Brazil capitalises on Amazonian biodiversity


Industry project promotes the development of local, natural cosmetics ingredients

Brazilian companies are breaking into the ethical personal care product sector by supplying sustainable materials from the Amazon forest, leveraging an innovative government project.

This ‘Structuring Project for Amazon Forest-Based Cosmetics’ scheme, launched in 2013 by the Brazilian Micro and Small Business Support Service (Servicio Brasileño de Apoyo a las Micro y Pequeñas Empresas, or SEBRAE), is amassing information and data to help companies identify useful natural ingredients, and advises on processing, manufacturing and marketing the resulting products.

One beneficiary has been a family-run SME called Juruá, based in Belem, on the Amazon delta. Dâmaris Busman, a senior manager and the founder’s great-granddaughter, noted the company is working on new Amazon-based products. “We are developing some cosmetics with Amazon oleaginous [products], such as pracaxi oil and patauá oil,” which are “good butters for the skin”, she said. Now the company is also replacing chemical-based ingredients with paraben-free inputs to help market their products in regions such as Europe, where demand for natural cosmetics is high. Juruá, said Busman, joined SEBRAE’s project to “improve all our family heritage knowledge”.

The aim of the project is to help take advantage of the economic potential of the Amazon’s vast biodiversity. At present, the industrial use of raw materials sourced from the region for cosmetics production is based on only 20 plant species, being used by small businesses. But SEBRAE managers think many more ingredients could be sourced and used by many more companies.

Heloisa Menezes, Technical Director of SEBRAE, told SPC that the project aims to “develop legal, technological and market knowledge of sustainable and productive business opportunities for the chain of Amazon forest-based cosmetics”. She said participating researchers were assessing the potential use as ingredients of species including “andiroba, citronella and copal, and the results may contribute to the manufacture of products such as soaps, repellents, shampoos, creams and lotions”.

The Amazon project works with seven companies (Coopfrutos, Amazon Oil, Chamma da Amazônia, Amazon Green, Juruá, Casa das Ervas Medicinais do Guerreiro and technology institute FUNTAC) based in the seven states of northern Brazil (Acre, Amazonas, Maranhão, Pará, Rondônia, Roraima and Tocantins). SEBRAE managers are keen to make local companies developing these resources a good practice example “in the production of raw materials and final products, and in the generation of jobs”, said Menezes.

The initiative, with a budget of Brazilian real BRL4.9m (US$1.48m), includes other activities, such as staging informative seminars for personal care product businesses. SEBRAE officials are also working with local communities to “identify technical and institutional partnerships needed to raise the knowledge and the development of Amazon products” and help local workers “learn the advanced technologies” required to process locally-sourced ingredients, said Menezes.

She said project staff visiting international personal care product industry fairs had noted significant interest in Amazon inputs. However, she added, there are still certain key challenges to overcome, such as difficulties in transportation and in developing local skilled labour.

Meanwhile, a five-year-old Cooperative of Native Fruit Pulp Producers of Mancio Lima (Cooperativa de Produtores de Polpa de Frutos Nativos de Mâncio Lima, or Coopfrutos) is working with the agency to research formulations of shampoos, conditioners, soaps and insect repellents including natural oils from Amazonia.

Coopfrutos joined SEBRAE’s project to improve its products, Elizana Araújo Costa, Director of the cooperative, told SPC. The cooperative is working with the Technology Foundation of the State of Acre (Fundação de Tecnologia do Estado do Acre, or FUNTAC) to achieve this goal.

Acre-based Coopfrutos works with sustainable methods because it recognises that protecting the biodiversity of the forest “is an economic alternative that can reduce the rural exodus and the deforestation rates”, Costa underlined. Since it works with vegetable oils and hand-made soaps, for instance, it is giving value to the knowledge of long standing (including indigenous) Amazonian communities, making the government more likely to help preserve their culture, she pointed out.

FUNTAC is helping the SEBRAE project develop ingredients such as hydrophilic oils, gel-oils and hydrogenated butters, and also finished products such as copaiba shampoo and açaí shampoo, FUNTAC CEO Sílvia Basso told SPC. It has also developed products made from the mulateiro tree, she added.

In addition, FUNTAC is working with universities and non-governmental organisations to find new Amazon-based inputs. All this work has prompted interest among national and international personal care product companies to seek new, sustainable products and innovative technologies from the Amazon, said Basso.

She hopes that reforms to Brazilian intellectual property laws through a new biodiversity law last year (No 13 123/2015) should ease the awarding of patents in Brazil to innovations involving the use of natural ingredients. The law states that research with the Brazilian genetic heritage and product development leveraging biodiversity do not require prior authorisation. Instead, only an electronic registration of activities within a Brazil National System for the Management of Genetic Heritage is required, said Basso.

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In the past, authorisation to develop such products for commercial sale could take eight years, which made it difficult to acquire patents and develop products.

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