October 12, 2006

SIUC alumnus Edson Lobato returns to campus: Ag expert to talk about Brazilian agriculture

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- One of three winners of this year's $250,000 World Food Prize will visit the Southern Illinois University Carbondale campus and give a free seminar on his research.

Agronomist Edson Lobato, a native of Brazil and a 1973 graduate of what is now the College of Agricultural Sciences, will speak on the explosion in growth of Brazilian agriculture beginning at 1 p.m. Monday, Oct. 23, in the Agriculture Building's Muckelroy Auditorium. A public reception will take place before his talk, beginning at noon in Room 209 of the Agriculture Building.

Set up in 1986 by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman E. Borlaug, the World Food Prize honors work that makes food for the world's people better, more plentiful or easier to get.

Lobato, now retired from the Brazilian ag research company known as EMBRAPA, will share the award with Brazil's former agriculture minister H.E. Alysson Paolinelli and American A. Colin McClung, Washington, D.C. representative of the IRI Research Institute, an agribusiness development company that aims to improve living standards in Third World countries. The presentation ceremony will take place Oct. 19 at the state capitol building in Des Moines, Iowa, as part of a World Food Prize international symposium.

All three winners spent their careers turning a huge expanse of dry, grassland plains in Brazil into fertile cropland where agricultural production has tripled in 30 short years. The region, known as the Cerrado (Portuguese for "closed"or "locked up"), now accounts for more than half the country's beef, soybeans and coffee. Farmers there also have expanded into rice, cotton, sugar and cassava, a starchy root that serves as the basis of nutritious food products in many tropical areas.

Lobato, who earned his master's at SIUC in plant and soil science, focused on soil fertility and agriculture production in the Cerrado, branching out as knowledge advanced into research relating to soil microbiology, soil management and crop management.

Borlaug, often called the "father of the Green Revolution" for developing a wheat variety that helped Pakistani and Indian farmers almost double their yields in just five years, dubbed the Cerrado's increased productivity as "one of the great achievements of agricultural science in the 20th century."

"Eventually, the Cerrado technology, or one similar to it, will move into the llanos (plains) in Colombia and Venezuela and hopefully into central and southern Africa, where similar soil problems are found," he said in a backgrounder issued by the World Food Prize Foundation.

"This will bring tens of millions of additional acres, previously marginal for agriculture, into high-yield agriculture. Hundreds of millions of people will benefit from this work."

Developing citizen-leaders with global perspectives is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.