“Lack of Imagination” Delays the Development of the Brazilian Amazon

Amazônia Brasileira

“The Brazilian Amazon is an immense and very diverse region. Each subregion needs its own model, well adapted to its conditions…”

Salo Coslovsky is a research associate of the Amazônia 2030 project, and a professor at New York University. Coslovsky has a degree in public administration from Getúlio Vargas Foundation, M.Sc from Tufts University and Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Amazônia 2030 is an initiative by Brazilian researchers to develop a sustainable development plan for the Brazilian Amazon.

Salo Coslovsky, research associate of Amazônia 2030

AgriBrasilis – Why doesn’t Brazil promote the economic development of the Amazon region?

Salo Coslovsky – There are several problems and difficulties, but a very important obstacle, which ends up underpinning all the others, is a lack of imagination. Many people, both in different government bodies and spheres, as well as in civil society, still see the forest as an obstacle to the development of extensive livestock farming and industrial monoculture, or as a necessary evil to promote environmental conservation, while activities compatible with the forest are seen as subsidiary to social assistance.

This lack of imagination is extremely serious and sets us back. To combat it, we need more people to envision Brazil as an economic power that has its living nature as its greatest asset.

AgriBrasilis – What is the economic potential of the region?

Salo Coslovsky – The forest-based economic potential of the Amazon region is gigantic. As I have shown in one of my researches, the global market for forest-compatible products, which the Amazon already exports, is almost US$ 200 billion a year. The carbon credit market is growing at a rapid pace and can reach astronomical values. The forest can also be a source of substrates for industrial processes in high demand, such as the production of fibers for paper, cardboard and long-life packaging, sugars for fermentation-based chemical processes and biofuels for aviation. The sky is the limit.

“This lack of imagination is extremely serious and sets us back. To combat it, we need more people to envision Brazil as an economic power that has its living nature as its greatest asset”

AgriBrasilis – How much is lost due to lack of investment in the Amazon?

Salo Coslovsky – Brazil is a country with an average per capita income, slightly below other tropical countries, such as Mexico, Costa Rica and Malaysia, but with a huge territory and large population. Nature-related industries could be one of the cutting-edge industries in the rest of the 21st century and Brazil should position itself to be the pioneer among all nature-rich tropical countries, leading by example. We need to hurry up so we don’t miss this chance to become a tropical powerhouse.

AgriBrasilis – What are the “Executive Export Boards” and why are they important?

Salo Coslovsky – The “Executive Export Boards” are an initiative of ApexBrasil to promote the improvement of forest-compatible products in the Amazon. They are based on a Peruvian experience that has been adapted to Brazil. The Executive Boards promise to create a space and processes for vanguard companies and their allies in governments and society to be able to work in a coordinated manner to achieve clear objectives of productive improvement, according to indisputable metrics, and at an accelerated pace.
Another way to think about Executive Boards is to see them as the starting engine of these sectors, which have enormous potential, but have not yet been able to achieve the dynamism and size they deserve.

The first Executive Board is supporting Brazil’s nut processors and ApexBrasil is expected to create more of these Boards throughout the year.

AgriBrasilis – You said that if Brazil does not work for global insertion, it may be left behind. Why?

Salo Coslovsky – There are some “races” going on in the world. The first, and most important, is between the majority who is convinced of the climate emergency and believe that we need to reduce emissions drastically, and the minority who still think that we don’t need to worry about it, and that we can continue to emit greenhouse gases as if nothing is happening.

The second race takes place within the field of those who believe in climate urgency and pits those who advocate so-called “nature-based solutions” against those who advocate “technology-based solutions.” I don’t like these two names because they give the impression that nature-based solutions don’t involve technology, when in fact they require a lot of innovation, including agricultural, biological, genetic technologies, equipment, sensors, satellites, etc. That’s why I like to call this category “natural capital-based solutions,” while the others could be called “artificial capital-based solutions.”

We are at a time when both of these types of solutions are seeking investment so that they can prove themselves strong and worthy of further investment, creating a virtuous cycle to prove that they were right. It is this race that we can’t afford to lose, but the urgency now is to wake up to know that we’re competing, and the competitors are advancing fast.

AgriBrasilis – What is the ideal economic development model for the Amazon?

Salo Coslovsky – The Brazilian Amazon is an immense and very diverse region. Each subregion needs its own model, well adapted to its conditions. It is important to remember that most of the population of the Amazon lives in urban centers, so we need to think about thriving cities, with their own economies, which support and are supported by the activities that take place in their surroundings, in agricultural and forest areas.

Another important element is to think that a large part of the infrastructure that was built in the Amazon was designed to serve the other regions of the country. We need to bury this history of infrastructure in the Amazon and start discussing infrastructure for the Amazon.

AgriBrasilis – How can agribusiness participate in this?

Salo Coslovsky – In the 1940s, Brazil dreamed of having a large automobile industry. Back then, this was the industry of the future. Soon after, the country dreamed of having an industry linked to aviation, which would also be an industry of the future. In the 1970s, it dreamed of being an agricultural leader, with emphasis on sugar and alcohol, as well as soybean in the Cerrado. Soon after, it dreamed of being a powerhouse in the manufacture of minicomputers. Not all of these initiatives worked out and all of them had significant costs, but at least we dreamed big and thought about taking a transformative leap in our development.

Today, we need to do the same, and as some of my friends say, the future is ancestral. This means that we need to learn to get rich from nature, rather than get rich at nature’s expense.

Many entrepreneurs who identify themselves with agribusiness already do this. There is a growing interest in agroforestry-type crops, or crop – livestock – forest integration. There is also a new market for forest restoration business, which can be very lucrative. My expectation is that many farmers will be pragmatic and will want to play for these teams. With their support, the chance of us winning increases.


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