The Brazilian Amazon is one of the largest ecological reserves of biodiversity on the planet. However, despite recent advances, its technological and social innovation ecosystem still faces challenges, including low levels of economic development and productivity.
Claudia Passador, Professor at University of São Paulo, shares how frameworks like the GII can be used to understand the innovation ecosystem of the Amazon in the midst of an uncertainty-ridden global economic environment, and promote targeted investments and partnerships to spur innovation whilst mitigating the impacts of climate change on the territory.
How has innovation in the Amazon region fared in recent years?
Through an analysis carried out in 2023, there are 52 institutions operating in science, technology and innovation (ST&I) in the states of the Legal Amazon. These institutions can be divided into four major groups: the Technological Innovation Centers (NITs), the National Institutes of Science and Technology (INCT), the Research Support Foundations (FAPs), and Science and Technology Sector Funds.
The creation of the Sector Funds represented the establishment of a new financing standard for the sector. Their objective is to ensure the stability of resources for the area, and promote greater synergy between universities, research centers and the productive sector. Since their implementation in the early 2000s, Sector Funds have enabled the implementation of thousands of new projects in ICTs, which aim to generate knowledge and its transfer to companies. Projects and partnerships have stimulated greater investment in technological innovation by companies, contributing to improving their products and processes and also balancing the relationship between public and private investments in science and technology.
As we can observe in the Global Innovation Index, the concept of innovation has become more general and horizontal, and now includes social, business model and technical aspects. Thus, universities also need to expand their inter-institutional activities, involving governments, the productive sector and political leaders to enable the development of shared solutions to regional problems. Scientific and technological development is the central component for the viability of the economic and sustainable use of the natural ecosystems of the Amazon.
How are ongoing geographical, ecological, social and political circumstances and events affecting the region?
The Brazilian Amazon is considered one of the largest ecological reserves of biodiversity on the planet, but is also known for low levels of economic, scientific and technological development. Despite significant growth over the decades, the Legal Amazon is a region with low population density. As of 2021, the population of the Legal Amazon was 28.4 million, representing about 13% of the Brazilian population. It has an immense natural heritage, and technological and social innovation play a key role in accelerating and deepening the knowledge of this heritage.
However, the Territory of the Legal Amazon faces challenges in public health, work and income generation, education, the preservation of the original peoples, and deforestation. The economic context and dismantling of public social assistance policies from the Brazilian federal government between 2019 to 2022 has intensified economic and social problems. Political and legislative factors have resulted in the current fragility of the environmental agenda. Deforestation in the Amazon has increased due to the weakening of environmental governance, budget cuts in the institutions responsible for oversight, and replacements of directors of IBAMA (Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources) and ICMBio (Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation). Solutions to these issues can occur through effective public policies which can directly influence the fight against deforestation, and the implementation of UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Further, improving the “journey” to a more accurate understanding of innovation should be a goal in the coming years. Rich data metrics, like the Global Innovation Index, can be used to monitor performance over time and to compare developments in relation to economies within the same region or income group classification as the Legal Amazon. Targeted investments and evidence-based public policies can bring environmental, economic and social gains to the Legal Amazon, while helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change on the territory and the uncertainty-ridden global economic environment. Now is the time to put Brazil on the path of economic growth and environmental conservation, contributing to the region’s GDP in the short term, while ensuring its socio-environmental well-being in the long term.
Going forward, what kinds of policies are needed in order to support the ecosystem of technological and social innovation in the Amazon?
Despite advances, the ecosystem of technological and social innovation in the Amazon still faces some challenges, such as the need for an innovation process that internalizes the specificities of the region, recognizes the deficiency in the training of Human Resources, and promotes international cooperation and exchange of research. Federal or regional public policies are needed to promote this cooperation. While ST&I legislation has progressed significantly, the reduction of bureaucracy is still necessary to make the Brazilian economy more attractive to technological innovation. Currently the existing mechanisms in the legislation are to make funds. Lessons can be drawn from other countries such as the United States, where the creation of technology parks has spurred involvement of companies and universities from the first stages of innovation.
The strengthening of science and technology is crucial for the sustainable development of the Amazon region. University institutions need to establish connections of academic productions to relevant issues in the territory, accelerate basic and applied research on biotechnology, and identify technological alternatives to deforestation, among others.
The innovation process itself has changed significantly, so one of the remaining challenges is to find metrics that capture innovation as it actually happens in today’s world. Investment in innovation-related activities and intangible assets has consistently intensified at the company, economic and global levels, adding both new innovation actors from outside high-income economies and non-profit actors. The structure of knowledge production is more complex and geographically dispersed than ever. Direct measures that quantify the results of innovation remain extremely scarce, especially when the focus is on the Legal Amazon.
Finally, thinking about the support of the technological and social innovation ecosystem in the Amazon is to think of the territory’s legal and land structure, aligned with state public policies, to exceed government decisions and guarantee the effectiveness of social policies. And thus, in their governance with public innovation policies, involving national and international civil society and research partners.
The 2023 edition of the Global Innovation Index will be launched globally on September 27th. For more information, including the agenda, registration information, and a livestream link, visit the GII website.
Dr. Cláudia Souza Passador is a graduate and post-graduate professor at the Faculty of Economics, Administration and Accounting of Ribeirão Preto, at the University of São Paulo. She is currently Coordinator of the Center for Studies in Public Policy and Contemporary Management in the Institute of Advanced Studies – University of São Paulo (GPUBLIC /IEA/IEA) and Vice-President of the Brazilian Society of Public Administration (SBAP).