Over almost two decades, a plant disease known as Asian rust has infiltrated soybean fields across Brazil -- the world’s biggest exporter of the versatile oilseed used in countless consumer products. But the pathogen has become so resistant to chemicals meant to kill it that many farmers spray several times during their growing seasons, and still endure output losses.
Embrapa (Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisas Agropecuarias) created tropical agriculture in Brazil, thus allowing the country to become the giant food producer it is today. Hailed for the work done in adapting soybeans to the hot, humid, acidic climes of the Cerrado savannah, where nearly 17% of the world's beans are now cultivated, the state-run research company is a national treasure.
Illegally smuggled into Brazil 14 years ago, transgenic soy has proved a boon to domestic farmers and now accounts for 85 percent of total production. But five million Brazilian farmers are now locked in a legal feud with US biotech giant Monsanto, the GM soy seed manufacturer, and are refusing to pay crop royalties.