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Increasingly, governments, the private sector, civil society and international cooperation are investing in the bioeconomy – a range of economic activities that tap into our biodiversity. It’s an alternative and more sustainable route to development, more in tune with the fight against deforestation, desertification and ecosystem degradation. During this week’s COP15 conference on desertification, which concludes on May 20 in Abidjan, AFD Group celebrates the first anniversary of its bioeconomy technical assistance project on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The project in Ecuador has just received an additional €1 million. We interview the Technical Assistance Coordinator there, Pablo Larco.

On May 10 this year, the Bioeconomy Technical Assistance agreement between AFD Group and the Sustainable Environmental Investment Fund (Fias) marked its first year of existence. Launched with the backing of Ecuador’s Ministry of the Environment, Water and Ecological Transition (Maate), the project’s objective is to support the implementation of a government policy on the bioeconomy. 

What is the bioeconomy? How has AFD embraced this pioneering concept?

5Pablo Larco: In Ecuador, the concept of a bioeconomy was defined in October 2020 by 34 public and private institutions. Personally, I define it as an economy for life, i.e. a package of economic activities that harness the country’s abundant biodiversity in a sustainable, innovative and resilient way, to deliver added value.

Ecuador’s bioeconomy development roadmap has been in the works since 2012. Understanding how Mexico’s Bioconnect project works was particularly valuable. Its coordinator traveled to Ecuador to share insights and guidance that was greatly appreciated by the Steering Committee and the fund’s local coordinators.

The Annual Work Program has the overarching objective of developing a White Paper and national strategy for a sustainable bioeconomy in Ecuador, and drafting a strategy that will scale up the bioeconomy countrywide. 

How does this Technical Assistance Fund support bioeconomy policy development in Ecuador?

P. L: In October 2020, 34 of Ecuador’s public and private institutions signed the National Compact for Sustainable Bioeconomy. This was a groundbreaking moment for the development of the bioeconomy in Ecuador. However, we still need to construct a common and clearer vision of what a bioeconomy project can be and ask ourselves how the bioeconomy can become a sustainable alternative to the existing development model. 

There is also a need to take stock of the bioeconomy in the country and to tighten its protective systems so that this sector does not become a kind of pernicious incentive for deforestation or for the expansion of agricultural frontiers. In light of these factors, we will need to develop the national strategy for a sustainable bioeconomy in Ecuador and implement it. Such are the challenges before us.

To address them, we will be supported by a specialized consultancy firm, university or consortium specializing in consultancy services. We will convene key stakeholders such as public institutions, the private sector, indigenous peoples, local communities, academia and local authorities. Therefore, our approach will be broad-based, paying attention to the realities and criteria of the country’s different regions in a differentiated format.

It is obvious that in the process of developing the White Paper, new strategic ideas for the bioeconomy will emerge and will also be funded by this project. This will continue until December 2025, when the Technical Assistance Fund will cease.

To what extent can the bioeconomy help combat deforestation and desertification?

P. L: By definition, the bioeconomy only includes sustainable projects that do not contribute to the expansion of agricultural frontiers, deforestation or desertification. On the contrary, the sponsored projects revitalize native plants and their by-products thereby arresting the desertification process. However, to achieve this, the national bioeconomy strategy should include a monitoring and control system for certain areas or for a set of projects in order to protect especially areas with high biodiversity value.

This strategy should also establish mechanisms to consolidate existing protection systems in Ecuador, including the National System for Protected Areas (Snap), the Forest Protection Programme (Programa Socio Bosque), or action plans for the preservation of certain species, to name a few. Furthermore, the regulatory framework for promotion of bioeconomy projects should incorporate environmental and social safeguards, so that the bioeconomy does not replicate the drawbacks of the traditional economy.