£6.5million to kick-start Colombian bioeconomy
21 July 2017
New funding could help protect the habitat of the spectacled bear for ecotourism, boost the coffee and chocolate industries and help rebuild post-conflict lives.
Earlham Institute (EI) has been awarded nearly £6.5 million (25 billion-pesos) of UK funding for a project that will help to protect biodiversity and benefit innovation in Colombia. The project is led by Director of Science, Federica Di Palma, and is one of 37 announced by Research Councils UK to support projects tackling some of the most serious global challenges.
The four-year investment from RCUK’s Global Challenges Research Fund is set to stimulate the bioeconomy by increasing knowledge of Colombia’s greatest treasure: its biodiversity. It will help Colombian researchers, industry partners and crop breeders gain the skills needed to drive sustainable innovation and to attract further public and private funding. The project is closely linked to Colombia Bio, the research strategy of the government science agency Colciencias.
Colombia is the second richest country in the world after Brazil in terms of biodiversity, but only 41st by GDP ranking. The country’s natural riches could help boost GDP and help secure social equality and long-term peace. For example, they are likely to be a treasure-trove for new medicines, agricultural innovation and ecotourism.
“A successful bioeconomy would be one that creates new scientists, research capabilities and investments while at the same time improving human welfare in parts of the country that have seen years of instability,” says the Earlham Institute’s Professor Federica Di Palma, who brought the Bridge Colombia partners together and led the successful funding bid.
Many of the strongholds of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were in remote and richly biodiverse areas. Since the guerrilla group relinquished control, deforestation has increased due to illegal logging and mining. As part of the new project, communities in these areas will be surveyed to better understand how to help them achieve economic stability in a way that secures the nation’s rich resources for future generations.
Some of these same areas include virgin rainforest, remote savanna and vertiginous mountains that have not been studied by researchers since the expedition led by Alexander von Humboldt in the early 1800s. The 2016 peace deal makes it possible for researchers to undertake new bio-expeditions. They will be able to discover new species and to catalogue plants and wildlife that could be valuable for ecotourism, medicine and industry.
“It is important to know how much the amazing biodiversity of the country could be worth to the Colombian economy,” says Professor Di Palma.
“Only then can its value be understood, bringing communities on board and making new partnerships to ensure that instead of losing it for short-term gains, it can carry on providing a source of income for generations to come.
Innovation in agriculture will include a boost to the coffee industry, a crop at the heart of Colombia’s cultural identity. However, livestock is currently Colombia’s biggest agricultural activity. It employs about three-quarters of Colombia’s agricultural land and one in five people. Productivity is one of the lowest in the world and an increase could significantly boost incomes without the need to clear more land.
“This project will have a long-lasting impact, leaving a legacy of a greater research capacity and responsible investments that benefit both people and the environment,” says Professor Di Palma.
Director of Colombia BIO Felipe Garcia Cardona says:
“With access to technologies and expertise BRIDGE Colombia partners - such as the Earlham Institute and Natural History Museum in the UK and the University of Sydney in Australia - we have a chance for our researchers to build the skills for a thriving scientific future. And as we increase our knowledge of the riches on our doorstep, we can tell the world about them, attracting further investment.”
Professor Santiago Madriñán from the Universidad de los Andes and Director of the Cartagena Botanical Garden, says:
“Through the enhancement of conservation efforts lead by the Cartagena Botanical Garden, a leading institution in research and education for the conservation of the Caribbean biodiversity, we will focus on preserving remnant forests, restoring degraded forest patches and promoting ecotourism in the region. For example, the seasonally dry tropical forest is the most threatened ecosystem on earth, rich in endemic species and home to endangered precious woods and a bewildering bird fauna.”
Professor Ian Barnes, a research leader at the Natural History Museum, says:
“I’m delighted to be able to work with Colombian scientists to survey parts of the country that have not been studied for decades. At this stage, we don’t know whether the biological diversity of this amazing country will have increased or decreased and it is important to find out. We will train the next generation of researchers in the most up-to-date genomic techniques, ensuring there are enough people with the skills needed to sample and analyse DNA.”
Enrique Fatas, Professor of Economics from the University of East Anglia, says:
“In rural areas hit by the long and tragic conflict, many people feel excluded from Colombia’s economic progress. The interdisciplinary team in this project will engage with local communities to ensure they benefit from Colombia’s biodiversity, promoting inclusive and sustainable growth.”
Dr José de Vega from the Earlham Institute says:
“If we don’t protect the genetic diversity of crops from pollution, habitat loss or changes in land-use, we will lose the ability to adapt food production to new conditions and challenges resulting from climate change or population growth. Biodiversity is crucial for food security everywhere. We need to stop deforestation at the same time as increasing productivity on pastures and farmland, so that food producers’ incomes can be boosted in a sustainable way.”
Dr Jacobo Arango, Forage Scientist, International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), says:
“This could be a fantastic opportunity to further develop sustainable livestock systems in Colombia. These environmentally-friendly systems can be so productive they actually reduce pressure on farmers to cut down forests for grazing land, protecting Colombia’s rich biodiversity.”
Notes to editors.
Notes to Editors
BRIDGE Colombia is focused on preserving, restoring, and managing Colombian biodiversity through responsible innovation.
BRIDGE stands for: Biodiversity, Responsibility, Innovation, Development, Growth, and Education
Or: Biodiversidad, Responsabilidad, Innovación, Desarrollo, Ganancia, y Educación
BRIDGE Colombia Website:
BRIDGE Colombia / VIDEO
New era for nature in Colombia / PRESS RELEASE
Keeping Colombia megadiverse / SPECIAL FEATURE
Why you should care about biodiversity / SPECIAL FEATURE
Biodiversity bites / PODCAST
Image by Felipe Villegas, Instituto Alexander von Humboldt
BRIDGE Colombia partners:
COLCIENCIAS, Colombia BIO (http://www.colciencias.gov.co/)
Instituto Alexander Von Humboldt (http://www.humboldt.org.co/)
Instituto de Ciencias Naturales, Universidad Nacional de Colombia (ciencias.bogota.unal.edu.co/icn/)
Universidad de los Andes (https://uniandes.edu.co/)
Universidad EAFIT (www.eafit.edu.co/)
Universidad de Antioquia (www.udea.edu.co/)
Universidad del Rosario (www.urosario.edu.co/)
Universidad de la Amazonia (www.uniamazonia.edu.co/)
Universidad Industrial de Santander (www.uis.edu.co/)
Jardín Botánico de Cartagena (www.jbgp.org.co/en/)
Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (https://www.aber.ac.uk/en/ibers/)
University of East Anglia (https://www.uea.ac.uk/)
University of Warwick (www.warwick.ac.uk/)
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (www.rbge.org.uk/)
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (www.kew.org/)
Natural History Museum (www.nhm.ac.uk/)
Eden Trust (www.edenproject.com/)
University of Sydney (https://sydney.edu.au/)
For more information, please contact:
Head of Business Development and Communications, Earlham Institute (EI)
- +44 (0)1603 450 813
The Earlham Institute (EI) is a world-leading research institute focusing on the development of genomics and computational biology. EI is based within the Norwich Research Park and is one of eight institutes that receive strategic funding from Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC) - £6.45M in 2015/2016 - as well as support from other research funders. EI operates a National Capability to promote the application of genomics and bioinformatics to advance bioscience research and innovation.
EI offers a state of the art DNA sequencing facility, unique by its operation of multiple complementary technologies for data generation. The Institute is a UK hub for innovative bioinformatics through research, analysis and interpretation of multiple, complex data sets. It hosts one of the largest computing hardware facilities dedicated to life science research in Europe. It is also actively involved in developing novel platforms to provide access to computational tools and processing capacity for multiple academic and industrial users and promoting applications of computational Bioscience. Additionally, the Institute offers a training programme through courses and workshops, and an outreach programme targeting key stakeholders, and wider public audiences through dialogue and science communication activities.