Colombia is home to about 10% of the world's species. The country has recognized the economic potential offered by this bioresource diversity and placed it at the center of its new bioeconomy strategy.

Colombia is a biodiversity hotspot: 10% of all the world's species can be found there. The country also has large deposits of oil and coal. The second most populous country in South America has recognized the economic potential of its bioresource diversity and has developed several policies related to the country's natural environment. An explicit bioeconomy strategy was published in 2020. In addition to the expansion and modernization of agriculture and the use of the vast forest areas, the government has also been promoting biotechnology for more than a decade. However, the conflicting goals within the bioeconomy have not yet been adequately addressed. This is exemplified by the still widespread burning of sugar cane fields prior to harvesting, from which biodiversity and public health suffer. Or by the intentional expansion of agriculture, which has already displaced more than one million hectares of natural wetlands, and the granting of numerous water concessions to sugar cane plantations at the expense of water access for the local population.

Legal and political framework

The main policy framework for the bioeconomy in Colombia is codified in the 2020 National Bioeconomy Strategy and the 2018 Roadmap for Green Growth, which prioritizes the six sectors of health, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, processed food, chemicals, and agriculture, but also includes plans for forestry and renewable energy.

Furthermore, 100 research expeditions are to capture biodiversity in the country's remote regions by 2030, resulting in new bioeconomically relevant products by 2050. Other important papers include the "Colombia Bio" strategy published in 2016 and the "Policy for the Commercial Development of Biotechnology from the Sustainable Use of Biodiversity" strategy approved in 2011. The former focuses on developing strategies through research for selected regions of the country to sustainably use biological resources, including diversity and ecosystem services. The latter brings together previously existing concepts on biodiversity and biotechnology and was the responsibility of a committee including all of Colombia's ministers.

As early as 2002, the Colombian government formulated references to the bioeconomy and biodiversity for the first time in the "National Plan for Continental and Marine Bioprospecting" and in 2008 in the "National Policy for Productivity and Competitiveness". Biotechnology as an economic factor was first highlighted in the "National Development Plan" (2006 to 2010) and was also found in the "Vision 2019" in 2006, in the "Research and Innovation Policy" in 2008, and in the "National Policy on Science, Technology and Innovation" in 2009.

The centerpiece of Colombia's future bioeconomy policy is the 48-page, fledgling National Bioeconomy Strategy, which was spearheaded by the Ministry of Science and the Ministry of Environment. Also involved were the Ministries of Economy, Agriculture, Energy and Internal Affairs, as well as other institutions. In addition to biodiversity, the strategy continues agriculture as an important economic focus - by 2017, several policy initiatives had already resulted in agricultural land being increased by more than one million hectares in just a few years. The National Development Plan for 2018 to 2022 also placed a focus on technical modernization through smart farming methods, following the examples of Argentina and Brazil.

Colombia's bioeconomy strategy pursues twelve basic goals:

  • The economy is to be transformed to the sustainable use of biomass, biodiversity and ecosystem services.

  • Export products and processes are to become higher quality and more diverse.

  • The value chains from biodiversity shall produce more added value and get a regional focus.

  • Biomass is to be used for a new generation of products, processes, services and for bioenergy.

  • Companies should be globally and sustainably oriented.

  • Education and training are to be strengthened in all regions of the country.

  • For the development of the rural regions additional ways are to be found.

  • New interdisciplinary technologies are to be developed and established.

  • Local and traditional knowledge is also to be drawn on and evaluated.

  • Productivity and competitiveness are to be improved in the traditional sectors of the economy.

  • New jobs are to be created throughout the country for different skill levels.

  • In the field of biotechnology, new companies are to be created and existing ones strengthened.

The National Bioeconomy Strategy also looks at each region of the country individually. For Antioquia, Santander and the central region, for example, the focus is to be on sustainable logistics. The Llanos and Orinoquia region is to become a "sustainable larder" and the Amazon region is to be developed in an environmentally compatible manner. Along the coasts, the strategy envisages the sustainable development of the biological potential of the sea.

The strategy identifies (new) materials, green chemistry, health and wellness, fuels and bioenergy, and cosmetics and pharmaceuticals as particularly relevant economic sectors. The bioeconomy is to be expanded in a way that enables growth and diversification of the economy while at the same time driving decarbonization. The guiding principles are social justice, environmental protection and adaptation to climate change, which should also be reflected in the regulatory and political framework. The measures are further to be linked to the principles of the circular economy and the avoidance of waste as far as possible.

In some domains, the strategy paper becomes concrete. For example, potential in agriculture is to be tapped through new varieties, digitalization and precision farming. Nature tourism is to be expanded, and ecosystem services are to be priced. In the field of chemistry, enzymes are to play an increasing role as biocatalysts. Important research fields for Colombia include omics, bioinformatics, biotechnology, phytotherapeutics, personalized medicine, precision nutrition and regenerative medicine. Under the umbrella term biointelligence, the bioeconomy strategy highlights, in particular, the potential that lies dormant in the genomes of numerous species to produce novel biochemical compounds. Also included in the bioeconomy is Colombia's potential to decode individual human genomes with a view to the aforementioned personalized medicine and nutrition.

Along with the various levels of government, the strategy sees chambers of commerce, incubators and consulting firms, banks and investors, as well as research institutions and technology parks as being responsible for implementing the many goals. It is important for these players to network and cooperate with each other and with companies. The government also wants to set up an innovation fund and a special credit line for the bioeconomy. Subsidies and appropriately oriented public procurement are also intended to promote the bioeconomy.

Research landscape


Colombia's oldest public university is the University of Antioquia. Its focus areas relevant to the bioeconomy include agriculture and animal breeding, as well as pharmacology and microbiology. The largest university in the country is the National University of Colombia. With biosciences, chemical engineering, veterinary medicine and pharmacy, its staff also conduct research in bioeconomic fields.

The Industrial University of Santander is also considered to be particularly strong in research. It focuses, among other things, on the agricultural industry and tropical medicine.

The Technical University of Pereira plays an important role in bioeconomy research with faculties for health sciences, environmental sciences and an environmental management center. Research topics range from biocosmetics and bioenergy to crop protection and omics disciplines (genomics, proteomics, etc.).

Despite their size, the University of Pamplona and the University of Cauca have the only strong link to the bioeconomy in the form of agricultural sciences. The University of Francisco de Paula Santander, which has only four faculties, also focuses on agricultural research. The same is true for the five-faculty University of Llanos, which specializes in contributing to the solution of ecological problems.

The University of Nariño also focuses on agricultural research, but also on agricultural engineering and animal husbandry.

Environmental process engineering including water and environmental remediation, pharmacology, microbiology and biochemistry are among the research areas of the University of Cartagena.

The Pontifical Xaveriana University also researches bioeconomic issues in its faculties of Natural Sciences and Environmental Sciences.

Governmental research institutions

CORPOICA is the Colombian agency for agricultural research. Its areas of work include animal health, plant protection and plant breeding, development of genetic potential, agricultural technologies and socioeconomics.

The IVH Research Institute for Biological Resources Alexander von Humboldt in Bogotá is Colombia's leading institute for biodiversity research and has large natural science collections.

IDEAM, the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies, in Bogotá deals with issues of agricultural research, forestry, soil science and sustainable environmental development.

The INS Nationales Institut für Gesundheit in Bogotá deals with medical biotechnology and microbiology as well as nutritional issues.

The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Cali deals with various aspects of agricultural research, including agrosystems, sustainable working landscapes and agricultural policy.

Private research institutions

The Center for Research on Sustainable Agricultural Production Systems CIPAV in Carrera develops sustainable agricultural production processes through applied research projects.

The Cenicaña research organization has three main areas of focus: The development of new sugarcane varieties, conceptual and technical improvements in sugarcane cultivation, and the optimization of industrial processing of sugarcane.

The Society for Biological Research CIB sees itself as a research service provider in the fields of health sciences, biodiversity, and agricultural and environmental biotechnology.

The Botanical Garden of Medellin is not only a living museum, but also researches the biodiversity of the Colombian plant world in order to make it sustainably usable.

An extensive database of research projects and other projects in the field of bioeconomy has been compiled by the "Bridge Colombia" network.


Business landscape

By 2030, the bioeconomy in Colombia is expected to contribute up to 10% of gross domestic product and create 2.5 million new jobs.So far, no bioeconomy players can be found among the country's top-selling companies, although the frontrunner - oil and coal company Ecopetrol - has recently increased its investments in biofuels.

Agriculture and bioenergy

Agriculture plays the largest role in Colombia's bioeconomy, contributing 6.8% to GDP in 2020. In addition to coffee (720,000 metric tons), corn (1.3 million metric tons), potatoes (3.1 million metric tons), palm oil (5.8 million metric tons), bananas (3.7 million metric tons), pineapples (900,000 metric tons) and avocado (325,000 metric tons), sugarcane is particularly important, now accounting for three percent of the total cultivated area at 7.1 million hectares. An annual production of 36 million tons of sugarcane secured Colombia seventh place among sugar producers in 2018. The sugarcane value chain makes the commodity the country's fifth most important sector in export earnings. It includes 14 sugar mills and six bioethanol plants that produce more than 450 million liters of ethanol per year. This makes Colombia the second largest ethanol producer in Latin America. The relevant industry associations have great political influence. In terms of flower production, Colombia ranks second in the world behind the Netherlands. The country is also one of the 20 largest producers of beef and chicken.

One of the oldest agricultural and energy companies is Manuelita, which operates the oldest sugar mill in the country. Sugar, ethanol, palm oil and biodiesel are the main traditional products. As part of diversification efforts, shellfish, shrimp, asparagus and table grapes have been added. Ingenio Risaralda also produces mainly sugar and ethanol. Another significant agricultural group is Aliar. From feed crops in the form of corn and soy to meat products, the company covers the entire value chain. The agricultural and fish farming company Pajonales relies on the use of self-optimized microorganisms for plant protection and soil improvement. In addition to own cultivation, seed production and livestock breeding are important pillars of the company. Additives for agriculture based on microorganisms are also the specialty of the companies Biocultivos and Ecosphaira, as well as several other small and medium-sized companies. The crop protection specialist Ecoflora, a subsidiary of the Gowan Group, stands out for products for the agricultural sector based on plant extracts.


With almost 60 million hectares of primary forest, more than half of Colombia's land area is considered forested. However, land use changes - legal, but particularly illegal - have destroyed around 200,000 hectares of forest every year in recent years. The government is therefore planning to redevelop more than one million hectares of land for forestry purposes in the coming years. So far, guadua wood for furniture construction and the cultivation of oil palms have been of economic importance. The palm oil producers are organized in the Fedepalma association. It is working to ensure that 75% of palm oil bears the RSPO sustainability certificate by 2023. It is disputed whether many palm oil companies have acquired their land legally or have forcibly evicted small farmers. This also applies to one of the most powerful oil companies, Oleoflores.

One company that has started a worldwide trend with economically previously unused trees is Kahai. It owns 650 hectares of cacay nut trees and is pushing reforestation with these trees on 5,000 hectares. Cacay nuts contain a high-quality oil that is used in cosmetics. The company also follows a zero-waste strategy and recycles almost all parts of the nuts, in part for protein extraction.

Biomass residues

Biomass residues account for around 20 million metric tons annually in Colombia and are increasingly being economically recycled into products such as bioethanol, paper, fertilizers, heat and electricity. The government sees the potential as high as 43 million tons of biomass residues. Three quarters of the agricultural land is dedicated to exports - which makes it difficult to orient sustainable production not least to domestic needs and further fuels existing conflicts resulting from a very unequal distribution of land ownership.


Colombia also has several large food manufacturers, including Grupo Nutresa, Alpina and Colombina. In addition, numerous international groups are present.


An exemplary player in the field of biotechnology health applications is the private research center CorpoGen, whose services include product development, diagnostics, data analysis and technical services. Biotriskel also sees itself as a biotechnology research service provider. Feed additives, especially growth promoters, are the business field of the still young but very research-driven company Bialtec. PRO-AMB develops biotechnological, mostly microbial, solutions ranging from arable and livestock farming to wastewater treatment and composting.

Green biotechnology is still an issue in Colombia, but with around 100,000 hectares of corn and cotton, it plays only a small role.

Cosmetics and pharmaceuticals

Natural extracts for the cosmetics industry are produced by the Neyber company, which attaches great importance to sustainable extraction. Labfarve also focuses on plant-based compounds, but not only for the cosmetics industry, but also for the pharmaceutical sector. Phytotherapeutics are also the field of work of the company Naturfar. Ecoflora Cares produces numerous plant-based substances, most recently mainly colorants for food, but also additives for cosmetics and cleaning products. In addition to a number of natural compounds, the university spin-off Bioingred primarily has a process in its portfolio for better incorporating fats and oils into cosmetic formulations.


Tourism in Colombia has long suffered from the ongoing civil war and instability in the country. However, since the end of the armed conflicts in September 2016, the industry is increasingly recovering and is also to be developed sustainably according to the government's plans. Nature-based outdoor tourism is mainly offered by small companies and family-run businesses such as Ecosistemas or Coraves Birding and Nature Tours.