Harvesting Innovation: Brazilian Agriculture in the Twenty-First Century

On February 21st, scientists, organizational leaders, and policymakers explored modern Brazilian agriculture, its contributions to national development, and the critical innovations that are driving the sector’s modernization, productivity increases, and environmental sustainability at the “Harvesting Innovation: Brazilian Agriculture in the 21st Century” symposium.

Maurizio Guadagni, Senior Agricultural Specialist at the World Bank Group, began the symposium with a discussion of Brazil’s exports and the strengths and weaknesses in its economy. As the leading exporter of sugar, coffee, orange juice, and soybeans and the second largest exporter of ethanol, an important agricultural input, Brazil is the world’s largest contributor to the food supply. Guadagni attributed Brazil’s success in agriculture to high investment in R&D, multifaceted financing, and trade liberalization. Still, the challenges ahead of the sector, such as climate change and a faulty bureaucracy, may halt its continued growth and development.

Recognizing the challenges ahead of the agricultural sector, Dr. Geraldo B. Martha – Coordinator of Embrapa, Labex-USA Labex-Embrapa/– lauded advancements in biological research, preventative breeding, data-based approaches, and sustainable systems as critical to the future success of Brazilian agriculture. He recommended value-based solutions to agriculture – scale-ups, market-based approaches, and investments in human capital for farmers – as key drivers for agricultural advancements in Brazil.

Henri Colens, European Public Affairs Manager for Braskem S.A., used Braskem as a case study for bio-based and sustainable production techniques in Brazil. The company uses cane sugar ethanol rather than fossil fuels in its production of plastic. As Braskem works to de-couple plastics and fossil feedstocks, it is able to reduce its carbon footprint in plastic production. And the company is working to reduce plastic leakage into natural systems and preserve biodiversity in the Amazon rainforest by creating an effective after-use plastics economy.

The discussion turned to cotton production as Haroldo Cunha, President of the Brazilian Cotton Institute, looked to the agronomic and technological innovations in cotton growth that have led to its ten-fold increase in productivity since the 1980s. However, pests, diseases, faulty infrastructure and bureaucracy may threaten the growth of the already sensitive crop. Thus, Cunha called for programs to test the health of cotton plants, sustainable systems, and marketing programs to maintain a robust cotton supply and establish Brazil’s role as a leading cotton exporter.

In the final panel discussion, Eugenio Diaz- Bonilla, Head of Latin American and Caribbean Program at IFPRI and Shenggen Fan, Director General for of IFPRI discussed the importance of Latin America in providing global food security and environmental public goods. Both speakers called for investment in science and technology. Fan particularly emphasized the importance of yield-enhancing, nutrition-driven technologies, and climate resilient crops as key to improving environmental and human health in Brazil and around the world.

The symposium concluded with Geraldo B. Martha offering points for moving the discussion further. While the presentations highlighted many of the successes of Brazilian agriculture and offered solutions to its endurance in the future, what’s still needed is a discussion on how Brazil can increase its use of crops, increase the intensity of land usage, and increase food production while reducing food loss, he said.

The Brazil Initiative at the Elliott School of International Affairs and Embrapa, Brazil’s leading agricultural research and extension federal government agency, partnered to organize the symposium “Harvesting Innovation: Brazilian Agriculture in the 21st Century.” And the Institute for International Economic Policy and ABRAPA, the Brazilian Cotton Producers Association, co-sponsored the event.

Visit our Facebook page to view the livestream video from the symposium.

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The Institute for International Economic Policy (IIEP), which is located within the Elliott School of International Affairs, serves as a catalyst for high quality, multi-disciplinary, and non-partisan research on policy issues surrounding economic globalization. The Institute research program helps develop effective policy options and academic analysis in a time of growing controversies about international economic integration in many countries around the world. The institute's work also encompasses policy responses for those who face continued poverty and financial crises despite worldwide economic growth. Affiliated faculty have appointments in the departments of economics, history, and political science as well as the law and business schools.

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