As recently as the 1960s, Brazil was a net importer of agricultural goods. At the time, conventional agricultural technology was not conducive to the soil conditions found in tropical regions, which meant that Brazilian agriculture was largely unproductive. Fast forward to 2020, and Brazil is the second largest exporter of agricultural products globally, behind only the United States.
Due to advancements in agricultural technology that benefit farmers all over the world, Brazilian farmers today are creating thriving agricultural operations on land that was considered agriculturally useless for hundreds of years. In addition, these operations are more productive, allowing for more harvest, using less land. As of 2016, Brazil’s sugarcane and orange crops were more productive than those anywhere else in the world, based on how much they can produce per acre of land.
What’s more, 28 percent of the area planted with legumes (for example beans, peanuts, etc.) in Brazil is planted and harvested twice each year. The first crop each year is usually soy – and later crops such as maize, wheat, beans and peanuts are grown on the same land, after the soy harvest. “Second-crop” maize particularly stands out in the context of producing more food with less land – over 74 percent of the total maize in the 2018-2019 harvest year was produced utilizing a second-crop approach.
INNOVATION: A GLOBAL IMPERATIVE
Brazil’s agricultural revolution could not have come at a more critical moment in history. The world’s growing population, along with our impending land availability crisis, is expected to threaten food security for millions of people worldwide. Consider that just last year, an estimated 820 million people were left chronically hungry around the globe — up from 811 million people in 2018. This is such a critical global challenge that the second of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 (after only “No Poverty”) is “Zero Hunger.”
And this trend is expected to escalate over the next 30 years: by 2050, the global population is predicted to increase by a staggering 2 billion people, resulting in a 60 percent rise in demand for food. What’s more, the availability of arable land is predicted to simultaneously shrink due to urbanization and soil degradation, which will make it even more difficult to meet our world’s growing food demand. At current production rates, the amount of food grown today will feed only half the world’s population by 2050.
The global community today is focused on developing creative – and immediately implementable – solutions to avoid what is certain to be a future food crisis. Against this backdrop, Apex-Brasil – the Brazilian trade and investment promotion agency – hosted a sustainable agriculture seminar in D.C. at the end of last year. The agency brought together some of the most innovative minds in the industry, from both the U.S. and Brazil, to discuss crucial technological solutions that have the potential to solve today’s food security challenges. Experts identified the following Brazilian-led technological innovations as some of the most likely to help farmers increase agriculture productivity, and, in turn, secure a prosperous future for the world’s growing population for decades to come:
1. Integrated management software
Originally used in manufacturing to orchestrate factory operation, this sort of software now regularly replaces farm managers in facilitating production management. Such platforms choreograph the activities of equipment operators, streamlining the farm management process.
Brazilian startup SOLINFTEC is an interesting case study for how integrated management software can help large farms more easily and efficiently direct their operations via an easy-to-use platform. Many of them have thousands of pieces of equipment. By centralizing the decision-making process, these systems optimize resource use and productivity while reducing costs. Brazilian farm managers also report that mechanized farms eliminate the need for antiquated, unsustainable farming practices, such as burning?] sugar cane plants, which has historically emitted thousands of tons of hazardous air pollutants.
2. Artificial Intelligence
Several Brazilian AI platforms allow farmers to closely monitor their crop yield, year-to-year productivity, and growth patterns. By pinpointing the exact location of low performance in the field, with a precision down to a few meters, these technologies help producers make more informed decisions about resource use.
FarmGo, a Maringá-based startup, offers tools for rural agriculture producers they’ve never had access to in the past, like digital harvest monitoring. With the help of numerous partners – ranging from big-name companies like Amazon and Google to institutions like NASA and the European Space Agency – FarmGo developed a digital tool that collects data from a myriad of drones and satellites, as well as AI and IoT networks, in order to provide extremely comprehensive analysis of farms and production fields.
While integrated management software and AI platforms have undoubtedly boosted productivity in Brazilian agriculture, these two technologies cannot solve by themselves our food security challenges. This is why Brazilian researchers and agriculture experts already are focused on the next wave of innovation: biotechnologies.
Researchers from around the globe have long been searching for effective integrated pest management systems that combine traditional insecticides and pesticides with modern biological methods. Brazilian startups are accelerating this by using natural materials – including various animals, plants, bacteria, and minerals – to balance chemical-based methods for deterring pests and preventing crop disease.
While we’ve made great strides in the past 30 years, it is of vital importance that the world keeps continuing to innovate in agriculture. Most importantly, we must work closely with farmers and other players in agribusiness to adopt existing technologies, while also researching new solutions, in order to feed our world for the next 30 years – and beyond.
Brazil has already proven itself as a hub for innovation in agriculture. In the future, I believe we will continue to see Brazilian companies at the forefront of discussions about food security. Their contributions will certainly alleviate some critical challenges faced by our global community.
Sergio Segovia took on his role as the President of Apex-Brasil in May of 2019. In this role, he oversees all Apex-Brasil activities, helping the agency promote exports and foreign investments in Brazil. Mr. Segovia is based in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil and the country’s third most populous city.