Brazil has the conditions to assure global food security with sustainability | AGÊNCIA FAPESP

Brazil has the conditions to assure global food security with sustainability However, scientific research is essential to take innovation to the countryside and raise yields without increasing deforestation, according to the experts who participated in an online seminar organized by FAPESP and the São Paulo State Academy of Sciences (image: screenshot of the webinar)

Brazil has the conditions to assure global food security with sustainability

September 28, 2022

By André Julião  |  Agência FAPESP – Brazil has the technical capabilities to conduct sustainable agriculture but must prevent environmental crime. It is equally important to improve the lives of the rural poor, whose incomes are far lower than those of the rich but who occupy an equivalent amount of land. These are some of the conclusions presented during a webinar on The Challenges of Global Food Security and Environmental Sustainability, held on September 14, 2022, as part of the series “Science in the Nation’s Development” hosted by the São Paulo State Academy of Sciences (ACIESP) and FAPESP.

“Brazil is a leading food producer and plays an important role in global food security. This is one of the sectors in which scientific and technological development goes hand in hand with the performance of the Brazilian economy,” said Carlos Américo Pacheco, CEO of FAPESP, in his opening address to the webinar.

“FAPESP is very proud to support research in this field, alongside other agencies and in line with other policies. This is an agenda that is umbilically joined to the sustainability agenda. Brazil will never be able to play an active role globally unless agricultural production is absolutely sustainable in every sense of the term.”

The webinar was moderated by Bernadette de Melo Franco, a professor at the University of São Paulo's School of Pharmaceutical Sciences (FCF-USP) and principal investigator for the Food Research Center (FoRC), a Research, Innovation and Dissemination Center (RIDC) supported by FAPESP.

The concept of food security began to acquire global importance in 1974, when it was first defined by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO). “Food security then meant assuring the availability of staple foods and the stability of their prices,” she said.

Other elements were added over time, including physical, social and economic access to adequate food. Then came an emphasis on the nutritional value of food, its utilization, and its durability and quality.

“Most recently, as the importance of the environment has increased, the concept has been extended to include social aspects and sustainability,” she said.

For Roberto Rodrigues, a former Brazilian agriculture minister who is now a professor at Getúlio Vargas Foundation’s São Paulo School of Economics (EESP-FGV), political stability is another aspect of food security.

Rodrigues cited examples such as the demise of Sri Lanka’s government, due partly to falling agricultural productivity there, and the Arab Spring, which began in 2010 with protests against rising food prices. “There can be no peace with hunger,” he said.

According to Rodrigues, Brazil has a great opportunity ahead as competition intensifies between the East, led by China, and the West, led by the United States and Europe.

“Brazil has the potential to be a supplier to all economic blocs. Food security is crucial, and we can export to the entire world. We have an opportunity to be an international player in global food markets, both feeding the world and teaching it to produce food,” he said.

None of this can be achieved, however, unless Brazilian agriculture reaches high levels of sustainability, Rodrigues argued, recalling that the European Parliament just passed a draft law which would ban imports of certain commodities produced in recently deforested areas, whether or not the deforestation was legal. The ban has yet to be enacted by the European Union. “It’s obviously targeting Brazil,” he said.

Quality of life

For Marcos Heil Costa, a professor at the Federal University of Viçosa (UFV), food production can be increased sustainably. Well before the idea of “sustainable intensification” became current, Brazil was adopting such advanced practices as harvesting crops two to three times a year, which is possible only for tropical agriculture.

“It’s important to bear in mind that sustainability has three dimensions: environmental, economic and social. Improving the quality of life for the rural population directly linked to food production is part of it. Farmhands should work all year round for agricultural enterprises that hire them in compliance with the labor laws [CLT, introduced by the Vargas administration in the 1940s], assuring social protection,” Costa said.

Small farmers must be included in the market, said Elibio Rech Filho, an agricultural engineer, university professor and staff scientist in the Genetic Resources and Biotechnology Unit of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA). He presented statistics showing the huge gap between the incomes of the poorest and richest farmers. Small farmers only earn enough for their subsistence, yet occupy a similar area to large farmers. “Incentives should be offered to ensure that small family farmers enter the market and achieve a higher standard of living,” he said.

Raising yields and cutting greenhouse gas emissions are the focus of many studies on the microbiome – the combined genetic material of the microorganisms in a given environment. Microbiome research in agriculture was discussed by Lucas William Mendes, a professor at the Center for Nuclear Energy in Agriculture (CENA-USP), which is based at Piracicaba and supported by FAPESP

“An understanding of how the microbiome works paves the way for interventions to make production more sustainable,” Mendes said, and can serve as a basis for reducing the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

For Rodrigues, Brazil’s science, technology and innovation (ST&I) system is perfectly capable of supplying agriculture with excellent sustainable solutions, and the priority must be to eradicate criminal activity. “The law must be enforced against illegal deforestation, land encroachment, arson and illegal mining,” he said. “These crimes are largely committed by scoundrels and miscreants who are bringing Brazilian agriculture into ill repute. This is a delicate moment in history, and Brazil has a huge opportunity if we have the wisdom to seize it, but above all it requires sustainability. And to get there we have to do away with those illegal activities and develop technology. A country that neglects ST&I has no future. We can’t afford to miss the train of history.”

Adriano Andricopulo, a professor at the São Carlos Institute of Physics (IFSC-USP) and Executive Director of ACIESP, also participated in the webinar.

A recording of the event can be watched at:

The aim of the webinar was to discuss the fourth chapter of the book FAPESP 60 Anos: A ciência no desenvolvimento nacional (“FAPESP 60 Years: Science in the Nation’s Development”). The chapter can be accessed (in Portuguese) at:  




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