Brazil reaches out

The website of the Arab Brazil Chamber of Commerce has a long, fascinating interview with Silvio Crestana, president of EMBRAPA, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation. Having set up shop in Ghana, EMBRAPA is now thinking of doing something similar in Morocco and Qatar. It is great that the considerable expertise of Brazilian agricultural scientists is going to be shared more widely with the rest of the world. But benefits — including agricultural biodiversity — are expected to flow both ways. Here’s a selection of quotes to give you the flavour:

The whole world will be experiencing … confusions caused by climate change, and if we manage to obtain a plant with a gene that is more tolerant to drought, it will attract a lot of interest.

They are well developed in goat raising. They have goats that give birth to three lambs (usually they give birth to a single lamb). This is of great interest to Brazil, to our goat raising centres, which are located in the Northeast. This race is of interest to Brazil. There could be a transfer from there to here.

Another field of interest is olives, olive trees. They are way ahead of us in that field, and the demand for those is growing in Brazil… It is an ideal field for us to cooperate, they have research, they cultivate many different varieties, they have an amazing variety of olives, small, large, of all sizes and features, for oil, edible ones.

They also have varieties and research on wheat. They have a very interesting variety of wheat that we are interested in for hybridisations, germplasm banks.

Our germplasm bank, from the vantage point of tropical biodiversity, is like no other. They would benefit from that.

Agriculture important, World Bank discovers

The World Bank is suddenly all concerned about agriculture. Within a few days there’s the result of an independent evaluation of its assistance to sub-Saharan Africa, and the latest World Development Report, which focuses on agriculture for development. The NY Times has an article on the African report:

At a time of growing debate about how to combat hunger in Africa, the evaluation team recommended that the bank, the single largest donor for African agriculture, concentrate on helping farmers get the basics they need to grow and market more food: fertilizer, seeds, water, credit, roads.

Ah, seeds. If only it were that easy. The World Development Report 2008 actually refers to the spread of improved varieties as “slow magic” (p. 159, chapter 7), pointing out that crop improvement “has been enormously successful, but not everywhere.” Then, on page 259, in a discussion of the “global agenda for the 21st century,” the money quote:

Conserving genetic resources for future food security. Genetic resources and seeds have been the basis for some of the most successful agricultural interventions to promote growth and reduce poverty (chapter 7). Conserving the world’s rich heritage of crop and animal genetic diversity is essential to future global food security. Gene banks and in situ resources that provide fair access to all countries and equitably share the benefits are a global public good that requires global collective action.

Chapter 8, on Making Agricultural Systems more Environmentally Sustainable, should also make for interesting reading.