Will Brazil’s Agriculture Save the World? In 2022 it became the first country in the world for soybean production (56% in total). Interview with André Nassar

SAN PAOLO – It is one of the fastest growing phenomena from the point of view of international agriculture and has been examined several times in recent months as a potential resolution to supply also by European countries. Over the past 40 years, Brazil has grown exponentially agriculturally, producing over 400 percent more wheat and increasing the agricultural area by 65 percent. In this interview, of which we publish a first part, we tried to make the point with André Nassarrepresentative of Brazil Agri-Food Facts, which highlights how this phenomenon is the result of greater productivity based on innovative techniques including a crop rotation system.

Nassar, what were the dynamics that allowed this very strong growth of agriculture in Brazil?

Until the 1980s, Brazil was a net importer of food products. But over the past four decades, by investing in research and agricultural science, Brazil has developed into a leading food producer, exporting products to 160 countries. In the current food security crisis, Brazil is determined to be part of the solution. The growth of agricultural production in Brazil has been achieved through innovative practices that work in harmony with Brazil’s tropical climate. Innovative practices such as crop rotation increase agricultural production, without causing an equivalent decrease in native vegetation. There were a number of factors behind this improvement: heavy investment in research and development with the creation of our agricultural research institute, Embrapa, in the 1970s; the development of best cultivation practices in the Cerrados, reducing the correction of soil acidity and developing the most suitable plant varieties for high altitude and highly mechanized plateaus. Half of Brazil’s wheat production now comes for the Cerrado; elimination of all export taxes with the Lei Kandir (1996); elimination of border protection and various regulatory bodies in the late 1980s. This process has promoted strong integration into global markets.

Integration with global markets, which took off in the 1990s, after inflation control enabled the development of financial instruments that boosted credit for export-oriented intensive agriculture. Today the Brazilian agricultural sector is strongly integrated with the supply and demand of global markets, both on the export side (agricultural commodities) and on the import side (fertilizers and active ingredients of agrochemicals).

Taking advantage of Brazil’s natural fertility and hot, humid climate, many farms have adopted a crop rotation system, which involves growing two complementary crops in the same area in the same year. This approach has many benefits, including reduced pesticide use, fewer weeds, and greater soil sustainability. The most common example is soy and corn.

An exorbitant growth.

Thanks to these factors, between 1980 and 2020, Brazil increased the production of wheat by 406%, while the cultivated areas grew by less than 65%. Productivity gains measured in tonnes per hectare between 1995 and 2020 were 40.32% for soybeans and 133.21% for maize. Soybean crops grew significantly, with an area expansion of 302.46%. However, this expansion did not take place in originally wooded regions, but essentially in the center of the country. Corn increased in acreage by 74.70%, occurring in many situations to replace soybean areas. Crop rotation had a positive impact on production by minimizing the negative impact on the environment.

At this stage, what are the crops on which Brazil is aiming and which are the reference markets?

Brazil is one of the world’s leading producers and exporters of multiple food products. In 2021, the Brazilian agri-food sector exported goods worth $ 104.99 billion. Brazil has sustainably increased its agricultural production through innovation and using the land more efficiently.
Brazil is the world’s leading producer of sugar cane, a major source of calories and energy. Brazil alone grows nearly 40% of the total global supply.
Brazil is the leading producer of soybeans, with growth of around 122 million tons, or 34% of global production in 2020. In 2021/22, Brazil was responsible for 36.8% of world production of soybeans and 54.8% of global soybean exports. Brazil’s share of global soybean exports will grow to 62% by 2030/31. In 2022/23, the European Union will import 15 million tons, equal to 8.3% of Brazilian soybean exports, an increase of 11% compared to 2012/13.
Brazil is the third largest exporter of corn. And for the past three years, Brazil has consistently been one of the world’s top three corn exporters. Brazil produces 66.2% of the world’s orange juice and was the world’s leading exporter of orange juice (71.1% in 2021/22). Brazil is the leading producer (33.6%) and global exporter (23.9%) of coffee in the world (2021/22).

Although Brazil is second to the United States in terms of total and beef production, much of this is retained for domestic consumption by the United States. As a result, Brazil is the leading exporter of beef and all meat internationally. In 2020, Brazil accounted for 17% of world beef exports, ahead of Australia (11%), then India and the United States (both 9%). Brazil is also the fourth largest exporter of pork in the world. We are the third largest exporter of chicken, responsible for 12% of world production. Next in line, Russia, the fourth largest exporter, produces only 4% of the global supply. In real terms, this means that Brazil exported 4.4 million tons of chicken meat in 2021.

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Will Brazil’s Agriculture Save the World? In 2022 it became the first country in the world for soybean production (56% in total). Interview with André Nassar