Embrapa's Celso Moretti on Innovations in Sustainable Agriculture


Ahead of AgriTalks in Los Angeles next week, VX News interviewed Dr. Celso Moretti, President of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), to preview the challenges and opportunities for sustainability and technology innovation in Brazilian agribusiness. Moretti elaborates on Embrapa's work and research that has revolutionized food export markets in Brazil and ongoing efforts to mitigate the impacts of industrial agriculture on Brazil's vital ecosystems. 

Begin by sharing what is Embrapa and its mission? 

The Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) is a public company established in 1973. Its mission is to provide solutions, through research and innovation, for the challenges of tropical agriculture. Embrapa has 43 Research Centers distributed throughout the Brazilian territory, 8,000 employees and a portfolio of 1,100 R&D projects. During the last 25 years, the total impact (social, economic and environmental) measured by the adoption of different solutions provided by Embrapa reached $250 billion.

You’re joining leaders in Los Angeles on November 30 for AgriTalks, an international summit to highlight emerging agriculture sustainability innovation designed to drive the future of food production. Give our readers a preview of what you hope to share, learn, and accomplish through this summit. 

I am excited to participate in another Agritalks. It is going to be my 8th participation, after Europe, Middle East, and Southeast Asia. In all the previous editions where Embrapa was present, the results were productive and had positive repercussions for Brazil. In the forum, organized the Brazilian Ministry of External Relations’ Trade and Investment Agency (ApexBrasil - MRE), it is possible to share demands, knowledge, experiences and open up opportunities for new partnerships, cooperation and businesses in the scope of environmental, economic and socially inclusive development. It will be a huge opportunity to share science-based information regarding the fantastic revolution that took place in Brazil during the last five decades in terms of food, fiber and bioenergy production. Though we accomplished a lot, we still have many challenges to overcome, such as illegal deforestation, wild fires and increase in greenhouse gases emissions. I believe I will learn a lot through the debate with other speakers as well as with the audience. One of the goals that I have is to show that science and innovation can play a central role on solving the above mentioned challenges, whilst providing food security for millions around the globe.

Elaborate on Embrapa's work to develop a "genuinely tropical model of agriculture and animal farming." 

Since Embrapa’s inception, we can say that Brazil has been facing a succession of challenges. The first one was to turn poor infertile soils into productive ones, which led the country from the category of food importer to one of the leading players in food, fiber and bioenergy production. Science has always been the driver of such development and of technological innovation, which has earned the recognition of the scientific community in top global research institutes. Tropical agriculture is one of the pathways to reduce hunger and ensure food security in the Americas, Africa and Asia. It was thanks to this evolution that we can mention significant examples of this trajectory: coffee farming grew fourfold in 25 years, dairy production soared from 5 billion to 35 billion liters of milk, and chicken yield increased 65 times. That is science!

What are the priority sustainability challenges facing Brazilian agribusiness? 

Science has devoted efforts to this challenge throughout the last five decades. Embrapa’s research work has focused on the goal of reconciling production with sustainability, in line with constantly changing demands. We can assert that Brazil is decarbonizing its agriculture for the last three decades, with the adoption of practices like biological fixation and integrated crop-livestock-forestry systems. However, there is a lot to do with respect to technologies for climate change adaptation and mitigation, biorevolution, and digital agriculture. Today, we can mention the Carbon Neutral Beef brand, the Low Carbon Soybean program and the NetZero milk. The Carbon Neutral Beef technology encourages beef production in systems that neutralize greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; the Low Carbon Soybean program is developing a national methodology for the certification of low-emission production practices; and the NetZero milk offers a conversion plan to have dairy farms produce carbon neutral milk. In addition, we also have to face the challenge of reliance on imported fertilizers. Searching for bioinputs is a priority for agricultural research, hence the launch, in partnership with the private sector, of an inoculant that can replace or halve phosphate fertilization.

What steps are being taken to mitigate the environmental impacts of industrialization on the Amazon and like ecosystems in Brazil? 

Brazil has the largest biodiversity in the world. One of the most important biomes is the Amazon. Research and innovation on Amazon biodiversity resources is boosting the emerging bio economy, so that the region, Brazil and the world can benefit from the results for a more sustainable development. Science and innovation has shown that it is possible to promote sustainable development, generating jobs and well-being. This is true not only for the Amazon biome (10.4 million acres) but for other important biomes in Brazil, such as the Cerrados. Nowadays Embrapa has nine research centers in the Amazon region and 89 laboratories. We develop solutions in areas such as aquaculture (round-fishes of the Amazon basin), forestry management, and cassava production.

How does EMBRAPA, as a state-owned research corporation, approach partnerships with private industry?
Partnerships with companies are fundamental so that research results have an even higher reach and social impact. We identify demands, develop projects, find solutions and license the new assets to the private sector. Royalties received are then reinvested in new projects or in social innovation. We collaborate with local, regional, national and international private companies in areas from seed production, fertilizers, digital agriculture and processing. 

Elaborate on Embrapa’s work on public health and sustainability impacts of industrial agriculture.

Embrapa has breeding programs in beef and milk cattle, as well as in swine and poultry. Our researchers work daily trying to develop new breeds that are more resistant to pest and diseases, more adapted to different climates and more efficient in feed conversion into body weight. These strategies, aligned with the adaptation of Indian and European breeds to the tropical climate, in the case of cattle, contribute to reduce the use of antibiotics. This is a global challenge.

“Research and innovation on Amazon biodiversity resources is boosting the emerging bio economy, so that the region, Brazil and the world can benefit from the results for a more sustainable development.”—Celso Moretti