The astonishing story of Brazilian agriculture

I’m writing this from Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, where for the past 11 days I’ve been attending the Nuffield Contemporary Scholars Conference (CSC) with all the other 2017 scholars from around the world.

There are 74 Nuffield Scholars this year, from 11 countries, all striving to make improvements in agriculture by travelling the globe and seeking out knowledge to bring back and share. For my own Nuffield project, I will be looking at measures to reduce antibiotic use in pig production and initiatives promoting antibiotic stewardship among farmers.

The CSC has been a fantastic opportunity for me to meet an amazing bunch of people and learn about agriculture in Brazil. And let me tell you, it’s pretty astonishing!
When the Portuguese first arrived in Brazil, they did not have the resources to fully colonise it, so they introduced sugar cane production and exported it to finance protection of the colony. Even in the 17th century, large-scale production was favoured in Brazil over subsistence farming.

And so followed cattle, gold, coffee, soybean and corn, and now modern agribusiness is a big deal in Brazil – largely thanks to advancements in technology. Brazil is the number one producer and exporter of soybean, sugar cane, coffee and orange juice. It is also the fourth biggest producer and exporter of pork, although the Minister of Agriculture for Brasilia tried to tell me they didn’t do much pig production in Brazil!

“The challenge for Brazil is how they will increase food and biofuel production without further clearance of land in the Amazon jungle”

Brazil’s farms are vast, and yet there’s still land available to be cultivated, if farmers are willing to put some effort into improving soil quality. Apparently, the level of deforestation has reduced by 80% in the last decade, although a significant amount still goes on.

The challenge for Brazil is how they will increase food and biofuel production without further clearance of land in the Amazon jungle. A speaker from a Brazilian environmental NGO told us about how they are working with cattle ranchers operating on land they illegally deforested to help them increase their productivity.
The aim is to make them more profitable using their existing land to prevent them from expanding further into the rainforest.

The NGO is working in partnership with global food companies, such as McDonald’s, to seek verified sustainable zero deforestation beef. This example of collaboration was really inspiring.
I’ll be showing some photos from my trip at this month’s NPA regional meetings, so do come along. My time in Brazil has been enlightening, both personally and professionally, and I am extremely grateful to AHDB Pork and you, the levy-payers, for sponsoring me.

Dr Georgina Crayford is a Nuffield Scholar and the NPA’s senior policy adviser, with responsibility for health and welfare policy and Young NPA

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