The internationalization of Embrapa
“Brazil is a plural country and Embrapa has to be plural and capable to attend many, as well as to increase its contribution to the world.” President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva , July 2009.
Embrapa was open to the outside world very early in its life, when the external exposure of Brazil was still very incipient. After its creation, a strong post-graduation program sent hundreds of young professionals abroad, the majority to the United States and Europe, and to a lesser extent to the United Kingdom, Canada, Spain, Holland, Germany and Australia. The good performance of these students helped to form important relationship bridges with the academic world abroad. Projects financed by the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and the Japanese government have been very important to finance this human development program and also to equip Embrapa´s research units. Because these programs have been well designed and implemented, they solidified the image of Embrapa as a serious and responsible organization1.
Currently Embrapa has 78 bi-lateral agreements with 89 institutions in 56 countries. It has also Multilateral Agreements with 20 International Organizations. At project level, there are numerous agreements involving several countries, organizations and research networks. For example, the ties of Embrapa with the CGIAR system extend to its origin, and the relationship with the International Centers has brought many good results. This relationship, especially at the beginning of Embrapa, was very important to set directions for research and for training scientists. Embrapa recognizes that important shares of the Brazilian seed market of wheat, maize, beans and rice is held by varieties that were improved using genetic material received from CGIAR centers2. Even in Embrapa´s mature phase, the relationship with the CGIAR system is still very important, especially for joint work in Africa, Latin America and Asia1.
In 1998 Embrapa developed and implemented the innovative concept of Virtual Laboratory – or Labex, as means of increasing its scientific and technological ties with advanced research organizations around the world. Instead of building its own platform abroad, Embrapa uses the concept of virtual lab, or lab without walls, to negotiate access to its partner organizations’ existing facilities. The concept has been tested and validated in the United States, in partnership with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS-USDA). Given the success of Labex in the United States, Labex Europe was created based in Montpellier (France), with further presence in Holland and England, more recently, by separate agreements with these countries. In 2009 it has been extended to Asia, in partnership with the Rural Development Administration – RDA, of South Korea. The development of the Labex concept was based on the evidence that Embrapa scientists needed to strengthen contacts with the best research organizations abroad, not only by training students, as Embrapa had been done for more than three decades, but also involving its senior staff in international cooperation.
The success of Brazilian tropical agriculture motivates countries with similar problems and challenges to seek information and support for technology transfer from Embrapa. Besides the traditional instruments of support, Embrapa has decided to outpost researchers in developing countries, creating Embrapa Africa, in Accra (Ghana) in 2006, Embrapa Venezuela, in Caracas, in 2007. In 2010 Embrapa will install Embrapa Americas in Panama with deployment of one researcher and one technology transfer analyst to support the organization´s collaboration in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
Both, the Labex model – research initiatives with developed countries – and the structures of transfer of technology in developing countries are flexible models that can be expanded with new scientists or by transfers of scientists among countries, according to identified common interests. The goal is both benefiting agriculture and helping to combat hunger in developing countries 1.
1 Alves, E. Embrapa: a success story of institutional innovation. Brazilian Agricultural Research Organization, Brasilia, DF. 2010. (Forthcoming).
2 Beintema, N.M.; Ávila, A.F.D.; Pardey, P.G. Agricultural R&D in Brazil: Policy, investments and institutional profile. Washington, DC: IFPRI, Embrapa and Fontagro, Ago., 2001.