile, a big mining country, there is much work related to forest products and seaweeds.
Colombia, Costa Rica and Mexico also are important producers of biotechnology and biological supplies for industry. 

Cuba has made remarkable advance in biotechnology related to the pharmaceutical industry, Rodriguez said. 

“It has a series of medicine for diseases like diabetes and applications especially in veterinarian areas” with patents for many vaccines, he said.