Brighter Brazil? Sunflower expansion could answer global plant protein demands

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

©GettyImages/Mny-Jhee
©GettyImages/Mny-Jhee

Related tags: Brazil, Sunflower

Brazil is well-positioned to respond to increasing demands for sustainable plant protein through expanding its sunflower production within current soybean chains, say researchers.

Writing in Sustainability​, researchers from universities in Brazil and Germany assessed whether Brazil – a country with a “prominent role in the world agricultural supply” ​–  had the means to respond to rising plant protein demands through increased sunflower production. Sunflower was currently a non-established crop in the country, representing less than 1% of total soybean and maize planted areas.

Strong and steady sunflower production

“The growing international food demand, the call for plant proteins to improve sustainability, the technological possibilities for sunflower protein ingredients, and the prominent role of Brazil in the world agricultural supply constitute the research background of this article,”​ the researchers wrote.

Findings showed Brazil had a “small, but promising” ​sunflower agri-food chain established in the west-central state of Mato Grosso. This, the researchers said, was thanks to a number of “interconnected driving forces”​: entrepreneurial skills, social network, resource availability and crop sustainability.

“Our findings suggest that the entrepreneurial skills of large-scale farmers within a social network based on trust and personal and professional reputation, coupled with crop suitability, are the main underlying reasons for the successful sunflower agri-food chain endeavor in the micro-region of Parecis, Matto Grosso, Brazil.”

The production chain in this region had overcome many hurdles, they said, including an unfavorable geographical location leading to high transportation costs, and had proven to be a sustainable and lasting, complex social-economic endeavor. But was it primed to expand?

Soybeans to sunflower – a transition...

Analysis indicated that the Mato Grosso state did have potential to support new sunflower production, specifically among current soybean farmers.

“The main reason for this is the suitability of sunflower to be grown after the harvest of soybean in the same growing season. The cultivated area of soybean in Mato Grosso (9.3 million ha in 2016/2017) indicates enormous potential for an extension of the sunflower cultivation in soybean producing regions, as sunflower is cultivated in succession to soybean within a double-crop system,” ​the researchers wrote.

Mato Grosso already led national production of soybean and sunflower, so double cropping could also improve sustainability, they said.

Combined production would prove especially successful if new sunflower protein ingredients led to higher sunflower prices, they said, make the crop economically more attractive. Processing also faced little domestic competition.

The researchers said that importantly soybean farmers in the region were suited to taking on the expansion because they shared a similar cultural background of “pioneering and collective actions”​ that would lessen costs and favor horizontal cooperation and collective investment.

Should soybean farmers wish to kick-start sunflower agri-food production, the researchers said there were several clear “enabling factors” ​to successful development that could be taken from the current sunflower success: the formation of a cohesive and committed organizing group and at least one leader with technical and market experience.

“The crucial components for successful business endeavors are a good opportunity, good entrepreneurs, and availability of resources needed to initiate and to sustain the business growth. These three components could be seen in the sunflower agri-food chain endeavor in Mato Grosso, having been enabled by the driving forces that led its establishment process,”​ they wrote.

The researchers did suggest, however, that further research would be needed to establish where such expansion could happen, considering land use competition issues with other crops. 

Source: Sustainability

Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.3390/su10072215

Title: “Agri-Food Chain Establishment as a Means to Increase Sustainability in Food Systems: Lessons from Sunflower in Brazil”

Authors: L. Oliveira de Sousa, MDP. Ferreira and M. Mergenthaler

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