Embrapa, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, is on the road and crossing borders. Since 1998, the company has maintained important projects overseas. Different actions are carried out, such as the Embrapa Foreign Virtual Laboratory (Labex), technical visits for exchange of experiences and, more recently, regional offices.
The first one of these units was installed in the African continent, in Accra, the capital of Ghana, in November 2006, and inaugurated in 2008 by president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on a visit to the country. For 2009, an office is scheduled to open in South Korea.
The Korean office is going to be a new experience to the Embrapa. "The model differs from the existing one," says Bonifácio Magalhães, supervisor for bilateral international cooperation at the Foreign Relations Advisory (ARI), and explains that an exchange will take place.
"The Koreans will set up an office in Brazil, probably in one of the Embrapa units, and we will set up an unit there. We intend to promote bilateral cooperation, the region is strategic to us," he explains.
Talks concerning the opening of the office in Asia began in 2005, when Brazil and Korea signed a memorandum of understanding turned to cooperation between the two nations. In 2007, a Korean delegation visited the Embrapa premises in Brazil.
The Koreans are basically interested in the country's knowledge in fruit farming, rice and barley, which are the main products of Korea. "In March, they should return to Brazil for us to outline the format of the partnership," says Magalhães.
Other foreign actions, to be continued in 2009, are those of reassessment and implementation of Labex units. Unlike the regional offices, which, among other tasks, are entrusted with sharing the knowledge of the Embrapa, the laboratories operate by capturing information produced by developed countries.
"They operate as antennae on the cutting-edge of technology, and represent a shortcut for us to have access to information," says Magalhães.
Currently, there are Labex units in the United States, France and the Netherlands. The United States laboratory is the oldest, having been inaugurated in 1998. "It was a breakthrough when Embrapa opened the Labex in the United States, it was a research-oriented organization from a developing country seeking the partnership of developed countries," explains Magalhães.
The collaboration with the North Americans brought many benefits to Brazilian research in the agricultural fiend, especially concerning genetics. Through the intermediation of the corporation's technicians, the State of São Paulo Research Foundation (Fapesp) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) closed a deal for the sequencing of the Xylella Fastidiosa bacteria, which plagued orange farms in the state of São Paulo and vines in the state of California. The results of the research were disclosed in 2003.
In the United States, the Embrapa maintains five professionals, headquartered in the city of Beltsville, in the state of Maryland. Each technician remains at the Labex for two years, after which period they may go to another country, for instance, or return to Brazil.
The region in which the professionals operate also changes, and this is one of the contributing factors to the agility of the Labex. "If we realize that a given state or university is developing something important, then we place someone there, establish a partnership etc," says Magalhães.
In Europe, where the same model is adopted as in the United States, there are six professionals, but that should change in 2009, with the opening of a new laboratory in England.
"We have issued an edict in order to select the researcher that is going to operate there," informs Magalhães. The executive also says that Germany will probably host a Labex in the coming years, but for the time being, they are "just flirting with the idea."
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