Brazilian farming methods could feed a hungry planet

Paul Raven @ 27-08-2010

There’s few things I enjoy more during my daily feed-reader trawl than a headline with two potential meanings… and here’s a classic case from The Big Think: “Brazilian Model Could Feed The World“. Wow – has he/she started a gene-mod crops business with his/her superstar income? Or perhaps he/she is just very very large, and thus could be sliced up and distributed to the world’s most needy?

As you’ve probably guessed from my own headline, it’s nothing at all to do with a monstrous fifty-foot Brazilian catwalk star (which is slightly disappointing for the B-movie fans in the audience, I guess). As the target article at The Economist explains, the model in question is Brazil’s agricultural policies:

Even more striking than the fact of its success has been the manner of it. Brazil has followed more or less the opposite of the agro-pessimists’ prescription. For them, sustainability is the greatest virtue and is best achieved by encouraging small farms and organic practices. They frown on monocultures and chemical fertilisers. They like agricultural research but loathe genetically modified (GM) plants. They think it is more important for food to be sold on local than on international markets. Brazil’s farms are sustainable, too, thanks to abundant land and water. But they are many times the size even of American ones. Farmers buy inputs and sell crops on a scale that makes sense only if there are world markets for them. And they depend critically on new technology. As the briefing explains, Brazil’s progress has been underpinned by the state agricultural-research company and pushed forward by GM crops. Brazil represents a clear alternative to the growing belief that, in farming, small and organic are beautiful.

That alternative commands respect for three reasons. First, it is magnificently productive. It is not too much to talk about a miracle, and one that has been achieved without the huge state subsidies that prop up farmers in Europe and America. Second, the Brazilian way of farming is more likely to do good in the poorest countries of Africa and Asia. Brazil’s climate is tropical, like theirs. Its success was built partly on improving grasses from Africa and cattle from India. Of course there are myriad reasons why its way of farming will not translate easily, notably that its success was achieved at a time when the climate was relatively stable whereas now uncertainty looms. Still, the basic ingredients of Brazil’s success—agricultural research, capital-intensive large farms, openness to trade and to new farming techniques—should work elsewhere.

Nothing new about people giving the big-ups to sustainable farming, of course… but to see it lauded in a venue like The Economist (alongside an admission that there’s a food crisis on the way, and that the Demographic Formerly Known As The First World is in the firing line too) is a new one, at least to me. Are we seeing a shift in attitude in business and government – a recognition that the long game is the only one in town, if you want there to still be a town when the game is over?


Immigrant UK waste turned back at Brazilian docks

Paul Raven @ 22-07-2009

shipping containersOnly the other day we were talking about tracking trash to find out where it goes. Well, it turns out it’s not just people that end up immigrating into countries that don’t want to deal with them; the Brazilian environment agency Ibama is demanding that 1,400 tonnes of hazardous waste – everything from rotting food, used condoms and dirty hypodermics – be repatriated to the UK where it came from.

Among the rubbish were the names of many British supermarkets, and UK newspapers were also clearly identifiable.

Ibama officials say they want the waste sent back to the UK.

“We will ask for the repatriation of this garbage,” said Roberto Messias, Ibama president. “Clearly, Brazil is not a big rubbish dump of the world.”

Reports in the UK media say the waste was sent from Felixstowe in eastern England to the port of Santos, near Sao Paulo, and two other ports in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul.

The Brazilian companies that received the waste said they had been expecting recyclable plastic, The Times reported.

I guess this is the nation-state version of the rocks-in-an-iPod-box scam. Hopefully it’ll get harder for organisations to pull off this kind of switcheroo without getting caught by shipment tracking systems… but while there’s money to be made, you can guarantee they’ll keep trying it on. I expect corruption is a large part of the problem – as much at the UK end as elsewhere. [via SlashDot; image by bejnar.net]


Making Our Future as Better Ancestors

Tom Marcinko @ 02-06-2008

StonehengeIt seems to be the custom for new Futurismic posters to introduce themselves. I don’t see race, sex, age, residence, politics, or preferences. But people tell me I’m a 53-year-old white guy who lives in Arizona, leans to the left, and likes fiction, history, journalism, science, The Loud Family and The New Pornographers, and I believe them.

The birth of yet another niece puts me in mind of Samantha Powers’ recent commencement advice: “Be a good ancestor.” One way to do that might be to start treating the environment as part of the economy, by putting a dollar value on it. A report to the U.N. Commission on Biodiversity estimates that humans do at least $78 billion worth of damage each year, “eating away at our nature capital” through deforestation and pollution. Sobering to consider that about 40% of the world economy is still based on biological products and processes.

In light of the likely first contact with an uncontacted seminomadic Amazon tribe on the borderlands of Brazil and Peru, we probably need to factor cultural diversity into the equation, too. There’s something poignant and human about that AP photo of tribespeople firing arrows at an aircraft.

Think about all our ancestors have done for us. The origin and purpose of Stonehenge is no longer a total mystery, according to recent investigations: it served as a cemetary for at least 500 years beginning 5,000 years ago. It may have functioned for 20 or 30 generations as the resting place of a ruling dynasty. At least 300 surrounding homes made it one of the largest villages in northwestern Europe.

Ancestor-worship as big business? If that’s not old enough for you, consider a 375-million-year-old ancestor called the placoderm fish, with a fossil embryo attached with an umbilical cord. It’s the oldest known instance of live birth. Now think what our moms put up with, bringing us into the world. [Image by Danny Sullivan]


Potentially huge Brazilian oil deposits good news for fuel supply

Tomas Martin @ 15-04-2008

An oil platform in Rio de JaneiroWith oil prices again reaching historic highs today of more than $113 a barrel, there are unofficial reports that a massive oil reserve may have been found in the ocean off the coast of Brazil. The drilling company involved, Petrobras, has yet to announce confirmation but National Petroleum Agency President Haroldo Lima said the reserve could have as much as 33 billion barrels of oil, making it the largest find in decades.

Petrobras played down the reports, with the second well drilling into the deposit yet to break through the salt layer under which the oil could be expected. However with biofuel production threatening food shortages in Latin America and the rest of the world, a big oil find in Brazil would come at a much needed time for fuel security.

The world’s second largest producer of oil, Russia, had falling production in the first quarter of 2008, with industry officials ‘gloomy’ about the prospects of even staying at current production levels. Global production has plateaued in recent years, with growth in production in Angola and Russia balancing falling production elsewhere. More finds like the one in Brazil, as well as increased efficiency in using the oil produced will be needed if global production begins to decline.

[via the Oil Drum, picture by gattobrz]


Brazilian ultra-compact cars running on ethanol, petrol, natural gas or electricity

Tomas Martin @ 05-02-2008

The dinky Obvio in front of a less efficient example of automobile construction…

Lotus and Brazilian car manufacturer Obvio have a number of versions of cute VW Beetle-esque cars that run on any combination of ethanol, petrol or natural gas. They also have optional upgrades to become plug-in electric vehicles. They have a very consistent design style and the car even features an inbuilt ‘carputer’ with GPS, details on nearby locations such as restaurants and virtual instrumentation. You can also use the console as a normal PC. The engine uses continuously variable transmission (CVT) rather than distinct gears which aims to cut down on fuel use.

The Obvio 828 is projected for sale at around $14,000 and the more sporty Obvio 012 is projected at $28,000 although the electric versions are currently a lot more.

[thanks to Alex Thorne for the link, picture via the Obvio website]


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