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Bioeconomy, a Key to Rural Development in Latin America and the Caribbean

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31 October 2019|Press Release

In Costa Rica, ECLAC, FAO and IICA presented their most recent joint report on the agriculture and rural sectors in the Americas, during a conference that brought together the ministers of agriculture of the hemisphere.

San Jose, 31 October 2019. The new edition of the report Outlook for Agriculture and Rural Development in the Americas 2019-2020 prepared by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) highlights the bioeconomy as an innovative way to drive sustainable rural development in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).

The document, which was presented during the 2019 Conference of Ministers of Agriculture of the Americas in San Jose, Costa Rica, notes that rural development is key to overcoming increases in hunger, poverty and the impact of climate change in the region; consequently, this topic must be at the heart of government strategies.

One way to drive this development, according to the document, is through the bioeconomy, which is the knowledge-based intensive use of biological resources, processes, technologies and principles, for the sustainable provision of goods and services across all sectors of the economy.

Biofuel, biogas, the use of biological residues and agricultural waste, textiles made from cellulose that replace the use of plastics derived from petroleum, avocado pit polymers, bioethanol and agricultural biotechnology are some examples of ways in which LAC is currently capitalizing on the bioeconomy.

According to the report, the bioeconomy represents both an opportunity and a need for LAC. It is an opportunity because of the region’s broad biodiversity, genetic resources, diverse productive landscapes, and capacity to produce biomass. However, the region also needs the bioeconomy in light of the challenge of finding new pathways for more sustainable and inclusive rural and agricultural development.

LAC possesses 50% of the world’s known biodiversity and 57% of its primary forests; it is also the region with the greatest availability of land for farming.

“The bioeconomy allows for capitalizing on the biological wealth of the region to strengthen production development, with the added advantage that it promotes low carbon, resilient development. This approach also transforms waste into a source of revenue; proposes alternative ways to utilize biomass; generates very sophisticated value chains, impacting innovative industries such as the construction sector, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics; and proposes the use of rural areas as biofactories,” noted Manuel Otero, Director General of IICA.

“The rural and agriculture sectors of Latin America and the Caribbean are crucial to global food security. The region produces food for hundreds of millions of people. It accounts for 50% of the world’s biodiversity and 30% of its arable land. Agriculture, food systems and rural areas represent part of the solution to revitalize the region’s development; they afford an extremely valuable opportunity that we must not miss out on,” explained Julio Berdegué, Regional Representative of FAO.

Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of ECLAC, highlighted the importance of fostering a sustainable and inclusive bioeconomy in the region. “The bioeconomy can make a number of contributions, such as by strengthening sustainable agricultural production and food security; affording new opportunities to generate decent employment in new bio-based value chains, particularly for the benefit of women and youth; and generating knowledge related to the conservation, management and sustainable use of biodiversity,” indicated the senior United Nations official.

In-depth analysis of the rural and agriculture sectors

The publication by ECLAC, FAO and IICA presents an in-depth analysis of the outlook for agriculture and rural development in the region. One of its main conclusions is that there is an urgent need to strengthen rural development due to its multidimensional scope: it provides a number of opportunities with respect to agriculture, food and production, as well as innovative alternatives for energy development and for combating poverty, hunger and climate change.

Regarding rural poverty, the report indicates that, between 2014 and 2017, poverty in LAC increased from 45.1% to 46.4%. With respect to food security, the number of undernourished people has been rising since 2014, reaching 42.5 million people; on the other hand, 7.7% of children under the age of 5, and 24% of the adult population, are either overweight or obese. 

With respect to social security, coverage from the contributory pension system is available to just 22% of the rural population, compared to 54.7% of the urban population. According to the report, social protection programs must be strengthened, as a means of fostering production, providing urgent assistance and reducing inequality in rural territories.

The publication notes that strengthening rural development is crucial to preserving the region’s biodiversity. Changes in land use account for 70% of the estimated loss of terrestrial biodiversity in LAC, while the opportunity cost of land degradation amounts to USD 60 billion annually.

Regarding climate change and natural disasters, the report mentions that the development of rural areas is crucial to overcoming these challenges, given that rural areas account for 67% of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the region. Agriculture, forestry and land use changes are responsible for 42% of GHG emissions, while energy development accounts for 25% of GHG emissions.

The effects of climate change, such as more frequent natural disasters, are already being felt in LAC. According to the report, the number of persons affected by some type of natural disaster related to extreme weather events in LAC grew by 8.3 million, from 2.7 million in 1990 to 11 million in 2017.

More information:

Joaquín Arias, International Technical Specialist at IICA.