Edson Lobato, Alysson Paolinelli, Dr. A. Colin McClung
BRAZIL, BRAZIL, UNITED STATES
THE 2006 WORLD FOOD PRIZE LAUREATES – Mr. Edson Lobato of Brazil, H.E. Alysson Paolinelli of Brazil, and Dr. A. Colin McClung of the United States – each played a vital role in transforming the Cerrado – a region of vast, once infertile tropical high plains stretching across Brazil – into highly productive cropland. Though they worked independently of one another, in different decades and in different fields, their collective efforts over the past 50 years have unlocked Brazil’s tremendous potential for food production. Their advancements in soil science and policy leadership made agricultural development possible in the Cerrado, a region named from Portuguese words meaning “closed, inaccessible land.”
Edson Lobato received degrees from the National School of Agronomy (Agronomy Engineering, 1964) and Southern Illinois University (M.S., Agronomy, 1973).
In 1964, he began his career in soil fertility research through a program sponsored by the International Research Institute, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture. His work centered on phosphate inputs to improve soil fertility in the Cerrado soils, as well as the application of lime as a soil amendment.
Based on the outstanding talent he displayed during this time, he received a U.S. Agency for International Development fellowship in 1972 to study soil fertility in the United States. Upon his return to Brazil the following year, he was hired as a researcher at the newly established Brazilian Corporation of Agricultural Research (EMBRAPA). He was soon placed in charge of coordinating several EMBRAPA programs, including outlining a plan for the Cerrado Agricultural Research Center.
From 1975 through 2004, Lobato remained a central figure in soil fertility research and evaluation at the EMBRAPA Cerrado Center, serving in a variety of positions including technical director. According to EMBRAPA President Silvio Crestana, Lobato’s work to enhance soil quality and counteract water stress “made it possible to incorporate the Brazilian Cerrado, the world’s last agricultural frontier, into food and fiber production.”
Lobato also led and advised other researchers at the EMBRAPA Cerrado center in programs to evaluate the feasibility of projects to develop the Cerrado. He guided the center through an expansion of its work to include sustainable agricultural practices and the environmental impact of development.
Throughout this time, Lobato collaborated with farmers and extension technicians to implement the technologies and practices pioneered at EMBRAPA. He has authored more than 80 publications relating to soil fertility and soil management in the Cerrado and published “Cerrado: Soil Correction and Fertilization,” which became a standard reference for farmers, researchers, and students seeking solutions to soil fertility problems.
Professor Wenceslau J. Goedert of the University of Brasilia commended Lobato for “his knowledge and experience…that made possible the transformation of the Cerrado Region into a major world food production area. His contribution to world food production is extraordinary.”
Alysson Paolinelli received his Agronomy Engineering degree in 1959 at the agriculture college of the Superior School of Lavras, in the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil. He began teaching there in the 1960s and was a catalyst of the school’s efforts to expand and improve its curriculum and faculty, secure funding, and bring the school into the national system of agricultural colleges as the Federal University of Lavras. From 1967 to 1971, he served as dean, during which time he encouraged faculty members to obtain technical education abroad. The Federal University of Lavras today ranks as one of the top agricultural universities in Brazil. In 1971, Paolinelli was appointed Secretary of Agriculture of Minas Gerais and served in that capacity until 1974. During this period, Paolinelli’s long-held conviction of Brazil’s great potential for food production—specifically in the Cerrado region — began to be realized as he created policies, institutions, and infrastructure to encourage significant development.
As Secretary of Agriculture in Minas Gerais, Paolinelli’s top priority was to dramatically increase support of agricultural research and training in the state. He created an agency to integrate all the agricultural teaching and research entities in Minas Gerais, and he encouraged universities to collaborate with farmers to improve agricultural practices. He cooperated with Brazilian and international credit agencies to hire more than 1,000 new technical researchers over three years.
Paolinelli also created a new model for rural credit to support integrated agricultural operations. Loans were made available at very low interest, with a grace period extended beyond one crop season and with payments allowing farmers to keep and reinvest a share of their profits. With this support for expanded research and agricultural production, large-scale development in the Cerrado was initiated.
Brazil’s Minister of Agriculture from 1974 to 1979, Paolinelli oversaw the establishment and implementation of the Brazilian Corporation of Agricultural Research (EMBRAPA) as a model research and extension institution that improved and diffused technologies for advancing modern agriculture throughout the country. He also formed the Cerrado Center (CPAC) within EMBRAPA, which focused considerable resources on agricultural development in that region. With his ongoing support of research to improve and enhance agriculture, “he is the leader that farmers have consistently turned to solve their problems and assist them in advancing agricultural and rural development,” said Eliseu Roberto de Andrade Alves, former president of EMBRAPA.
In 1974, Paolinelli also initiated the Polocentro program to finance and develop agricultural production and rural communities on 3 million hectares across the entire Cerrado region. Within three years, this goal had been surpassed. To sustain growth further, Paolinelli attracted public, private and foreign investments to complement the federal government’s funds for developing the Cerrado. In 1978, he negotiated an agreement between Brazil and Japan to bring together financial resources to invest in research, extension, and entrepreneurship enterprises to further the opening and settlement of the Cerrado.
“As an agronomic engineer, farmer, rural leader, public official, and consultant in agribusiness, Minister Paolinelli has demonstrated visionary leadership, exceptional ability, and has justly earned the nation’s gratitude,” commented Antonio Herminio Pinazza, Executive Director of the Association of Brazilian Agribusinesses.
From only 200,000 hectares of arable land in 1955, the Cerrado had well over 40 million hectares in cultivation by the year 2005. The phenomenal achievement of transforming the infertile Cerrado region into highly productive land over a span of fifty years, the world’s single largest increase in farmland since the settlement of the U.S. Midwest, has been hailed as a far-reaching milestone in agricultural science. Andrew Colin McClung began his career as an agronomy researcher at North Carolina State College in 1950 after earning degrees in agricultural science (West Virginia University, B.A., 1947) and soil science (M.S. 1949 and Ph.D. 1950, Cornell University).
In 1956, McClung joined the David and Nelson Rockefeller-funded International Basic Economic Corporation Research Institute (later known as the IRI Research Institute), which sought to improve soil conditions for coffee production and thus bolster the Brazilian economy. As part of this project, McClung initiated research on the soil degradation plaguing central Brazil, including the 300 million-acre wasteland known as the Cerrado. McClung believed Brazil to have potential as “a world leader in agriculture.” However, until his discovery of the proper application of lime and fertilizers to make its soils productive, the infertile Cerrado had been of little interest to Brazilian farmers, agribusinesses, or government officials.
McClung’s studies showed that acidity, toxic levels of aluminum, and deficiencies of several micronutrients in the soil limited plant growth. Given this analysis, he tested the potential of dolomitic lime to eliminate the aluminum toxicity of the soils, supply calcium and magnesium, and modify the availability of other nutrients. Within a year, McClung’s laboratory, greenhouse, and field tests showed unprecedented promise for this treatment to support high corn, soy, and cotton yields on Cerrado soils – 200 to 300 percent higher than yields from unimproved soils. His groundbreaking results were presented at a meeting of the Brazilian Soil Science Society in 1957.
These findings “had a pronounced effect on food production,” said Professor Eugene Kamprath of North Carolina State University. Dr. McClung’s research did away with the myth that the Cerrado was not suitable for intensive agriculture and set off a chain reaction of technical studies that increased food production and fueled substantial economic and social development in Brazil and other tropical countries.
Over the course of several decades and with the Brazilian government’s increasing support for agricultural research and extension, Brazil’s farmers began to apply McClung’s techniques throughout the Cerrado. In the five decades since McClung’s initial discovery, Brazil’s farmers have been able to produce sufficient crops not only to feed and sustain a population that has tripled to over 180 million people, but also to emerge as an international leader in agricultural production. Brazil currently ranks second in global production of soybeans – a crop whose yields in Brazil have increased 20 times since the development of the Cerrado and bring $9 billion to the Brazilian economy each year.
As he brought his technical skills to bear on the soil infertility problems, McClung also provided leadership in inviting collaboration from the private sector and local investors. He convinced many local enterprises such as lime producers, fertilizer companies, and corn and soybean processors to provide funding, materials, and other resources to the research projects that he led.
“Dr. McClung’s research permitted the opening of an area larger than the total cropland of the United States to intensive agricultural production,” said Professor W. Shaw Reid of Cornell University, “and it has stood the test of time.”
The Cerrado is an arid brush savanna stretching over 120 million hectares across central Brazil from the western plains to the northeastern coast. With soils characterized by high acidity and aluminum levels that are toxic to most crops, Brazilian farmers had long referred to the area as campos cerrados – “closed land,” with little promise for sustaining production.
The Cerrado’s potential was first unlocked by applications of lime and phosphate-rich fertilizers, which together reduced acidity and improved fertility in the soil. Initial tests by Colin McClung in the 1950s dramatically increased yields of a variety of crops within one growing season. Later agronomy research and extension work with farmers was led by Edson Lobato. His efforts and those of his colleagues further refined fertilizer and soil nutrient applications in the Cerrado.
The promise of improved soils spurred nationwide reforms of agricultural research and extension programs on the federal and state levels. Organized under Minister of Agriculture Alysson Paolinelli, Brazil’s federal agricultural research organization EMBRAPA has emerged as a global leader for improving degraded tropical soils and breeding enhanced crops. EMBRAPA is the source of 30 percent of all public research in Latin America, and it maintains strong partnerships with research institutions and universities internationally.
With improved soil chemistry and the support of flexible research institutions, plant scientists in Brazil have developed high-yielding crop varieties for the Cerrado that are more tolerant of aluminum toxicity and acquire soil micronutrients more effectively. In recent years, agronomists have also refined no-till or direct planting technologies, reducing environmental degradation and maintaining higher levels of soil organic matter.
The Cerrado region now provides 54 percent of all soybeans harvested in Brazil, 28 percent of the country’s corn, and 59 percent of its coffee. Cerrado agriculture has also diversified to include rice, cotton, cassava, and sugar. For all crops, average yields in the Cerrado are higher than in other areas, with harvests reaching 4.8 tons per hectare of soybeans and 11 tons per hectare of corn. In addition, the Cerrado supports 55 percent of Brazil’s beef industry.
The increased production of a variety of crops and livestock has made food more available and more affordable in Brazil. In the past 25 years, food prices have steadily dropped by an average of 5 percent annually. At the same time, the standard of living for many rural communities has been enhanced, with life-quality indicators rising 47 percent from 1970 through the 1990s.
"Eventually, the Cerrado technology, or one similar to it, will move into the llanos in Colombia and Venezuela and hopefully, into central and southern Africa where similar soil problems are found,” said Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and World Food Prize Founder Dr. Norman E. Borlaug. “This will bring tens of millions of additional acres, previously marginal for agriculture, into high-yield agriculture. Hundreds of millions of people will benefit from this work.”