Challenges of food production and bioenergy in Brazil

0000026354-Logo 40 anosBy Manoel Teixeira Souza Jr.
Embrapa Agroenergy – In 2050, according to various estimates, our planet will have a population slightly more than nine billion people. The challenge for all of us over the coming decades is to ensure the means for producing food and energy in sufficient quantity and quality to meet the demand from a population with two billion more people than today. Demand this already suffering and will continue to suffer, more changes in its nature than its volume, which results in significant increase of input of water and soil, to name only two of the most used features. These resources need to be sustainable, both economically, as the social and the environmental.
It is in this context, highlighting the role of bioenergy broader concept that bioenergy with respect to raw materials, further including urban organic wastes such as sewage sludge. The products and energy from agricultural and forestry waste is usually divided into two main groups: bioelectricity and biofuels, as the latter can be subdivided into solid, liquid and gaseous. In Brazil, the most popular biofuels are ethanol and biodiesel – the first almost exclusively derived from cane sugar, and the second mainly produced from soybean oil (approximately 80%).
Brazil stands out in the world, to have an energy mix very clean, with a ratio close to 1:1 between renewable and non-renewable. The share of bioenergy in this second group is exemplary. However, a deeper analysis shows that our country is far from using fully the production potential and has all the necessary ingredients (area, water, biodiversity, etc..) To maintain as large power generator from products and agricultural residues and agro forestry in the coming decades. This is true also for the production of food.
What needs to be done to keep that Brazil as a global player on the production of food and bioenergy? The answer to this question necessarily get the continuity of the various actions that achieved the productivity gains observed during the last four decades. We still have room to raise productivity and is essential to continue investing in this way. However, it is only right that increased productivity will not be enough. We also need to expand the area planted, transferring to the production process of food and bioenergy part of the area of grassland used for extensive livestock farming in Brazil. This in no way undermine our production of meat and milk, since we already have the technology to keep in smaller spaces the same herd we have today and even extend it.
An important part of the answer has to do with the reduction of the losses observed in the cultivation, harvesting and distribution of agricultural products. We lost a considerable part of our agricultural production in the path between the farmer and the consumer. In some supply chains, the loss reaches a third of all that is produced. Among the main villains are phytosanitary problems of pre-and post-harvest storage and improper handling, plus extensive reliance on road transport in a mesh far from ideal (quantity and quality).
Reducing waste is another part of the answer that deserves great attention. There are two types of waste. One of them can be attributed to the purchase and use without planning by consumers (households, restaurants, etc..), The other stems from the lack of municipal initiatives to add value to vegetable waste they generate, and that, in most cases, ends up in landfills. The reduction of waste passes with certainty by a gradual process of educating the population through public policy continuous and wide-ranging. That portion that municipalities, with or without state or federal support, basically depends on knowledge and forward thinking on the part of the rulers. Technologies exist to give each city a specific solution, connected to the needs arising from the quantity and quality of waste in each region.
But that’s not all. In addition to expanding the acreage, increase productivity, reduce losses and waste, you need to offer alternatives to full utilization of agricultural residues and agro-industrial, as well as those originating from the production and use of forest species. This full exploitation needs to be promoted within the context of biorefinery, in which it seeks to reduce the most waste, adding value through processing into bio-energy, bio-fertilizers, animal feed, biomaterials (bioplastics, etc..) And chemicals.
Chains of production and use of cane sugar and soy in Brazil already work within the logic of biorefineries. Cane sugar is produced, anhydrous ethanol, hydrous ethanol and bioelectricity, among many other products. Soybean, yields bran for animal feed – and consequently protein – oil for the food industry and biodiesel, as well as grain (almost half of the soy produced in Brazil is exported as grain). However, there is still ample space for insertion of new products with higher added value. It is also important that more and more, other chains in our country receive development policies that promote your organization within this logic biorefinery.
It is essential also to be given financial support to the Brazilian research institutions, development and innovation (RD & I), including the Embrapa, can generate knowledge and technologies needed for this sector. In addition to the response components described above, the DP & I can also help to generate knowledge and technologies that promote the use of human waste for the production of energy and minerals. This, for example, is a facet yet little exploited for energy production in Brazil, but which need further attention in the future.
In 2013, Embrapa celebrates 40 years of existence, has worked since its inception in agro theme. During the first three decades, the Company has focused its efforts on generating knowledge and technologies for biomass production. In the last decade, has taken a step further in its actions to RD & I in this area, with the creation of Embrapa Agroenergy (which in 24/05 complete seven years of creation) with actions focused on processing and sustainable use of this biomass for biofuel production , feed, fertilizers, biomaterials, chemical and bioelectricity.
Embrapa had and continue to have a key role in helping Brazil to be the protagonist in the production of food and bioenergy in the world. This paper begins the actions of RD & I related the wide prospecting, characterization and use of Brazilian biodiversity, where answers can be found to overcome some of the bottlenecks that limit the sector. It also includes the technical feasibility – and the scale of production – the diversification of sources of food and bioenergy, increasing productivity and reducing production costs – especially the reduction of dependence on fertilizers derived from non-renewable sources. Added to this the need for restoration and rehabilitation of degraded land in the productive sector, adding value to waste and reducing losses and waste. The participation of the productive sector, alongside the Embrapa, identifying and prioritizing problems to be solved by research, it is imperative that the knowledge and technologies generated are effective in solving bottlenecks, and are used, as promptly as practicable, in favor of Brazilian society.

Source and Photo: Embrapa Agroenergy, 24th May, 2013
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