Anyone interested in how Brazil developed what former Secretary of State Colin Powell called an “agricultural superpower” and came close to eclipsing the United States as the world’s largest food exporter should check out this bustling network of government laboratories.
Managed by Embrapa, Brazil’s agriculture and livestock research agency, these vast labs and test fields have become a must-see for any third-world leader visiting the country.
Embrapa has evolved over three decades into a global leader in tropical agricultural research and has actively advanced in disciplines such as biotechnology and bioenergy, although little known in North America.
“Embrapa is a model not just for so-called developing countries, but for all countries,” said Mark Kackler, chief and deputy director of the World Bank’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. “A key reason Brazil’s agricultural economy has thrived is that the country has invested heavily and wisely in front-end agricultural research, and Embrapa has been at the forefront of that effort.”
Much of Embrapa’s fame stems from its pioneering work in the Cerrado, a vast savanna that stretches 1,600 miles across central Brazil. For generations the region was considered useless, but in less than a generation it became Brazil’s food belt thanks to the discovery that the soil can be fertilized by spraying it with phosphorus and lime, which scientists at Brazilian company Embrapa thought was the perfect combination.
When last year’s annual World Food Prize was presented to two Brazilians associated with Embrapa, the laudatory speech called the emergence of the cerrado “one of the greatest achievements in agricultural science of the 20th century.”
Embrapa also promotes the region’s staple crops by producing over 40 tropical soybean cultivars previously thought only suited to temperate climates.
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