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X-ray of São Paulo agriculture

Research and new technologies have increased productivity and reduced the cost of food

Gains in productivity have changed the profile of agriculture in São Paulo. Over the last 30 years, the area under production has been reduced, as well as the number of people occupied in the rural areas. There is less being planted, but more being reaped. This is the result of a greater investment in input for production and in the development of new technologies. The average of expenditure in research, for example, leapt from 0.79% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 1960, to 1.5% in 1998, coming to a level equivalent to that of the developed countries. The growth in research in this period was able to count on a contribution from FAPESP. Since it was set up in 1962, until 1998, the Foundation has invested R$ 240.8 million in financing scholarship grants, research, agreements and scientific events linked to agriculture and cattle breeding, at an annual average of R$ 6.5 million. The result is that there are currently almost 21,000 scientists from São Paulo carrying out research in the sector.

But what was actually the impact of these investments in research on agricultural production? To answer this question, FAPESP commissioned a study from a group of specialists, headed by Professor Paulo Fernando Cidade de Araújo, from the Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture (Esalq), of the University of São Paulo (USP), to assess its contribution to the development of agriculture in the state. Others who took part in the project were G. E. Schuh, Alexandre Lahóz Mendonça de Barros, Ricardo Shirota and Alexandre Chibebe Nicolella. Concluded last year, the study is in the final stages of revision and will be published shortly.

Named The Growth of São Paulo Agriculture and Public Institutions from a Long Term Perspective, this work drew up a list of the projects and institution financed by the Foundation over the period, and estimated the different ratios between expenditure on research, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Agriculture, and the gross amount of production. But it was not possible to assess the impact of research on the development of agriculture. “It is difficult to measure the impact of research on physical production”, explains Francisco Romeu Landi, FAPESP’s director-president.

Those responsible for the survey point out a few difficulties. “Knowing only a bit of the basic information, up to what point could it be said that a project classified in a given area of knowledge, linked to the agricultural or veterinary area, has or does not have a direct or indirect impact on agriculture?” they ask. The second problem, they argue, lies in the gigantic volume of data relating to a long period of time, in the course of which certain criteria for qualification were modified, such as, for example, in the case of the sub-areas of knowledge. For these reasons, they explain, an analysis of the main theme – the impact of research on production – has an “essentially exploratory” nature, and calls for “an extra effort to be made in future research”. The results, however, present a detailed picture of the Foundation’s investments in the sector and outline a painstaking map of the evolution of São Paulo’s main agricultural products.

Teaching and research
The study analyzed the work of six research institutes in the state: the Agronomic Institute of Campinas (IAC), the Biological Institute, the Agricultural Economy Institute, the Food Technology Institute, the Fish Institute and the Zootechny Institute. An assessment was also made of the participation of USP, the São Paulo State University (Unesp) and the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) and of their Esalq colleges, installed on the campuses of Piracicaba, Botucatu (FCA), Jaboticabal (FCAV), Ilha Solteira (FEIS), São Carlos (CCA), Campinas (FEA and Feagri), and São Paulo (FMVZ). Equally included in the study are the activities at the Paula Souza State Technological Education center and the Nuclear Energy in Agriculture center (at USP), as well as the Coordination for Integral Technical Assistance (Cati) of the Federal University of São Carlos and the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), linked to the federal government.

The X-ray of the universities and research institutes revealed that over one thousand teachers are at work there, and that the agronomy courses form some 2,200 new professionals every year. In 2001, the number of graduates from these colleges came to over 20,700, the majority (9,500) from Esalq. The three state universities, it was found, awarded degrees to 7,500 masters and/or doctors and are forming almost 3,000 future scientists. At the institutes, over 700 researchers joined the almost 1,200 supplementary course students from Cati, to make up the system for research and the dissemination of technology of the São Paulo government.

Grants and benefits
Between 1962 and 1979, 10% of the scientists, lecturers, researchers and professors in the area received grants financed by FAPESP. In all, the Foundation has supported 883 projects linked to agricultural research, almost 14% of the total for research carried out in the period. Worthy of special mention are the investments in the formation of researchers and lecturers in postgraduate studies at Esalq, IAC and the Biological Institute. All together, these institutions received 66% of the Foundation’s funds.

In the Foundation’s first 18 years, grants received R$ 13.3 million; and research, R$ 48.6 million, with an average of roughly R$ 55,000 for each project. Corn, soya, wheat, beans, peanuts, rice, cotton and cassava were the products that received the greatest financial support (21% of the expenditure in partnership agreements and 16% of the sectorial investment in the period). Another R$ 2 million was invested to support 62 projects for studying soil and savannas.

From 1980 to 1999, the colleges of veterinary medicine and agrarian sciences considerably increased their demand for FAPESP’s grants and benefits. The R$ 178.9 million invested over this period took in almost 13,000 projects, many of them on a minor scale: the average was R$ 13,700 per project.

In the 80s, the amount spent on scholarship grants was greater than on benefits. The picture was reversed in the 90’s, the period which saw the implementation of the thematic and infrastructure projects and special programs, which, according to the study, have increased FAPESP’s visibility in the eyes of society. In more recent years, support from FAPESP has been concentrated in financing projects for the expansion and maintenance of infrastructure for research and in libraries (R$ 75.5 million), followed by regular research benefits (R$ 61 million), special programs (R$ 20 million) and thematic projects (R$ 15.3 million), besides sundry events (R$ 7 million). Over these years, the agricultural colleges received R$ 133 million to support 10,000 projects, overtaking the attention given to research institutes (R$ 45.9 million for 2,900 projects).

Technology advances in agriculture
Technological advancement in São Paulo’s agriculture is planned by studying the details. Half a century ago, São Paulo reaped 200,000 metric tons of potato, 22,000 of onions and 90,000 of tomatoes. Today, these crops yield 676,000 metric tons of potato, 355,000 tons of onions, and 748,000 tons of tomatoes. Amongst these products, which go into the basic food basket, the most modest increase broke the 200% mark.

The sugarcane crop used to reach to 5 million tons. Now, 198 million tons are cut, which makes São Paulo the largest exporter of sugar in the world. In those days, 150,000 tons of oranges used to be picked, and, 52 years later, the state has now formed the largest orange grove in the world, where 16.3 million tons are gathered and 90% of all the orange juice exported by Brazil, the world’s largest supplier, is produced.

Half way through the century, soya used to be an exotic product, and the handful of soya farmers did not harvest more than 1,500 tons. In 2000, São Paulo gathered in 1,3 million tons of this oleaginous crop, and the soya family (grain, bran and oil) has been for years the most important source of hard currency for the state and for the country; it has now surpassed the United States, where soya was born, in the world ranking for production.Something similar has happened with the production of proteins. In the past, the abattoirs produced 370,000 tons of meat from beef cattle; now, there are 486,000 tons. The production of milk has more than tripled: from 460 million to 1.8 billion liters. The introduction of poultry breeding in the 70’s brought the production of poultry up from 36,000 to 910,000 tons in 30 years; and the production of eggs went up from 53 million dozens to 914 million at the end of the period.

Over the last 30 years, the area set aside for agricultural production in the state has shrunk, and the size of its population has also dropped. But there has been an increase in the capital invested in machines (from 67,000 to 170,000 tractors, for example), which has been reflected positively in the production of food and raw materials. And the per capita income in the rural sector has grown too. In the Brazil of the 50’s, rural GDP per capita was R$ 474 (1998 values), that is, it used to be 5.5 times smaller than the R$ 2,500 registered in the cities. This situation lasted until the beginning of the 70’s, when the modernization process in the farming industry became more intensive; it expanded its supply to the domestic market and began to act more intensely in the world market. The results: in 1998, the rural GDP per capita had gone up to R$ 2,100, and the urban GDP to R$ 5,900. The difference had fallen to 36%. In São Paulo, the process was even more significant, and the evolution in the relation betweenthe rural and urban GDPs went from 32% in 1948 to 68% in 1999.

Rural GDP
In 1950, 22% of São Paulo’s GDP was generated in the country; by 1998, this percentage had fallen to a mere 5%, the result of the strong process of industrialization that São Paulo has experienced. Over the period, São Paulo’s economy had expanded at an annual rate of 5.6%, driven by industrial production (6.7% per annum), while farm production recorded an annual average of only 2.6%. Between 1980 and 1998, the scenario changed, and the annual rate of growth of São Paulo’s GDP fell to 1.5%, and would have been lower still, were it not for the 4.1% a year recorded by agriculture.

The crops saved the day in the lost decade, and it was technology, above all the technology generated in the official research institutes, that saved the crops. In the study commissioned by FAPESP, which only takes into consideration public expenditure on research, the levels of productivity at work in São Paulo’s agriculture are analyzed, as well as the growth in the wages paid, the growth in the prices received by the farmer and in those paid by him.

There is an important third effect of gains in agricultural productivity: the social benefits, in particular the reduction in the real price of food. The incorporation of technological progress that came from the research activity makes possible the increase in productivity; and this, in turn, lowered food prices. The study reveals a change in the pattern of prices, especially in the 70’s and in the 90’s. Beans are mentioned as an example: in 1970, they cost as much as three times what they cost in 1976. Another effect is a reduction in the volatility of the prices, as is shown by the example of potatoes and onions between 1980 and 1990.

The process of selecting and developing new varieties carried out in the research institutes resulted in the availability of early, mid-term and late varieties that make it possible to expand the period for cultivation. Thus, food is supplied for longer in the course of the year, which reduces seasonal shortages and the losses caused by pests, diseases and climatic factors – with less intense consequences for the variation of prices. The study mentions research under way at the University of São Paulo that reveals, for the period of 1975 to 2000, a reduction in the consumer prices of farm products in the order of 5.6% a year, with special mention of the reduction in the prices of rice (7.8% a year), coffee (7.4% a year), beans (13.4% a year), chicken (8.2% a year) and soya (8.0% a year).

Cheaper food means greater purchasing power for the workers. On the basis of an USP technical study, a comparison was made between the growth of the real salary of a worker employed in the building industry in the city of São Paulo and the price of foodstuffs: the conclusion is that between December 1985 and January 2000 the salary had an annual increase of 7.56%, because of the fall in the price of food.

Institutional strategy
The study commissioned by FAPESP concluded by suggesting the basic lines for setting up a future institutional strategy. It recommends intensifying cooperation between the teaching and research institutions in the state and other research centers, like those in the Embrapa system. It brings to mind that biotechnology, for its capacity for generating innovation in agriculture, speeds up the rate of dissemination and expands the scope of the innovations, and calls attention to the alteration in the role of the public and private sectors in the process of generating technology, with growing institutional capacity for protecting intellectual property rights.

It emphasizes the speeding up of the process of specialization in São Paulo’s agriculture (sugarcane-oranges-corn-proteins), with these products predominating in the make-up of the sector’s gross income. It suggests studying incentives for these commodities, to increase their competitiveness inside and outside the state and the country. But it calls attention to the need for stimulating the food industry and the manufacture of products for domestic consumption, so as to increase the income of the poorer classes.

It warns that any public policy should take into consideration the dualistic nature of agriculture in São Paulo: on the one hand, the commercial farmers (innovators, similar in size and income to those in the urban-industrial activity); and on the other hand, low income farmers (subsistence farming, affected by socioeconomic problems). The study calls attention to the fact that the largest contingent of the rural labor force belongs to this second segment.

The final recommendation is the creation of a science and technology council for agriculture, whose strategic action will be to make practicable new ideas and institutional arrangements in the state, more or less the way that the National Research Council’s Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources works, in the United States. The commission, or council, would not have a political nature at all: a first step that has already been taken in this direction, with FAPESP’s experience in command of the Genome Project, which put Brazil in the forefront of the world, for the genetic sequencing of Xylella fastidiosa, or the yellowing disease that is fatal for one of its main sources of wealth, the growing of citrus fruit.

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