By Erin Stock, InterAction
In 40 years, Brazil went from importing most of its staples – such as rice, beans and milk – to being a major exporter of food worldwide. How?
Antonio Lopes, the president of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, points to “government decisions” – decisions to strengthen universities, hire and send researchers around the world for training, and create an enabling environment for the development of tropical agricultural.
“It had a tremendous impact on our country,” Lopes told attendees at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs annual Global Food Security Symposium today.
The question of “how Brazil did it” is one that Lopes frequently gets. It arose again today during a panel discussion on “A New Science of Agriculture to Advance Global Food Security," with the moderator calling Brazil's progress "a remarkable story."
Lopes explained that Brazil was able to move forward fast because of investments in “science-based agriculture” that improved efficiency, he said. The country has doubled its cultivated land since the 1970s, while multiplying by six times its agricultural output, he said. This balance of expanding agriculture and conserving the land is an important challenge, he later added.
Brazil had no model for tropical agriculture to mimic, either, which catalyzed the country to create its own, Lopes said. Many of these important decisions to advance agriculture development were also made when a military government was in power.
“I have to tell you that this had an impact,” he said, explaining that it was frankly easier for decisions to be made.
Today, Brazil continues to invest in agriculture development, he said. The government’s Science Without Frontiers program is sending 100,000 undergraduate and graduate students from Brazil around the world for training. Lopes’ organization was able to recently hire 1,000 new researchers through government funding as well, he said.
“We have to work with our policymakers if we are to make substantial advances in bringing new concepts of sustainable agriculture into reality,” he said.
Other panelists agreed. Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, chief executive officer and head of mission for the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network, said it is critical to stimulate investment of research at a national government level. It is important that these investments support private sector involvement, initiatives grounded in farmer’s livelihoods, bold government vision and training for researchers who adapt their work for local contexts.
“What I take from the Brazil example – it’s this investment in people all around,” Sibanda said.