XPRIZE VOICES: Tatiana Schor

Mar 29 2024

XPRIZE is excited to present an enlightening XPRIZE Voices interview with Tatiana Schor, the visionary at the helm of the Amazon Initiative for the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). 

Schor, with her deep expertise and passionate advocacy for the environment, offers valuable insights into the critical role of nurturing sustainable bioeconomies throughout the Amazon.

Bioeconomic approaches aim to redefine our relationship with the planet’s most indispensable natural resources. These holistic economic models promote development in harmony with the planet's ecological systems, including regenerative agriculture, the creation of sustainable biomaterials, eco-tourism, and other work that supports conservation while benefiting local communities.

Transitioning from the current ‘extraction-based’ economy to a bioeconomy  could generate more than 312,000 new jobs in the Amazon and an additional $8 billion a year, up to $284 billion per year by 2050, added to the Brazilian economy. While this transition will have costs, experts estimate that the price of doing nothing and continuing with current economic models would be twice as much. 

The vast and vibrant Amazon rainforest, the largest rainforest and most biodiverse place on Earth, stands at a pivotal juncture. Schor examines why developing sustainable bioeconomic approaches is critical to stop further deforestation and damage and how these approaches can not only underscore the value of keeping the Amazon rainforest standing but can also help local communities thrive.

In addition to contributing to XPRIZE Voices, Schor has participated in past XPRIZE Rainforest events and has been a collaborator in our shared mission to promote science, innovation, and technology to protect biodiversity and develop new bioeconomies. 

Join us as we explore another conversation with a leading mind at the intersection of sustainability and innovation.

XPRIZE: How do you define bioeconomies?

Tatiana Schor: In our perception, the bio in bioeconomy is biodiversity. When we're thinking of the bioeconomy, we're thinking of economic activities that have the conservation of biodiversity as a focal point, as well as an understanding of how biodiversity is related to human life, social biodiversity, and cultural cosmological understanding.

XPRIZE: What is the main challenge for transitioning from an extraction-based economy to a bioeconomy?

Tatiana Schor: The first challenge is mindset. Throughout our history humans have done extraction without thinking that natural resources are limited. This is how our society developed. We have to change that mindset, the way we see the world, the way we relate to nature, and the way in which we understand our lives. This is the background question.

There's also the challenge of how governments and societies think about becoming richer. We're looking into economic indicators, money, GDP. What is creating money is not the bioeconomy right now. We have to understand that there needs to be a transition, and this transition may not generate as much financial volume as we expect other sectors to in a short period of time. 

XPRIZE: How do you encourage partners in different industries who are used to these more GDP-based assessments of success to move into a bioeconomy?

Tatiana Schor: We have to change our economic perspective to understand the global value of biodiversity, including water. This new generation that is coming into business is looking at business in a different way. Again, it is the mindset. Be it in Europe, the United States, or specifically in the Amazon.

The people who are now coming into leadership, they already have a different understanding of what sustainability is, the necessity to be more inclusive, to respect different cultures, and they understand the difference. This is the big opportunity we have.

XPRIZE: Is there a grassroots aspect to this change?

Tatiana Schor: There's a grassroots aspect to it and it's very important that the outside community supports it. There is sometimes this tension inside economic structures. There is a financial benefit to conserving biodiversity if we can manage to support this transition, be it as we do here at the IDB, or supporting more innovative ways of financing.

Sometimes we're only thinking of bioeconomy in a very restricted way, but we can look into all the creative industries: gastronomy, tourism, festivals, arts, innovative game design, and more where you incorporate the forest. This is also helping us take the economic pressure out of the forest and put it in somewhere else. 

XPRIZE: You're not only getting the economic benefit for local communities, but you're also making sure that that benefit lasts for generations to come because the benefit is the forest itself?

Tatiana Schor: Exactly. It's important that the local communities, be they indigenous, afro-descendants, river communities, or urban people have strengthened relations to the forest. 

Amazonia is about 70% urbanized. We do not want to put the city against the forest, or the forest against the city, but try to link these two things to strengthen their relations. That’s where we have this big challenge and the many opportunities that the bioeconomy brings.

There will not be one solution. There's a myriad of solutions in terms of economic activities that can conserve the forest. More regenerative agriculture, agroforestry, organic agriculture. You can look at communities that are producing cacao with agroforestry. It's not only producing cocoa, but it's also understanding that the production and the commerce of cacao should make the lives of the people in cacao production better. 

The other example is all of this new gastronomy. Amazonia today is one of the most interesting places in terms of gastronomy. The different manners of cooking, working with what we call non-conventional ingredients in the forest, all the flavors that that implies, and all the good that can be done. 

XPRIZE: What role does collaboration play in the success of promoting, understanding, and developing a bioeconomy?

Tatiana Schor: Collaboration is key on many levels. Sharing experiences between bioeconomy businesses, and sharing experiences with other types of business which are not necessarily in a bioeconomy can help these sectors grow. 

It's also very important for collaboration between countries. Amazonia has eight countries and the French Guyana. If we look at the extension of the entire Amazon forest today, it would be the sixth biggest country in the world. 

Having collaboration and sharing knowledge of biodiversity and the different uses is very, very key.

XPRIZE: How do you balance knowledge that comes from institutions and scholars and knowledge that comes from people living in these communities on a daily basis?

Tatiana Schor: Collaboration. A new generation of indigenous young people who have had the opportunity to go to university are going back to their communities, or they become professors, doctors, or dentists. They are able to bring a dialogue between modern science and traditional knowledge. And that is very fruitful. 

XPRIZE: Does this bring shared perspectives?

Tatiana Schor: Totally, and also a way of speaking. There's still a translation in terms of what we say and what is understood.

I was in a meeting with a young Afro-Amazonian woman, recently, who had finished her master's degree. She looked at me and said, “You know, every time you come to our community and say that you're going to bring a project, the word project for us implies that we're going to lose, because every time there's a project here, we lose.”

You think you're saying something that they’re going to like, but they have a different thought in their heads. That caught my attention. I was not understanding what that word “project” meant historically to that person because there's a long social memory of exploitation and violence in the Amazon. 

There's this interaction between community-based knowledge, cultural background, and institutional knowledge. If we don't have that dialogue, we miss this opportunity of correcting the language.

XPRIZE: What are the key actions or factors in the next five years that will ensure that a transition into the bioeconomy is possible and successful?

Tatiana Schor: That's a tricky question because five years is short. We still have the mindset of GDP impact. There has to be a stronger understanding of what happens on the ground. If the solution was easy, it would have been put forward. It's not easy.

Sometimes we think that what people need is access to the market. But the question is not about money, it's about a good living. A lot of indigenous communities put forward, “What we want is a good life.” It has to be a combo. We have to conserve biodiversity and respect the cultures.

XPRIZE: What role do new technologies play?

Tatiana Schor: New technologies are the key. They're the key not only for what they might produce in the future, but they're also the key in how we can support this younger generation and open new possibilities of working in the bioeconomy. 

Innovation can change sectors and bring more people into them. We had a lot of discussion with the Good Food Institute on cultivated meat and the culture in Amazonia of eating bushmeat. Why don't we think about cultivated bushmeat? We can make a product which does not imply killing the animals. It can be a product where part of the profits go to preserving the community and these animals. 

The opportunity is similar with plant-based proteins. A lot of the world’s plant-based products are based on two plants. Imagine if we could explore plant-based products in the biodiversity of the Amazon. How many new interesting products, which would depend on biodiversity, could we create? This is innovation, and it's opening new doors in the way we see food, food production, and food sovereignty. 

XPRIZE: How can international cooperation or investment best be directed to support this transition from people outside the region?

Tatiana Schor: At the IDB, this is our big question. As the IDB we put forward the Amazonia Forever Program. This recognizes that we alone as an institution can’t do it and we need to create an ecosystem of collaboration, co-creation, and much more cooperation.

All of this implies a closer dialogue not only between ourselves, multilateral banks, international investors, big development banks, the private sector, and finance people, but especially listening to and understanding those who are in the territories. 

We have a network of the public development banks of the eight countries so that everybody can start talking. We have a network of private banks. We work very closely with the international organization of the eight Amazonian countries. We work very closely with indigenous organizations. We're looking at these key stakeholders and trying to put them all together. 

 Maybe there's where innovation and technology could be used. It's like this big sky full of stars. There's a lot of opportunities.

XPRIZE Rainforest is working to support the transition to bioeconomies in the Amazon by promoting the development and adoption of biodiversity monitoring technologies. These technologies can generate data on biodiversity health in real time that could help verify the efficacy of bioeconomic models. 

To learn more about Tatiana Schor and her work, watch our recorded XPRIZE Voices interview above and explore the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). To support XPRIZE Rainforest, our mission to preserve these essential ecosystems, and follow along with our upcoming competition finals, explore more here