Farming superpower Brazil spreads its know-how
It is bringing the technologies of tropical farming to other parts of Latin America, and to Africa and Asia.
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But even so, Brazil is well positioned to endure a downturn. And Embrapa estimates that it has another 90 million hectares of land that can be utilized for agriculture and 170 million hectares of degraded pastures that could be made more efficient.Skip to next paragraph
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Brazil's 'responsibility' to help out
"We have technology, lots of land, and above all a lot of smart farmers," says Eliseu Alves, a former president of Embrapa who is considered one of its "fathers." But, he says, Brazil must share the hard-earned secrets of its success. "Now we have the challenge of Africa. We have a great responsibility to them. Donors tried to solve the Africa problem and have failed. Now we are trying to focus on research."
It is a test Embrapa is particularly suited to take on – especially in Africa where the soil content and climatic conditions are similar. Embrapa has sent missions to Africa over the years, but a turning point came with the opening of the Ghana office in November 2006. From that base they are helping a host of agricultural departments of various countries with their specific needs.
In Angola, for example, Embrapa is helping construct a research institution modeled on their own in an effort to help improve food productivity. In other countries, they are introducing the drought-resistant varieties of wheat they are continuously improving at home.
In Venezuela, a three-member team is helping the country produce more grains, chickens, and milk – some of the products that were in short supply earlier this year. They are considering opening up a seed technology business in Central America. Earlier this fall, they were in East Timor. "The goal is to help these countries feed themselves, and then perhaps turn into suppliers," says Contini.
But it is a long slog – at least 20 or 30 years of hard work, Contini says – and it requires much more than just technology transfer. It requires training and commitment on the part of each government. Goldsmith says that the idea of turning the African savanna into anything like Brazil's cerrado, for now, is almost "a dream," he says. Land ownership issues, politics, and civil strife will hold it back. And each country must develop its own model. "Technology is transferable," says Alves. "The problem is that Africa is much more densely populated."
But it is a dream that Lobato, who retired from Embrapa and now works as a consultant, says is attainable.
This year he stood in Mozambique, as he stood in Brazil's cerrado in the 1970s. He and his colleague, Djalma Martinhão Gomes de Sousa, a pioneering soil expert of Embrapa, both say that Mozambique is where Brazil was 50 years ago. They produce some corn, and raise cattle on inefficient pastures. Production is low. Many might feel the same hopelessness that was felt about the cerrado in the '70s.
But Mr. Martinhão says that if Africa can develop its agricultural base, the continent can transform the way Brazil did: Human development index maps from the Ministry of Planning, Budget, and Management show that standards of living in the cerrado have steadily increased alongside agricultural development.
Lobato says he has little doubt that the pioneers in Africa will feel the way he feels today in his own country: "There is nothing so rewarding for myself than seeing a good crop in the field, in a place where nothing used to grow."