Growing agricultural productivity in Brazil: Efficiency, innovation and sustainability

50 years in the past, my nation relied on meals imports to feed itself. Today we feed 10% of the world’s inhabitants. 

Let me inform you in regards to the agronomic science and innovation which has made this potential.

A important step on this journey got here in 1973, with the creation of Embrapa. This nationwide agri-food analysis company had a transparent mission: to advertise agronomic science in Brazil, and assist our farmers use the newest improvements to thrive in Brazil’s tropical local weather. 


In these early days, Embrapa´s researchers have been centered on utilizing agri-science to ramp up meals manufacturing. Fortunately, they have been terribly profitable. Between 1980 and 2020, Brazil greater than quadrupled its grain manufacturing. But maybe probably the most shocking side was that – within the course of – the science led us in an surprising path – in the direction of even larger sustainability.

In these forty years, as Brazil’s grain manufacturing grew 406%, the realm farmed grew by solely 64%. Researchers unlocked the potential of crop rotation, soil fertilization and adaptation to tropical circumstances – discovering pure synergies which make the land extra productive whereas defending it from degradation.

Over time, Embrapa’s focus moved from merely maximising manufacturing, to growing manufacturing in a sustainable manner, by defending ecosystems and harnessing the ability of nature. Over time Embrapa’s analysis moved us away from an agricultural mannequin of man dominating nature and towards one the place farmers develop in concord with nature.


For occasion, it’s well-known that crops want nitrogen (N) to develop. In many nations, the chief supply of this N is chemical fertilisers. Unfortunately, extreme use of those fertilisers has been linked to groundwater air pollution and to the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG) into the environment, together with CO2 launched within the strategy of synthesis and transportation, and the potent nitrous oxide.

However, there’s a safer, cheaper and extra pure different, which considerably reduces the necessity for chemical fertilisers represented by the organic nitrogen fixation (BNF) course of. Specific microorganisms can convert the atmospheric nitrogen (N2) right into a kind that the crops can take in. The most important contribution to agriculture happens with the micro organism, collectively often known as “rhizobia”, in symbiotic affiliation with some legume vegetation.

The first experiments of BNF in Brazil began within the Nineteen Twenties with soybean, however intensification occurred when the crop began to increase, within the late Nineteen Fifties. For the soybean, micro organism choice and breeding applications have been very profitable in figuring out elite strains, in a position to present all N required by vegetation to succeed in excessive yields. Today, Brazil is thought for attaining the very best contribution of BNF with the soybean crop.  Embrapa has additionally contributed to the choice of elite strains for different legume crops, together with vital grain crops such because the cowpea, frequent bean and pea, along with pastures and bushes. 

Currently, Embrapa is creating new research on micro organism in a position to repair N2 on sugarcane, maize, wheat and rice crops. 

With assist from Embrapa – and in keeping with Brazil’s local weather commitments –, a goal was set to advertise BNF, and apply it in over 5.5 million hectares of farmland by 2020. That goal was not solely met, however was dramatically exceeded, two years forward of schedule. By 2018 BNF was being utilized in over 10.6 million hectares of farmland: 193% of the unique goal. 

According to estimates, supplying soybeans with N by way of BNF, slightly than utilizing N fertilizers prevented the emission of 200 Megatons of CO2 equal, in only one harvest, along with an annual saving estimated at $8 billion.

Today, because the world faces a scarcity of fertiliser – and because the doubtlessly dangerous results of extreme fertiliser use develop into extra evident – it’s extra vital than ever for farmers throughout Brazil – and past – to embrace the advantages of BNF.

Today, 80% of the soybean space in Brazil is inoculated to supply N to the crop. This represents round 30 million ha. 

In line with nationwide local weather commitments, our purpose is to increase this expertise, the BNF, on 13 million hectares of farmland by 2030.   This enlargement can be not solely on soybean, but additionally on different leguminous crops, resembling edible beans, primarily and in crops, such these planted underneath the Crop-Livestock-Forest techniques. Farmers in over 17 million hectares have adopted this method.  


Traditional tillage farming – the place a tractor ploughs a complete area earlier than sowing crops – has develop into the norm in lots of nations, considered as the best technique of planting and rising meals. In Brazil, the best contribution of NT is expounded to much less soil erosion in comparison with ploughed techniques. Soil erosion is by far the most important downside of soil degradation resulting in meals insecurity and poverty in tropical and sub-tropical areas.

However, Embrapa has helped to determine the quite a few advantages of ‘No Till Farming’. By planting seeds instantly into the untilled floor (a lot as the traditional Incas and Egyptians did) Brazilian farmers use much less gasoline, whereas preserving moisture and natural matter within the soil. This is a extra productive manner to make use of the soil which, over time, results in a major discount in soil erosion. 

Brazil is likely one of the world leaders in soil and water conservation as a result of widespread use of no-tillage (NT) for annual crops resembling soybean, maize, wheat, cotton and customary beans. The follow of NT was first launched within the Nineteen Seventies by pioneer farmers masking 33 million hectares immediately.

Between 3.3 and 5.0 million hectares of the realm underneath NT exhibits everlasting soil cowl, crop rotation with cowl crops and inexperienced manure. Rates of annual C sequestration could attain 0,4 t C/ha. Studies developed in Embrapa have proven that the decomposition of NT nitrogen-rich residues doesn’t result in larger N2O emissions than ploughed techniques

We aimed to extend about  8 million hectares extra, farmed on this manner by 2020. But once more this goal was exceeded early. By 2018, we had already reached 159% of our objective, serving to to cut back Brazil’s carbon emissions by roughly 30.63 million tons. 

We at the moment are broadening the implementation of ‘No Till Farming’ system to incorporate greens and increasing the floor of 12.5 million hectares of farmland by 2030. 

According to a examine revealed by the Institute for Research in Applied Economics, the implementation of those strategies, along with the planting of forests and the restoration of pastures, between 2010 and 2020 alone, led to the mitigation of about 152.93 million tons of CO2 equal. This means Brazil reached 113% of the carbon discount goal it signed as much as at COP15. 

At the identical time, in line with a current examine, Brazil’s grains and oilseeds now feed roughly 10% of the world’s inhabitants.


But we all know from our scientists that we nonetheless have extra to attain. We recognise the significance of striving for a extra sustainable meals system to play our half in tackling international local weather change. 

We have now set one other bold objective: to chop 1.1 billion tons of CO2 emissions from Brazilian agribusiness by 2030. This determine is seven occasions larger than the one we set for 2020. 

To obtain this, Brazil is constant to advertise and embrace new applied sciences in sustainable agri-food. This consists of the “intensive grazing termination” technique – the place feed is supplied to animals within the drought interval – permitting Brazilian farmers to fatten cattle extra rapidly earlier than slaughter, thus decreasing livestock CO2 emissions. By making use of this technique to five million cattle, we will mitigate an estimated 1,042 million Mg of CO2 equal. We will even improve the quantity of handled animal waste by 208.40 million m3.

Overall, Brazil goals to use sustainable applied sciences to a complete of 72.60 million hectares of farmland – an space greater than twice the scale of the UK. 

As we transfer ahead, we should proceed to assist the elevated adoption of sustainable practices in Brazil and past: figuring out additional improvements and intently monitoring our progress towards a decrease carbon future.

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