Sustainable Agriculture in Brazil – Advances and Future Challenges

The Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply – MAPA, has organized, on October 21st, 2010 a side-event to the Tenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity – COP 10, in Nagoya, Japan.  The event, titled “Pathways to Sustainable Agriculture in Brazil“ was opened by a presentation from Embrapa, on advances and future challenges for agriculture in Brazil.  See below a synthesis and a link to download the presentation file.

Brazil is one of the largest countries in the world, with an extensive surface of continuous land, a large supply of fresh water, abundant solar energy, and a rich biodiversity.  The wide range of climatic conditions, from temperate to tropical, together with advanced capacity in technology development, allowed considerable diversification of agricultural systems in the country, which has become one of the world’s largest producers of food, feed, fibers and renewable fuels. 

Responding to increasing concerns over agriculture´s footprint on the natural resource base, the agricultural research system in Brazil has taken important leaps, in a short period of time, towards development of innovations for increasingly safer and sustainable agricultural systems.  The country has become a leader in crop management based on minimum and no tillage systems, which significantly helps decrease erosion and improve general soil quality and groundwater recharge.

Biological nitrogen fixation, through inoculation techniques using endophytic diazotrophic bacteria, has led to a significant decrease in the amount of chemical fertilizers applied to crops such as soybean.  This, in turn, has significantly reduced environmental impacts such as water resources contamination with nitrates or other harmful elements. 

Biological control, regularly used in a number of crops, such as soybean, sugarcane, cotton and fruit crops, has also reduced the need for chemical pest and disease control in several management systems, with a positive impact on the environment, rural workers’ quality of life and product safety and quality.

Over the last decades, plant breeding programs have allowed adaptation of crops to a wide variety of environmental conditions in the country. This has been achieved by incorporating adaptation to different latitudes, tolerance to acid soils – especially to toxic aluminum, increased efficiency in nutrient use (like phosphorus and nitrogen), as well as resistance and tolerance to biotic factors that are especially severe in tropical regions. 

These and many other innovations incorporated by the Brazilian agriculture allowed increased resource use efficiency, higher productivity and intensified use of land, reducing drastically the need to agricultural expansion at high environmental cost.
Despite these advances, climate change will impose additional stresses to many delicately balanced agro-ecosystems in Brazil, especially in tropical areas, where significant intensification of biotic and abiotic stresses is expected in the next decades.  If the expected trends in climate change are confirmed, severe constraints will be imposed on future advances the research community could achieve, using conventional methods and tools of innovation.   Also, reducing modern society´s carbon footprints without jeopardizing development will be a major challenge in the coming decades. 

Therefore, technological standards of the Brazilian agriculture will have to evolve to configure an agriculture that, besides aiming at food production, is also able to meet requirements such as: a) attention to the environmental services needed to enhance the sustainability and productivity of the natural resources base that underpins agriculture; b) competitive products whose added value stems from differentiation and specialization; c) safe and healthy products, differentiated in order to meet consumers nutritional, health and convenience needs; and d) production of renewable energy, feedstock and bioactive molecules for different industries, so broadening the scope and usefulness of agricultural systems, in special as promoters of environmental sustainability. 

Brazil has already set a target to reduce the agricultural sector’s carbon dioxide emissions by 4.9 to 6.1 percent by 2020.  With its newly-released Agricultural and Livestock Plan 2010-2011, the country launched a Low Carbon Agriculture Program to stimulate agronomic practices that help environmental preservation and productivity enhancement. 

Click here to access the Embrapa presentation at the Side Event “Pathways to Sustainable Agriculture in Brazil“ held at the COP 10, in Nagoya, Japan.

2 responses to “Sustainable Agriculture in Brazil – Advances and Future Challenges

  1. Robosn Portugal

    Quem Foi o autor desse texto?

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