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Brazil's Fight to End Its Foreign Fertilizer Addiction

Brazil's Embrapa Solos Brazilian state company Embrapa Solos (Soils), in partnership with the private sector, is developing organic fertilizers based on industrial residues. With this, Brazil may reduce imports of nutrients, which represent almost 75% of the 30 million tons consumed per year.

With regard to potassium, the country currently imports 92% of the volume consumed. "And the tendency is for this total to grow," said researcher José Carlos Polidoro, one of the coordinators of the project.

Roda d'ígua, from Minas Gerais, was the first private company to seek Embrapa interested in creating new products for the Brazilian organic agriculture market, developing its own fertilizers for tropical agriculture, making greater use of nutrients.

Polidoro said that the Embrapa Soils objective is to stimulate national companies that already produce fertilizers through non-technological processes, based simply on composting organic residues, offering technological support for their products to have minimum technical guarantees, making them able to replace imported products.

Initially, Embrapa Soils should make use of residues supplied by Roda d'ígua group as raw material, including residues from the brewery, like barley bagasse, supplied by Ambev, and the waste supplied by the industrial restaurant of carmaker Fiat, to make organic fertilizer. "What we want now is to improve this fertilizer."

According to Polidoro, the product reaches the requirements for certification at the Ministry of Agriculture. "But it cannot yet compete with imported fertilizer, as it has too low levels of nutrients." With this service, the Embrapa is trying to use its technology to place on the market a fertilizer capable of competing with the imported product.

Another positive aspect is protection of the environment through the reuse of residues for the production of fertilizers. To Polidoro, the use of adequate fertilizers is one of the factors necessary for Brazilian organic agriculture to reach high productivity with low environmental impact. "Then, it becomes a professional activity, which should always be sought in agriculture."

Eight researchers worked on the organic fertilizer project, which also uses residues like grass cuttings, charcoal, bio fortification and horse waste. "Besides being a viable alternative to reduce dependence on foreign inputs, it avoids environmental impacts caused by all these residues," said Polidoro.

He pointed out that even imported products must be well used in agriculture. "We cannot throw fertilizers out, nor allow residues like potassium to be turned to garbage dumps, or accumulate in industrial patios. It must all become fertilizer."

To him, companies must start producing competitive organic fertilizer from industrial residues, adding technology. For Brazilian agriculture, it is a question of "national safety", as the country needs agribusiness to maintain the positive commercial balance, said the researcher.

"It is dangerous to depend so much on imports like this, as there are few countries that export these nutrients." The main exporters of potassium are Russia, Canada, China and the United States.

Polidoro said that the only nutrient for fertilizer currently produced in Brazil is phosphate, which is equivalent to 50% of consumption.

In 1993, the country produced 100% of the phosphate it consumed. "There was even excess phosphate, which we exported to Latin America. Now we import half of the phosphate we consume." With great phosphate reserves, Morocco is the main Brazilian supplier of the product.

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