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Research and Development

Scientific advances are continuous, occur in irreversible ways and are increasingly assimilated, becoming part of the lives of all human beings. Nanotechnology is the result of these advances and emerged as a result of the combination and evolution of several fields of human knowledge, including chemistry, materials science, biology, electronics, computing and physics.

As with electricity and computers, nanotechnology will soon be present in almost every facet of daily life, and as an integrated science, it offers the opportunity to interfere in several economic sectors and agriculture is no exception.

Particularly in developing countries, the application of nanotechnology in production systems or in the food industry will bring unprecedented impacts and, according to United Nations calculations, could generate benefits for an estimated five billion people in the coming years. These benefits are not only from an economic point of view, but directly or even indirectly, such as an increase in the quality of life, an increase in food production per cultivated area, an improvement in the quality of agro-industrial processes and access to new products for a greater number of people. consumers.

Several agricultural-based economy countries such as Brazil, India, Thailand, Mexico, South Africa and Argentina, among others, have established specific nanotechnology and nanoscience programs, largely focused on applications in the agro-industrial sector, environment, pharmaceutical and food.

The objective of the research in nanotechnology carried out at Embrapa and at other private companies is to improve human intervention, through the use of the development of tools that allow control over events, facilitating decision-making to obtain better traceability, productivity and quality. To this end, a network ( Agronono ) was organized, which has more than 150 researchers from Embrapa research centers and 53 different institutions, covering the entire national territory.

Nanotechnology in Agriculture

As in other areas of knowledge, nanotechnology is extremely important for agribusiness in general. Nanotechnology could generate an improvement in quality associated with monitoring and reducing environmental damage. It will benefit the use of precision agriculture, the traceability of products, certification, the production of biofuels, the input industry (fertilizers, pesticides) and medicines for veterinary use, the food industry, as well as several other sectors linked to the agro-industry. will inevitably benefit from advances in nanotechnology.

The objective of nanotechnology in the agricultural segment is to improve this human intervention, through the use of sensor devices, increasing control over events and facilitating decision-making to obtain better traceability, productivity and quality. We have as an example precision agriculture, which today manages to add and adapt advanced technologies to improve production efficiency.

Nanotechnology is also working on the development of highly sensitive biosensors and transducers that allow the identification and quantification of chemical, organic compounds or other impurities or changes in composition, whether in plants or fruits, as well as in soils.

Irrigation control devices or high-performance sensors such as the so-called "tongues", "noses" and electronic "eyes" should certainly invade the market soon, generating an enormous possibility for analysis and decision making.

Potential of Nanotechnology for Agribusiness

Although Brazilian agribusiness today occupies a position of world leader, continuous investment in new technologies is essential for the country to be able to continue growing and open new markets in this very dynamic sector of the economy (BANCO DO BRASIL, 2004; ALVES, 2001). Thus, nanotechnology offers extremely promising opportunities for improving the competitiveness and performance of agricultural processes and products in several areas, adding value to products, and taking advantage of market niches that, due to our tropical characteristics, will have competitive advantages, and some of these will be briefly described below. (MATTOSO, 2005; DURÁN et al., 2005, ETC GROUP, 2004).

The importance of nanotechnology in agribusiness starts from the beginning of the production chains, contributing significantly to the improvement of performance, efficiency and economy of inputs (fertilizers, pesticides, etc.), through the development of nanoparticles and nanoencapsulation for controlled release of fertilizers and pesticides in soils and also drugs for veterinary use (MATTOSO, 2005; DURÁN et al., 2005, ETC GROUP, 2004).

In recent years, pressure has increased in Brazil for the development of agricultural inputs of better quality and performance, due to greater access to external products, as well as the need to reduce the environmental impact associated with the use of these inputs. There is a growing demand for fertilizers that are better absorbed by plants, that do not undergo segregation during the formulation and transport stage, and that are easier to handle and apply. Pesticides with increasing efficiency in the application are also desirable not only for the economic advantage, but, above all, for the reduction of the environmental impact, reduction of the toxicity for the man during its application and reduction of the pollutant load fed to the physical environment.

Thus, the application of nanotechnology in the sector of agricultural inputs aims to improve the functional efficiency of products such as nutrients, chemically synthesized pesticides (herbicides, insecticides and parasiticides) or of a biological nature (microorganisms with specific activity against a target pest), as well as safety in the handling of these products, reducing risks of toxicity to humans, high concentrations in crops and environmental contamination. Such an approach is in line with the requirements relevant to the preservation of quality of life and reduction of the risks of contamination of the environment.

Brazil currently saves 1.5 billion dollars a year in nitrogen fertilizers only in the soybean crop, thanks in particular to the research carried out by Embrapa and partner institutions, in the development of biological nitrogen fixation in the crop of this legume, which demonstrates the potential that the aggregation of new technologies can have in this sector.

Nanotechnology can also significantly contribute to improving the performance of agricultural products and the development of new applications, adding value, opening new markets and thus helping the country's ability to move from a simple commodity producer, in the form of in natura food, to a generator. of a series of other products from renewable sources and obtained in a sustainable way, as is the most recent case of agroenergy.

From the moment we begin to know, dominate and manipulate plants, animals, food and other agricultural products, in general, at the nanotechnology level, we will be able to better explore all the properties of their constituents and be able to use the same grain for example, extracting food, milk, edible oil, fuel oil, paint, plastic, rubber, medicine and other products whose potential is still unknown. Thus, the development of new uses of agricultural products is an area that can be significantly boosted by exploring nanotechnology.

Among the plant components, lignocellulosics stand out, which have extremely promising properties for replacing various synthetic materials, such as sisal fibers that can already replace glass fibers in some applications in the plastics and automotive parts industry. With the increasing concern about environmental pollution and the problems with the increase of waste, generating more and more non-degradable waste, the use of biodegradable natural products, such as polymers from agriculture for the manufacture of plastics and biodegradable packaging is a pressing need. .

In addition to expanding the market, through the availability and valorization of new products, the development of technologies that revert the concept of waste to that of raw material, such as the extraction of plant nanofibers or silica nanoparticles from agro-industry waste for the production of plastic nanocomposites , or the production of other products of industrial interest, is essential to optimize the efficiency of the industry, and can contribute to the aggregation of value and profitability of agricultural products, and improve the competitiveness and economic stability of the country (MATTOSO, 2005; DURÁN et al., 2005; ETC GROUP, 2004).

In agribusiness, there are numerous areas where nanotechnology can make a significant contribution to increase the sector's competitiveness. An example is in improving the performance of agro-industrial processes and products, through the development of separation and/or barrier membranes for various agro-industrial processes and active and intelligent packaging for food and beverages and water purification, with nanostructure control, which have a enormous importance in this sector.

The food agroindustry has faced huge losses during the storage, transport and distribution of fresh, pre-cut and packaged foods. To reduce the quantitative and qualitative losses of food during storage, transport and distribution, packaging systems (active and intelligent) are being developed that monitor not only the quality of food but also the condition of the environment that surrounds it. These packages can also indicate the break in the cold chain and can reveal the history of these products during the main stages of commercialization.

Packaging can regulate the respiration rate of plant products, reduce the degeneration process of food and/or perishable products by the action of microorganisms in real storage and conservation conditions, increasing their shelf life and also introducing elements in the packaging capable of retaining undesirable components of these foods, which deteriorate their quality and/or introduce compounds such as antimicrobial agents that can improve the sensory characteristics of the product, increasing its shelf life with consequent opening of new markets for export, and extremely significant economic gains (MATTOSO, 2005, DURÁN et al., 2005; ETC GROUP, 2004)

Agricultural machinery and equipment

The nanotechnology present in computer processors and miniaturized devices can be adapted for use in tractors, machines and agricultural implements, as well as in the entire food processing chain. The generation of maps of soil composition, moisture, temperature, etc. allows not only the proper planting, but also monitoring, in real time, the presence of diseases, the level of nutrients in the soil and defining the ideal period for the harvest, the which reduces losses and rationalizes the application of inputs. These processes are already advanced on a global scale and Embrapa has been a pioneer, with a strong presence in the sector.

How technology works

The process is carried out by satellite radiation, where it preferably starts before planting, where it is possible to act more effectively in the release in the soil molecular system, where it optimizes na  release of nutrients from the soil,_cc781905- 5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ helping the health of plants and their growth, it acts by inhibiting pests, but this is just a consequence of the process.

In the pre-flowering and in the formation of the pods/knife, leaves, roots there is a considerable increase, which acts directly on the metabolism, helping the filling and quality of the grains even more.

With indications of drought, the technology is able to act on water retention with the plant, in which it absorbs less water during this period, suffering less water stress.

In conditions with excessive rainfall, the technology acts on the plant system, creating resistance in the pods/knife, leaves, roots to absorb less water, thus avoiding greater incidences of rotting in soybeans, thus bringing an increase in final production, which can reach up to 30% or more percent, in the  ganho and in the yield of the harvest per ha.

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