The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR)



Antonio Flavio Dias Avila
Tarcizio Rego Quirino
Elisio Contini
Elíbio Leopoldo Rech Filho

Biotechnology research offers a wide range of possibilities to crop improvement. In the short term its most important contribution is increasing the quantity and quality of global food, feed and fiber production. Plant biotechnology can already produce transgenic seeds that contribute to increased productivity and to sustainable cropping systems that are an essential ingredient to improving responsible use of natural resources and to safeguard the environment. Brazil is among the developing countries that made significant progress in biotechnology during recent years. The Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária – EMBRAPA), affiliated with the Ministry of Agriculture, and state research institutes and universities, mainly the ones from the state of São Paulo, are producing the most important and more productive work in biotechnology.

Embrapa’s research program in agricultural biotechnology is carried out under the leadership of the Genetic Resources and Biotechnology Research Center. It is presently concentrated on the following areas: a) identification of genes responsible for resistance to disease and environmental stress in rice; b) nitrogen fixation in varieties of soybean and other leguminous plants; c) identification of genes and heterosis of importance to agronomy in maize germplasm, with special reference to diseases resistance; d) characterization of the molecular structure of germplasm targeting increased cattle productivity and resistance to diseases; e) production of virus-resistant potatoes, beans and papaya; f) production of herbicide-resistant beans and soybeans (glifosate and indazolinona); and g) production of maize with high nutritional quality (methionine degree).

Results obtained in others countries and presented in the literature (Griliches, Peterson, Evenson, Echeverria and others) show that investment in agricultural research, such as this made by Embrapa, is highly beneficial, not only to the agricultural community, but also to society as a whole. In the case of agriculture biotechnology research, the first results about the USA and Europe indicate that this is the case as well and that benefits will spread more and more beyond the bounds of farming alone, and will particularly benefit the health and nutrition sectors.

The ex-ante impact evaluation of the main research projects developed by Embrapa in biotechnology show that the social and economic benefits are potentially high. Biotechnological research conducted by the institution is in an advanced stage of development and certainly should generate in the next years new, more productive varieties, that use less inputs and have improved resistance to diseases and herbicides. These new biotech products to be released by the Embrapa centers most likely will generate important social benefits for small producers and for consumers as well, because of the introduction of new characteristics oriented to the quality of nutrition and to health and because of positive changes in the social relationships between the links of the chains.

Analysis of the research product economic and social potential impacts is being made at Embrapa based on a new approach, namely, productive chain analysis, rather than the traditional analysis at the producer or consumer level. Positive and negative impact is being measured in all the main segments of the chain (inputs industry, rural producers, processing industry, distribution and consumers) and include the analysis of environmental impact. This approach has advantages to those used in the past because the evaluation is more complete offering answers to questions not solved in the traditional approaches (economic surplus, productivity index, etc.) but demanded by the society, especially in developing countries.

Finally, it should be emphasized that Embrapa’s biotechnology research program is in its first stages of development and that the perspectives to obtain more expressive results in the future are very high given the projects in progress and the effort to build a new institutional R&D agenda. Investment in human resources, specially in training in this area, continues to be a main priority and investments in infra-structure (laboratories and equipment) made recently or planned for the near future are also important for that.

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