Is there a production model that doesn't wipe out the planet?

The economics of sociobiodiversity shows that it is possible to generate income by leaving the forest standing

It may seem utopian to say that it is possible to reconcile economic development with the preservation of nature and the promotion of social justice, since a large part of the production processes today adopt models of high environmental impact and exploitation of work, using non-renewable resources, generating pollution and causing irreversible damage to nature, but the economics of sociobiodiversity shows that there is a way out. 

Global warming, desertification, loss of biodiversity, poverty and social inequality threaten the future of the planet and are just some of the symptoms of this model of unbridled growth. Serious problems that persist, despite economic development, and feed each other. Activities such as farming and illegal logging, for example, seriously threaten indigenous peoples, riverside communities and other disadvantaged populations. In some cases, on the other hand, these same activities are among the few income options available in the region, which ends up creating a dilemma. 

During the pandemic, socioeconomic inequalities increased alarmingly and the situation for the poorest worsened. Hunger has once again ravaged the country, to the extent that, in recent years, there has been a dismantling of public policies to combat poverty.  

According to the National Survey on Food Insecurity, in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic in Brazil, produced by the Brazilian Research Network on Food Sovereignty and Security (PENSSAN), 41% of households today face food insecurity and 15% need to deal with hunger in your daily life. In rural areas, which should not suffer from a lack of food, hunger affects almost 20% of homes. 

In addition, consumption of ultra-processed and low-quality foods has also skyrocketed, which are favored because they are cheaper and less subject to inflation, causing childhood obesity to skyrocket, for example. Part of the problem is the increasing investment in the production of commodities agricultural products for export, which has compromised the production of quality food for the domestic market.

For the lawyer and socio-environmental consultant at the Interelos Institute, Daniela Rabelo, this situation ends up generating a vicious cycle. When we take into account the externalities of this type of consumption, the cheap is expensive. “A lot of what is being produced, we are paying with natural resources, with water, with the soil, which is going away”, she emphasizes. We are also paying with health. The consumption of nutrient-poor foods brings with it a series of health risks, in addition to feeding a production chain that often involves abusive and non-transparent work relationships in relation to the actors involved.

If these issues are linked together, solutions must also take an integrated approach. Among the proposals that have shown to be promising, both in theory and in practice, is the approach to the economics of sociobiodiversity, an economic model that has been adopted by several countries and organizations with positive results. Rabelo explains that this concept emerged from the evolution of debates on the relationship between food systems and forest restoration. According to her, the products of sociobiodiversity “belong to a range of forms of production and commerce that are concerned not only with the product but also with the conditions in which it is produced, the environmental impact, the relationships established, transparency and fairness”. Social".

The lawyer argues that promoting this economy is essential for the reality of Brazil, a country that contains a fifth of all fresh water and a quarter of global biodiversity, as it brings great potential to regions such as the Amazon, for example, which is home to hundreds of traditional populations and more than 40,000 species of plants, but which also concentrates most of the recent deforestation, mainly caused by agricultural activity. 

For Rabelo, this potential can be exploited, as long as there is no other way to break with the current model of food production and overcome social inequality. “It's no use talking about forest restoration if we don't offer an economically viable model that takes care of the forest”, he says. 

The data indicate that we have a lot to gain from this. The recent study “Bioeconomy of Sociobiodiversity in the State of Pará", carried out by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and Natura, points to a potential to generate R$ 170 billion in income by 2040. But for this to become a reality, it is necessary to invest in science and technology, expand access to credit and technical preparation and to develop financial mechanisms that stimulate this type of economy. It is also necessary to regularize common use territories such as settlements, extractive reserves and indigenous lands. 

“When you invest in socio-biodiversity products, you are investing in a structure of production and circulation of wealth that keeps the forest standing, that reduces carbon emissions and that recognizes the knowledge of traditional communities and minorities, generally marginalized within a conventional and already quite 'commodified' commercialization structure, geared towards the interests of large corporations and production circuits”, explains Rabelo. 

With proper investments, the production and consumption of these foods can generate a virtuous cycle capable of promoting economic growth without cutting down forests, also strengthening the social fabric of the region. But for that, we also need to change the collective imagination, showing the communities themselves that this income and work model is viable. As for market actors and government representatives, it is necessary to make it clear that it is worth investing in this business. And studies, like the one mentioned above, give enormous strength to this process, as well as the enterprises that have shown in practice that this is possible, such as Amazonbai, the Cooperativa de Produtores Agroextrativistas do Bailique and Beira Amazonas, which produces the only açaí 100% vegan, community and FSC® certified in both forest management and chain of custody.

Sociobiodiversity products are thus a promising alternative in which quality of life, sustainability and economic development go hand in hand. It is now necessary to develop this model on a large scale and show the world that another economy is possible.

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