Integrated solutions to environmental and economic challenges from Brazil

Photo: Leonidas Santana / Shutterstock

By Luciane Chiodi Bachion, Agroicone

Innovation and advancements in technology have made Brazil one of the most important producers and exporters of food in the world, including grain, meat and other agricultural products. However, inequalities in the country’s food systems and their impact on climate change and biodiversity remains a significant challenge.

Of the 5 million farms in Brazil, 77% are family farmers and 82% have no access to technical assistance, despite the fact that Brazilian universities and agricultural research centers, such as the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), are leaders in developing technologies and innovations for intensive agricultural production.

A study developed by Agroicone for the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture Intensification (CoSAI) on successful innovation pathways suggests that Brazil needs integrated solutions to environmental and economic challenges that combine consolidated institutions, extension services, public policies and end-user participation.

In its assessment of Brazil’s experiences with innovation pathways, the study identifies several important factors contributing to successful innovation and scaling up processes:

  • Innovative technological solutions (new to the specific context)
  • Partnerships between beneficiaries and public and private organizations
  • Strong leadership at the beginning of the process and in times of crisis
  • Strong institutions for continuity, partnerships and resilience.

Successful case studies

This integrated approach is evident in the strategy adopted by the Program for the improvement of Brazilian milk production, “Balde Cheio” – or “Full Bucket” – which combines a farmer-oriented methodology, a network of partners, training of trainers and continuous improvement to aggregate environmental aspects.

The bundling of integrated crop–livestock–forestry (ILPF, in Portuguese) and public policies (National Climate Change Policy) through the “Plano and Programa ABC” has been the main pathway for scaling up sustainable agricultural intensification since 2009.

ILPF was incorporated as a sectoral strategy to comply with international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with consequent investments in specific rural credit lines. In Balde Cheio, the farmer-oriented approach and continuous dialogue among supervisors, extension agents and farmers have formed the basis of the program.

These partnerships have been important for organizations to complement their skills and work together to achieve the same goals (decarbonization, social inclusion and improvements in production and income). For example, the public–private partnership in integrated livestock and crops (ILP) and ILPF has helped accelerate the adoption of systems and reduce emissions. Industries and municipalities have also achieved social goals, improving access to water for the production of healthy foods and guaranteeing food and nutritional security for poor people in the semiarid region of Brazil through the “One Land and Two Waters” (P1+2) program. Additionally, partnerships between cooperatives, milk industries and municipal governments have strengthened the extension service in Balde Cheio.

Applying lessons learned

A functional extension service is important for implementing and disseminating innovations. The Balde Cheio experience shows that extension services can be more efficient if they are regional in scale and able to meet different regional needs: financial, managerial, technical and research related.

Leadership (institutional or personal) has been identified as an important factor to guarantee the continuity, maturity and visibility of innovations. Innovation management by consolidated institutions brings credibility, representativeness and mobilization capacity (embeddedness). For example Embrapa’s leadership in Balde Cheio and ILPF, and Articulation in the Brazilian Semiarid Region’s (ASA) leadership in P1+2.

Most of the lessons learned in Brazil are similar to findings from other case studies conducted by CoSAI in India and Kenya and could be applied in other countries, as long as approaches are adapted to a country’s specific context. The case studies have also helped to identify recommendations for investors and practitioners, helping to guide their actions and investments to achieve successful sustainable agricultural intensification.

Read more about the lessons learned from the Brazil and other country case studies.

The views expressed in this blog are those of an individual researcher and are not necessarily supported by CoSAI.