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New life in Bahia

The first agricultural school in Latin America should become a university

After some one hundred and thirty years, the Agronomy School of the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA), the first to teach agricultural sciences in Latin America, should have a change of status. The old school of Cruz das Almas is only one step away from transforming itself into the Federal University of Recôncavo Baiano (UFRB), an ancient request of the state of Bahia. The Recôncavo is the region around the bay of Todos os Santos, which includes the city of Salvador and the island of Itaparica. The project is ambitious. “During the next ten years, the goal is that the UFRB will run thirty undergraduate course, have 1,200 employees and some 10,000 students”, explains Aureo Oliveira, the coordinator of the Research and Extension in Agricultural Sciences Center of UFBA’s Agronomy School and of the memorial project to Tertiary Agricultural Teaching of Bahia, the latter financed by the Ministry of Science and Technology and by the National Scientific and Technological Board.

Today the school is only offering an agronomy engineering course, but during this year will make available courses on fish engineering, forestry and zoo-technology engineering, still within the UFBA structure. The new courses will help to shake up the region. “These new courses were set up because of an identified demand within the state of Bahia”, says coordinator Oliveira.

Something similar occurred when the then Imperial Agricultural School of Bahia was founded in 1875, as a consequence of a policy initiated in 1859 by the then emperor Don Pedro II, who ordered the creation of agricultural institutes throughout the country. The Imperial Baiano Institute of Agriculture was the first. Afterwards came those of Pernambuco, Sergipe, Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande do Sul. The intention was to attempt to resolve problems such as a lack of trained labor, of capital and a technological backwardness in agricultural production. But there were other reasons: news concerning the evolution of agricultural science in Europe had arrived in Brazil. In Germany, Justus Liebig had instituted, at the University of Giessen, teaching and research into the chemistry of agriculture.

During the same time, studies concerning nitrogen fixation in the soil via bacteria had been taking place along with the use of calcium compounds for the correction of the earth’s acidity, as well as other types of research that would come to bear huge importance for the sector. The first site of the Imperial Institute was at São Bento das Lages, in Recôncavo. During its first fifty years, research and experiments that contributed towards the expansion and consolidation of sugarcane plantations were carried out. It was the Institute that made possible the founding of the Imperial Agricultural School, with its objective of graduating agronomists, fish farmers, veterinarians and technicians. The school began well, but with time there was a lessening of interest and a lowering of the Imperial funding.

In 1889, with the proclamation of the Republic, there was an emptying of both resources and students. Between 1902 and 1919, two successive crises led to the closure and the reopening of the school and the institute. The Agricultural School of Bahia, with a new name, was only to acquire stability in the decade of the 1930s. Then it was transferred to Salvador and, in 1943, to Cruz das Almas. Starting from 1970 there had been a link with the UFBA. With the exception of the period when it had been closed, the school produced good teaching (its curriculum served for other newly born agronomy courses) and quality research for the State of Bahia. Now, more than a century later, it is ready to take on national recognition.