Brazilian agriculture and food research: from feeding to nourishing people

Torre Original

Today, representatives of the agriculture and food research community, together with policy-makers in Brazil have come together for a high-level event, co-hosted by Embrapa and the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, to discuss how research can be repositioned to focus on food systems that support high-quality diets.

The event, hosted by Panel Member and Embrapa President Mauricio Antônio Lopes, highlights the evidence-based recommendations made by the Global Panel’s Foresight Report, Food systems and diets: Facing the challenges of the 21st century and the subsequent Nature journal research paper “Uma nova agenda global para a pesquisa sobre os alimentos“.

“In the last 20 years, Embrapa has become a global leader in sustainable agriculture and food research, providing the evidence to support successful policies to reduce poverty and undernutrition in the Brazil” said Dr Lopes. “We now have a great opportunity to become a global leader in delivering high-quality diets, to help realise the United Nations Decade of Action on Nutrition.”

In the last 2-3 decades Brazil has managed to significantly reduce hunger and poverty, and is often described as one of the best examples in the world of how to build strong political commitment to nutrition. For example, between 1989 and 2007 the prevalence of stunting in children under 5 reduced from 19% to 7%. Embrapa’s research on sustainible agricultural production played a key role in this success.

However, the focus on production may have come at the expense of nutritional quality. 20 percent of Brazilian women of reproductive age are anaemic, and food and nutrition insecurity remains a problem in specific communities. In 1975, Brazil had the world’s ninth largest population of underweight men, but by 2014 it was ranked third globally for obese men. Diet-related non-communicable diseases are now a growing problem in Brazil. Heart disease, cancer and diabetes are responsible for over half the deaths in the country. The consumption of highly processed foods that are high in energy density, but low in nutrient density has been identified as a key contributor to the rise in overweight and obesity.

Co-chair of the Global Panel, Sir John Beddington said “The research of Embrapa and the wider scientific community is crucial, as we face the challenge to provide safe and affordable high quality diets, now and in the future.”

Brazil, much like many other countries in the world, is now experiencing a double burden of malnutrition, where overweight and obesity exist alongside nutrient deficiencies.

The country has already shown the world what can be achieved with first class research and sustained political commitment to reduce hunger. But we know that simply focussing on hunger is not enough. Food systems need to be repositioned from feeding people to nourishing people. As such, agriculture needs to shift its focus on yield to more focus on diet quality alongside yield.

As it did with global food security, Embrapa has a real opportunity to take the lead in delivering the research that not only sustainably increases agricultural yield, but also improves diet quality. It can become a global leader in this Decade of Action on Nutrition.






Image: Leandro Neumann Ciuffo