Embrapa went to Africa and brought back a grass called brachiaria. Patient crossbreeding created a variety, called braquiarinha in Brazil, which produced 20-25 tonnes of grass feed per hectare, many times what the native cerrado grass produces and three times the yield in Africa. That meant parts of the cerrado could be turned into pasture, making possible the enormous expansion of Brazil’s beef herd. Thirty years ago it took Brazil four years to raise a bull for slaughter. Now the average time is 18-20 months.Below, EMBRAPA's Jose Bellini from EMBRAPA's Accra office, introducing Brazil-Africa agriculture cooperation in technology development and capacity building at at a CGIAR meeting in Addis Ababa, back in August.
The Economist then asks...can "...the miracle of the cerrado be exported, especially to Africa, where the good intentions of outsiders have so often shriveled and died?" In response, it clarifies the difference btw a systemic versus magic-bullet approach to the problem:
Brazil’s agricultural miracle did not happen through a simple technological fix. No magic bullet accounts for it—not even the tropical soyabean, which comes closest. Rather, Embrapa’s was a “system approach”, as its scientists call it: all the interventions worked together. Improving the soil and the new tropical soyabeans were both needed for farming the cerrado; the two together also made possible the changes in farm techniques which have boosted yields further. Systems are much harder to export than a simple fix. “We went to the US and brought back the whole package [of cutting-edge agriculture in the 1970s],” says Dr Crestana. “That didn’t work and it took us 30 years to create our own. Perhaps Africans will come to Brazil and take back the package from us. Africa is changing. Perhaps it won’t take them so long. We’ll see.” If we see anything like what happened in Brazil itself, feeding the world in 2050 will not look like the uphill struggle it appears to be now.Sustainable agricultural development talks a lot about empowering the small farmer. In the case of Brazil, a commenter observed:
Brazil knows that small farmers cannot manage the challenges of credit, technology and marketing. In the northeast the new generation of irrigation projects is experimenting with a model of reverse concessions, with the primary weight in the bidding process going to ways in which the "anchor enterprise" incorporates small farmers in the productive chain in about 30% of the area being concessioned. This is another creative way Brazilian agriculture is attempting to charter new territory.