The Amazon jungle is immersed with biodiversity, traditions, and ancestral cultures. Dubbed as the “lung of the world”, it is the greatest oxygen reserve on earth, acting as a giant carbon drain that filters air and reduces greenhouse effect gases, releasing oxygen, and contributing to reducing climate change.
According to the 2018 Census carried out by the Colombian Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE, for its Spanish acronym), Colombia is also home to 1.9M Indians, or 4.4 % of the population of the country.
In 2012, Amazon placed 25 of 29 in the “Colombian Tourism Competitiveness Indicator System” of the Colombian Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Tourism, showing the current difficulties of the region. Their industries located in the city of Leticia, are limited and consist primarily of refreshment beverages, candy, and yogurt manufacturers. Currently, ecotourism is an emerging and growing activity that is getting more popular among the inhabitants of the Amazon River. Although fishing activities are an important industry for the economic welfare of many inhabitants, mining activities and its adverse effects are gaining ground.
Wood exploitation is another economic activity. In 2014, the legal mobilization of forest products was 3,003,31 m3, of which 9.45% came from Leticia, 24.91% from Puerto Nariño, and 65.64% from Tarapacá.
Considering this place of ancestral wealth and the current economic crisis due to the pandemic, Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNal) in Manizales Engineering Ph.D Angela Andrea González Villa developed a model that helps preserve and exploit the potential of the region for obtaining essential oils, and extracts, products with great economic potential.
Lately, the research of essential oils has caught the attention of science, turning into an ample area of research and development due to the good acceptance with the pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and food industries.
The Amazon is a special region for the establishment of businesses for two main reasons: it is one of the most biodiverse regions of the world, making popular activities like cattle ranching difficult, not very efficient, and non-competitive; moreover, historically it has been greatly ignored by the central government. For this, establishing these types of businesses contribute to creating wealth in the region while exploiting the resources sustainably.
“Creating a green business model is an education and a change in mentality process: the greatest obstacle for the economic development of the Amazon is that nobody knows what type of economy or development they are talking about. Imposing conventional development models would devastate the ecosystem and wouldn’t be very logical as the soils are poor and cannot sustain these types of activities in the mid-term,” said González
The market of natural products has turned into an important alternative for the Amazon region due to the relationship with environmental goals such as the preservation of biodiversity, allowing local communities to obtain profit without impacting their food security.
“It is necessary to integrate tools to allow designing and producing environmentally friendly initiatives, including the communities, looking for value-added products and taking precautions considering the implications of extractive activities, ”said the researcher.
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During the research project, the researcher proposed a strategy for designing and analyzing processes for obtaining value-added products from plant species of amazon origin with a sustainable focus. With this strategy in mind, they assessed three species: the Mocambo tree (Theobroma bicolor), the moriche palm (Mauritia flexuosa), and the Spanish cedar (Cedrela odorata).
For the extraction of essential oils, they chose the Mocambo tree, a native species of the same family of cacao, which has been marginalized due to the under-use of its fruit and the destruction of its habitat, replacing it for coffee or cacao monocultures.
The wild harvest of the Mocambo tree produces income to the peasant and Indian communities in areas of the armed conflict in Colombia and the crop is a new alternative for the food security of the country as the tree also produces nuts, oil, and flour.
“Furthermore it is a very profitable alternative that helps in substituting illegal crops and eradicating poverty from the countryside: one hectare produces more than a minimum wage salary for more than 50 years,” said the researcher.
To tend to the demand, she proposed reforesting 5,000 hectares of forest with the Mocambo tree in the Colombian Amazon, helping to offset global warming by improving soil and protecting water basins. Advertising its economic potential would incentivize the preservation of the species that has been deforested for its multiple uses.
From the economic perspective, oil manufacturing promotes biodiversity as a competitiveness factor for Colombian economic development, creating employment in faraway regions and source for cosmetic, pharmaceutical, and food industry innovation.
Concerning the capacity assessment, Gonzalez says it is necessary to take into account that 0.56 % of the total area of the Amazon is available for the development of private projects. The remaining area is for engineering and evaluating high technology processes to improve the viability of agri-businesses based on the sustainable use of the biomass in the preservation of this region.
According to González, marketing Mocambo tree essential oil is a great opportunity for the international market, considering that the United States is the main world importer of the product, with an average growth of close to 20% annually during the 2012-2015 period”.
The main importer countries are the United States, the Netherlands, China, France, Spain, Japan, and Canada that have 65.36% of the international demand.
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