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Roberto Rodrigues

Coordinator of the Agribusiness Center of FGV


A project of world interest

I am currently a member of nine academic boards around the world, in Europe, Asia and the USA. I have the opportunity to interact with very competent people. We have a lot of documents, many published books, and respected academic studies explaining why great empires collapsed.

Why did the Roman Empire and the British Empire collapse, why did the Soviet Revolution and the French Revolution take place? A point of convergence in almost all assessments is the time when leaders of countries and popular movements distanced themselves from the interests of the people. This is when the head separates from the body and leadership is lost. Argentina, a century ago, was the fourth economy on the planet.

In 1950, its GDP was equal to that of Brazil. Today, it is equal to that of the interior of the State of São Paulo. China and India, in 1850, accounted for 50% of world GDP. Nowadays, they have a third of the world population, both are growing, but they lost momentum.

Why do countries miss the train of history? I tend to think the reason is the same: their leaders fail to understand the social, economic and political movements and follow down the wrong path, with the country losing its condition to progress. Why am I raising this issue? Because, on the trips I make, one aspect that impresses me most is the recurring statement that the world lacks leaders.

There was a great expectation that president Obama would become a great world leader, but the economic conditions of the U.S.A. prevented that and nowadays he has lost influence even in his own country. In Europe, Sarkozy lacks leadership even within France. What about England? Some people think the British prime minister made the Avatar film.

Let’s not talk about Italy, Spain, Portugal, because their difficulties are enormous. Germany has an important leader, but she lacks significant global presence. Japan changes its prime minister every six months.  China, India, and Russia are more important countries, but they are faced with huge internal problems that keep them from looking outside.

Even the U.N. lost its leadership role and cannot handle anything. The world lacks leadership. Why? Because due to the globalized economy, the leaders of its countries lost the capacity to intervene in global processes, because the direction to follow is being set by the financiers. They have no doctrine, philosophy, religion or fatherland. The financiers are only concerned with their own perpetuation and multiplication.

If we lack leadership how can we set the course for our planet and a future for humanity? The proposal is to work on a project of global interest, to merit attention of rich and poor, Africans and Europeans, Asians and Americans. What is this project of universal interest? The debate around the world is about the price of food, about the lack of food. Hunger is a dramatic problem: a hungry man is an angry man.

A man whose children are hungry is a revolutionary, and if hunger is a central issue, to do away with it, becomes a project of global nature and interest.

OECD published a study about the world supply of food in the next ten years: it must grow 20% so that hunger does not increase. The EU will grow only 4%; Australia, 7%; Canada and the USA, between 10% and 15%; China, India, Russia and the Ukraine, 26%, and Brazil, 40%! This is not a statement by Brazil. This is a study by a respected academic organization.

The OECD is saying: “Brazilians, for the world to grow 20%, you must grow 40%”! The world is saying: “Brazil, come and help us, otherwise we will lose peace and democracy because of planetary hunger”!

Even worse: just as it is being said that demand for food will grow 20% in 10 years, the demand for energy will be even higher, for an obvious reason: Japan, the EU and the U.S.A. combined have 61 cars for each 100 inhabitants. China and India, with a third of the world population, have 3 cars for each 100 inhabitants.

So then, the income of the Chinese and the Indians will increase. They are eating, but they will need more food, more energy. Much more, in fact. They don’t have a car. China is the country that most bought cars in recent years.
They will need fuel and electricity. Entire countries in Africa have less electric power than Sertãozinho city.

Obviously, oil will be insufficient to meet the demand, so then flex fuels, bioelectricity, and co-generation have a very long distance ahead. What project could be of interest to all peoples, to all counties of the world? “Food Security and Energy Sustainability”, with the word “sustainability” weighing immensely in this matter, with enormous representativeness.

Brazil already answered the question: in the last 20 years, the area planted with grain in Brazil grew 30% and production grew 179%, six times more! When I show these figures abroad, everybody drops their jaw. Today we have 49 million hectares planted with grain. If we had the same productivity of 20 years ago, we would need additional 53 million. More than double.

This is sustainability, not environmental baloney, not romanticism. This is pragmatism. We brought about the sustainable environmental revolution with the planet’s most efficient tropical technology. That is why Brazil is in the spotlight, and this is why the OECD states: “You Brazilians are the ones who can supply this world demand, because you have available land, tropical technology and competent people”.

So I ask: are we ready to take on this responsibility? The train of history is coming and we are playing cards at the station. We lack a strategy. Quite to the contrary, what signals have we been getting: foreigners cannot buy land, the Forest Code prevents progress, there are all kinds of restrictions in the labor area. The signals we receive show us that we are not to be the train’s machinist.

We are being called upon by global history to build the railroad and show the direction towards the future, with a global project of interest to any citizen on this planet. In the field of agroenergy, what we accomplished with ethanol alone is worth a fortune in terms of world interests. Of course we are criticized and opposed. Ten years ago, Brazil’s agribusiness exported US$ 21 billion. Last year, the figure was US$ 76 billion, taking up space of a lot of countries in the world.

If we grew that much, it is because some other country fell behind. We have opponents, but in academy and high level politics in the world, Brazil is seen as the country that has the answer for the world.

Are we ready? Of course not. Technology, people, land? Yes. Policies for income, logistics, infrastructure in place, trade policy, sanitary defenses? Zero. For six years now, I’ve being saying: what we need is a National Entity for Agroenergy: agroenergy has a horizon that changes global geo-policy. The tropical countries that supply energy to the rest of the world create wealth in the poorer countries, essential for the planetary development process.

If we can lead this process, it is essential there be such an entity looking after it. There are 12 ministries dealing in agroenergy, with serious, competent, patriotic people, but who don’t talk to each other, not to mention ANP, Petrobras, Inmetro, Embrapa, ANA, and some other 150 agencies linked to energy agribusiness in Brazil.

Three years ago, I tried to set up the first specific purpose company in agribusiness. I created the Agroenergy Center at Embrapa. Since Embrapa is the national leader in the Brazilian scientific investigation system, we had the idea of building a major technology project to avoid the dispersion of material and human resources. I couldn’t accomplish this. Now, Petrobras Biocombustível is investing R$ 400 million in research.

We have the IAC, we have the CTC. Let’s do it together! At Getúlio Vargas, I created the world’s first master’s degree in agroenergy. A fantastic program. How many plants have sent their managers to the course? Very few. To study management? What for?

Unfortunately, the industry does not articulate itself, because it is a tribe of chieftains without indians, and each chieftain wants to talk alone to the president, to the minister, to whoever. In Brazil, we have powerful representational organisms, but there are people who go and talk alone to the president, because they have access.

Articulation is necessary. An industry that important, but lacking a strategy. Is it the government’s fault? No, it is our fault. We lack the competence to unite, to have a long-term view, to see that the world expects of us much more than the problem of drought and rain, of this year or last year.

The world expects something of us, for the first time in history, and this is not political chitchat. Nobody is going to come and ask us to produce ethanol. We have to say: “We are ready to produce food, fiber, and energy for the whole world”.

Look ahead and set a strategy of interest for Brazil and the world. We should be minimally humble, practice companionship and solidarity, and construct the strategy for a project of world interest, which would make Brazil the leader of the world! This is not an absurd ambition. I’ve been doing this for 50 years. Enough of chieftains talking alone.

May the microphone pass on to a chieftain that truly represents us. May he talk to God and the world and put in place the strategy that will make us a world hero. Let’s make this Brazil greater. That’s what is expected of us.