Brazil: Embrapa's First Female President

“Embrapa has always based its research on studies on the demands of the productive sector and society…”

Silvia Maria Fonseca Silveira Massruhá is the president of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation – Embrapa.

Massruhá has a degree in systems analysis from PUC Campinas, an M.Sc degree in automation from Unicamp, and a Ph.D in applied computing from the National Institute for Space Research – INPE.

AgriBrasilis – Did the change in government impact the direction of research carried out by Embrapa?

Silvia Massruhá – Embrapa has always based its research on studies on the demands of the productive sector and society. These strategies have guided the work of research centers over the past five decades.

It is true that movements are taking place in the Company’s research agenda to contribute to priority segments, based on what is intended for science in the next 50 years. It is in this direction that Embrapa will act, based on the commitment to a more sustainable agriculture, based on plurality and dialogue with the productive sector and society, especially with regard to the fight against hunger and inequality reduction.

Research can contribute to the production of healthy food, produced on a sustainable basis, guiding the nutritional and energy transition. We seek to invest in socio-productive inclusion, ensuring that technology and innovation strengthen small and medium-sized farmers.

Bioeconomy, focused on the peculiarities of Brazilian biomes; the strengthening of vanguard research in tropical science; biotechnology; gene editing; nanotechnology; Precision and digital agriculture are among our priorities, so that agriculture can develop in an egalitarian and fair way.

Embrapa’s mission is to enable research, development, and innovation solutions for agricultural sustainability, for the benefit of society. We work for the 5 million Brazilian farmers, from the most to the least tech-savvy.

The research contributions were fundamental for the revolution that Brazil has experienced in the field in the last 50 years. We were a country that imported food, with precarious agriculture. We have become an agricultural power, with a repertoire of specific technologies for the tropical environment, developed by Brazilian scientists. During this period, Embrapa acted strongly with the development of technologies, knowledge, and actions for family farming.

Social technologies promote the production of food in small spaces, in urban and rural areas, and have contributed to millions of people, who were inserted in the universe of entrepreneurship and community development. For example, the Integrated Food Production System, known as Sisteminha, has just turned 21 and is already being adopted in other countries, where low-income families are able to produce through simple structures implemented with available resources.


Integrated Food Production System, known as Sisteminha (Embrapa)

In conjunction with other institutions, Embrapa participates in initiatives to strengthen the Technical Assistance and Rural Extension (Ater) and its component, Ater Digital, to value regional food and to favor access to small machines for small farmers, for example.

Embrapa will continue to work for all farmers, at the forefront of science, with the aim of producing healthy food on a sustainable basis.

AgriBrasilis – What is the financial return of Embrapa’s research and social balance?

Silvia Massruhá – For 26 years, Embrapa has followed the results of the research it develops and the impact of this work on Brazilian society. According to the 26th edition of the Social Report, the Company posted a social profit of US$ 26.61 billion in 2022, based on the economic impact of 172 technologies and 110 cultivars developed in the agricultural sector.

For every US$ 1 invested in the institution in 2021, US$ 23.38 was returned to the society. For every US$ 1 invested in the Company in 2022, US$ 34.70 was returned to society. This growth can be justified, among other factors, by the impact of biological nitrogen fixation technology, responsible for US$ 15.2 billion of social profit in 2022. These technologies and cultivars were responsible for the generation of more than 95,000 jobs.

Since 1997, when the first version of the Social Balance was published, Embrapa has demonstrated an accumulated social profit of more than US$ 274.86 billion and the generation of more than 1.7 million jobs.

AgriBrasilis – How did the budget cuts affect the company? What is the status of resources and what is expected for 2024?

Silvia Massruhá – Budget cuts always affect the activities of a company like Embrapa, since we work with the development of research and innovation. We cannot do it without the continuation of decades-long studies and we have as a priority the investment in advanced technological resources to meet a bold research program, for an extremely important segment of the country, such as agriculture and livestock.

For 2023, Embrapa’s budget was approved without vetoes by the Presidency of the Republic, guaranteeing US$ 761.16 million. We are working with the Federal Government so that in 2024 the Company has a budget compatible with its importance and mission.

AgriBrasilis – Embrapa has focused on public-private partnerships. How do these partnerships work and what projects are in progress?

Silvia Massruhá – This is an important strategy for institutions dedicated to scientific development, such as Embrapa, whose research program requires the continuity of promoting deliveries to society and to the segment most committed to the production of healthy and competitive foods.

We need to have resources to keep public research in line with the frontier of knowledge in the medium and long term. We must maintain public-private partnerships to advance in the short term, as is the case in countries in North America, Europe, and Asia.

Embrapa adopted the TRL/MRL scale (Technology Readiness Levels/Manufacturing Readiness Levels), also used by NASA, for evaluating a technology according to its degree of development and its classification in Technological Maturity Levels. In this way, public-private partnerships are essential for technologies to be brought to the market. These are projects classified as Type III, i.e., Open Innovation, created as a way to increase the insertion of Embrapa’s assets in the productive sector and as a way to prioritize them in the institutional environment. These projects include joint activities with the external environment (partners), such as co-creation (activities that enable planned actions from the conception of the idea to the intended result), and co-development (activities that enable the evolution on the TRL/MRL ladder of an asset of Embrapa). Currently, Embrapa maintains a partnership with 316 partner institutions. There are 277 projects in progress.

AgriBrasilis – What is the company’s role in relation to sustainability, decarbonization, and mitigation of climate change?

Silvia Massruhá – The challenge of producing sustainably is among the priorities of agricultural research developed by Embrapa. This commitment is translated into targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions proposed during the UN Conference on Climate Change in 2009 and updated in 2022.

More efficient and more sustainable production systems have been developed and improved. Historically, Embrapa has contributed with technologies such as Biological Nitrogen Fixation (that last year saved Brazilian farmers more than US$ 14.8 billion in nitrogen fertilizer), no-tillage farming, integration systems, agricultural practices, genetic improvement programs, etc. These technologies made it possible to produce more in less area, making Brazilian agriculture more efficient. This has an impact on the maintenance of natural areas and the reduction of gas emissions.

There are recent initiatives, with protocols that provide parameters for low-carbon production. In 2021, two programs were started: Low Carbon Milk and Low Carbon Soybean. Pioneering research in this line gave rise to the Neutral Carbon Meat seal, a partnership between Embrapa and Marfrig, which launched the exclusive line for certified products on the market in 2020.

RenovaCalc is an example of the creation of methodologies to measure the impacts of agriculture on the climate. It contributes to the quantification of GHG emissions from biofuels and is part of the National Biofuel Policy.

It is also worth mentioning the Saltus project, which is focused on forestry activities. Saltus brings together actions that investigate how original or planted forests contribute to combating the effects of climate change. There is no doubt about the importance of this topic for agribusiness, not only at the national level but globally, because of the environmental and economic impacts on the guarantee of food security and the competitiveness of agribusiness in Brazil.

Investments in research and development of technologies associated with production systems must prioritize strategies that are more resilient to climate change, thinking both immediately and in the long term.

AgriBrasilis – How did the digitization of agribusiness change Embrapa’s activities?

Silvia Massruhá – Digitization has an impact on several fronts in agriculture. This process has facilitated the farmer’s access to knowledge generated by science. Embrapa offers software and applications to the productive sector for this purpose.

A resource of great impact that we can mention is the application “Zarc – Plantio Certo”, which helps farmers and agents of the agribusiness chain. Through the Agricultural Climatic Risk Zoning, they receive the indication of different risk rates of losses because of meteorological events, associated with the planting times of 43 crops throughout the national territory. It is a support tool for management and production planning, that benefits agents in the agricultural credit and insurance chain. It is also a great cooperation platform, that goes beyond a project or program, as it involves research institutions, sectors of the productive sector, associations and federations of farmers, insurance companies, government, and academy.

Artificial intelligence, big data, and blockchain are among the main trends identified for the transformation of agriculture. Science has used these resources to target activities in the field and increase the competitiveness of the sector, reducing costs and time. The Brazilian farmer supports science and quickly incorporates new technologies in the field. Embrapa has done its part, but more investments are still needed to promote the democratization of these tools.

Recently, Embrapa and Senai launched a mixed research and digital innovation unit in tropical agriculture in the city of Salvador, State of Bahia The aim was to develop digital solutions for agriculture in areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics, precision agriculture, internet of things, photonics, and traceability. The intention is to make the research results quickly reach the industrial scale and the market.

Another example is the recently launched Science Center for Development in Digital Agriculture, in partnership with Fapesp – The São Paulo Research Foundation. This project intends to encourage the integration of digital technologies in rural production processes in an effective and simple way, offering technological training and sharing knowledge and practices to accelerate the adoption of digital technologies.

Technology is not a fad, but a requirement. We need to intensify efforts at the frontier of knowledge for the development of innovative solutions and to reduce the “gap” of digital technology that exists between large and small farmers.

AgriBrasilis – You are the first woman to chair the institution. What is the female participation among the company’s employees?

Silvia Massruhá – In the current staff at Embrapa, 32.33% are women, of approximately 7,813 employees. In the Executive Board, many years ago, 25% of the staff was made up of women. In the last year, this value increased to 40%.

We want to increase female representation on the Executive Board to 60%. In the 43 Embrapa Units, the representation of women in leadership positions increased from 10% to 25% in recent years, but this is still too little.

Embrapa, being an agricultural research company, and an international scientific reference, can also stand out in the appreciation and visibility of women’s potential and contribute to this example of a successful research institution. We will work hard to make that happen.



Conservation and Quality of Soils in Brazil