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Reginaldo Gonçalves Mafia

Consultant at Entre Folhas Consultoria Florestal


The challenge of innovate in the Brazilian forestry sector

In general, investing time and other resources in innovation is very attractive, as it is a recognized efficient strategy for generating value or even for business survival. On the other hand, what few know is that carrying out research and innovation is a process that demands persistence and resilience, as change or exposure to risk, which are intrinsic to innovation, are adversities for any production process.

Some experts defend the thesis that the Brazilian forestry sector benefits from favorable climate and soil conditions. Although true, this is not the only reason that explains the increase in productivity over the last few decades. As we know, soil characteristics do not change in a short space of time and the climate, in turn, has become increasingly unstable, as a reflection of climate change. Therefore, if it were not for the continuous investments of private companies in research and innovation, the knowledge generated, the training of qualified labor and technological innovations, we would still have the same levels of productivity as in the past.

To begin our discussion, we first need to differentiate creativity from innovation. Creativity is our ability to generate ideas, while innovation is our ability to select truly new and viable ideas, put them into practice and generate value from them. In general, we are creative, as this is an innate characteristic of human beings. On the other hand, transforming creativity into innovation demands methodical work, which involves prioritization, experimentation, testing, adaptations and a series of other steps, which often discourage those who are less resilient.

With this in mind, it is important to be aware of some deviations from the route that could hinder overcoming innovation challenges. The first of them is the lack of focus. As incredible as it may seem, because they are very creative and engaged, sometimes they can lose focus due to distractions, extra demands or something even newer that appears every moment. Therefore, it is essential to have discipline and comply with all stages of the innovation process. Therefore, it is important to prioritize initiatives that are attractive, structuring and that make a difference to the business.

Secondly, we can mention the lack of conclusion. Every project has to have a beginning, middle and end. And to complete projects, whether successful or failed, it is important to reach a conclusion acceptable to the majority. Typically, teams that go through many changes (leadership, responsibilities, priorities, etc.) end up dealing with this type of rework. A simple way to get out of this vicious cycle is to carry out a lessons learned exercise, in which the problems or opportunities are listed, what was accomplished, tested and, finally, what was possible to learn and recommend as best practice.

And finally, perhaps as reflections of the first two, we can mention the senseless action of “reinventing the wheel” all the time. It is not uncommon for teams to repeatedly perform experiments under the same hypotheses. Furthermore, experiments are often variations of one or more production factors and quantification of a response variable, more or less expected, according to the laws of nature and according to existing knowledge. This type of experiment must be redirected towards the creation and parameterization of production models and not just to verify a cause and effect relationship. In the area of mechanization, it is also common to observe the carrying out of a series of adaptations to forestry equipment and implements, which in a certain way, without due attention to intellectual property law, can discourage companies from making investments in the development of new options for the forest area.

To avoid these deviations from the route, it is essential to invest in processes that can guarantee the use of state-of-the-art recommendations. More recently, with the advancement of digital technologies, the creation of algorithms and intelligent systems to manage this information has become attractive. Brazilian forestry companies have always invested in research. However, it is worth highlighting an important caution here. In addition to financial resources, physical structure, people and equipment, other factors are important for creating a truly innovative area.

Firstly, it is essential to have a favorable environment, that is, one that recognizes genuine efforts and not just short-term results, with leadership that serves as inspiration by believing in and defending the importance of the Research and Development area. Teams can be organized by expertise and/or by stages of innovation, but it is important that they are close to the operational area, so that they are fed back with the challenges and opportunities in practice. They must also have space for creating and testing new concepts, and there must be interaction between experts on the various topics.

Furthermore, the business vision must leave space for a focus beyond commoditization. New technologies generally start with a higher cost, greater production instability and great risks, but for these factors to be eliminated it is necessary to invest and persist, often without a guarantee of return. Finally, it is important to highlight some aspects of the most relevant factor for innovation, that is, people. As engaged as they may be, people are not typically ambidextrous. In other words, they do not have the capacity, knowledge and skills to work on disruptive projects (long-term, more innovative and generally higher risk) in the same way, intensity and quality as short-term projects, that is, those that are more operational and have lower risk. We also know that if there is no evaluation and bonus methodology that considers the differences between disruptive projects and more operational ones, there will be a tendency to prioritize the latter.

If there is no balance between these two fronts (strategic and operational) and proximity between the operational and research teams, profits tend to reduce over time, either due to a lack of business support in current technology or a lack of innovation. It is important to emphasize that advances in forestry technologies have been very intense in recent decades, as a result of the dedication and commitment of researchers, teachers, specialists, consultants and several other actors, in addition to forestry operations teams. More recently, in addition to this audience, present in forestry companies, universities and research centers, new and important reinforcements have emerged in innovation ecosystems. The integration of this public still needs to be further explored. The forestry sector has changed levels in recent years, in terms of planted area and exposure to risk. Therefore, the knowledge and technologies that allowed us to get here may not be enough to guarantee the future, so we need to maintain focus, discipline and courage to innovate.