Barely two generations ago, the rolling hills in Brazil's heartland were a knot of short, brittle trees and acidic soil considered unfit for agriculture. But on a recent morning, a harvester cut through golden husks of wheat on Paulo Kramer's farm.
Wheat, of course, is a temperate crop that flourishes in places like Kansas. But in Cerrado, a vast savannah, wheat varieties created for tropical climates and nutrient-poor soil bloom alongside corn, soybeans and cotton.
Once a wasteland, the Cerrado is now the motor of an agro-industry so potent that Brazil threatens to surpass the US as breadbasket to the world. The answer to how that transformation happened can be found at a government-run agricultural research centre Embrapa where scientists make Brazil's poor soils fertile while developing crop varieties that will thrive.
"When we started to plant in the Cerrado, I could never have imagined we'd be planting wheat," said Kramer.
Brazil is considered an economic success story among markets. It is best known as a dominant power in the exportation of foodstuffs.
This has made Embrapa, which stands for the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corp, point of interest for the world.
"This is a country that only 40 years ago had problems feeding the population," said Francisco Souza, head of Embrapa's international wing. "How can you go, in 30 years, from importing all the food to becoming first or second or, at least, third-largest exporter? The driving force has been technology."
Scientists have developed varieties of soybeans, corn, cotton and other crops while finding methods to contain plagues. Bovine experts have been working on how to fatten up cattle faster and more efficiently while improving the quality of the meat.
Pedro Antonio Arraes, president of Embrapa said: "We are in research and development... but that's not our objective. What's important is, you have to provide innovation. You have to provide competitiveness for agro-business."
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