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Colombia's Golden Triangle—Biodiverse and Market-friendly

By: Nancy Jeffries
Posted: April 27, 2012, from the May 2012 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Direct selling, one of the most important retail channels, accounts for 35% of sales. Beauty companies utilizing direct selling—largely from catalog sales—include Avon, Yanbal, Natura and Belcorp, and cosmetics sales through direct sales have provided a significant source of income for women in the region. In addition, beauty and personal care continue to thrive as a source of interest for women who value beauty as a way of life, and they seek quality and product diversity and place an emphasis on natural ingredients and health.

Research Focused on Natural Ingredients

In the biodiverse corridor of Medellin/Antioquia, as well as Cali’s Valle del Cauca—where the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) conducts research—advances are being made in plant extracts for a range of uses, from the soursop found in the region’s guanabana fruit, rich in antioxidants and biocides, to the active properties of the Lulo fruit, guayaba and uchuva. The year-round dry climate of the region enhances bio-crop science, tropical soil biology, and the study of genetics and plant species.

At CIAT, studies are being conducted on cassava fruits and other plants to ultimately create pest-resistant crops that will yield healthy fruits for generations to come, grown without the need for pesticides. At the same Cali location, Biotec Corporation, which both creates technologies and methods for wastewater treatment and uncovers uses for subproducts generated by decontamination processes, works to isolate active ingredients that will provide natural sunscreens for skin care products, as well as antioxidants for anti-aging, and other materials that support the skin’s cellular structure. 

According to Myriam Sanchez Mejia, director, Biotec Corporation, “The present government has a policy that fits with Biotec’s interest in the conversion of rural areas. This will improve the quality of life of rural communities, while adding value with natural plant materials.” Biotec collaborates with CIAT and other alliances to support their mutual growth and shared mission.

Claudia Betancur, executive director of BioIntropic, an alliance of six universities, a biofactory for in vitro production and a technological park that works to promote innovation in the biodiversity and biotechnology fields in Colombia, discussed the efforts of the research groups that include the University of Antioquia (in Medellin), Ecoflora and other institutions focused on bio-agrotechnology and bio-ingredients for cosmetics, foods and textiles, as well as efforts in bioenergy and bio-environmental technology. Ingredients with a growing presence or applications in the cosmetics include chontaduro, açai, borojo, ipecacuana, jagua, seje, heliconias, orquideas and microalgae—offering functions and benefits such as anti-aging, UV protection, antimicrobial activity and antioxidant properties.