Brazil Managing Insect Resistance in Biotech Crops

Brazil is the second largest grower of biotech crops in the world, with over 44 million hectares of biotech soybean, maize and cotton planted in 2015. In the two decades that Brazilian farmers have been growing these crops, they have enjoyed numerous environmental, productivity and economic benefits from insect-resistant and herbicide- tolerant varieties.

Adriana Brodani

All farmers face concerns and challenges when trying to grow crops for a high-quality harvest, such as diseases, insect pests and preventing pest resistance to control methods. To address the latter, in July 2015, the Council for Biotechnology Information in Brazil (CiB Brazil in Portuguese) launched the Insect Resistance Management (IRM) program, Best Practices on Bt Crops (BOAS).  This farmer education program is aimed at about 100,000 growers working with insect resistant biotech soybean, maize and cotton. It is coordinated with the Insecticide Resistance Action Committee Brazil, which provides technical recommendations. BOAS encourages farmers to follow best practices such as:

  • Planting certified seeds;
  • Monitoring fields for insects;
  • Controlling weed and invasive
    plants in fields because
    they attract more insects;
  • Implementing refuge areas.

CiB Brazil has been particularly focused on outreach efforts to encourage the adoption of refuge areas — a non-biotech border or strip around a field of insect-resistant biotech crops. Refuges can prevent insect resistance to the biotech crop by keeping the genetic pool mixed among insect pests. For soybean and cotton, the plant biotech industry recommends a refuge of 20 percent of total acres, and for maize, 10 percent.

Implementing BOAS
To date, BOAS has reached out to almost 10,000 soybean, maize and cotton farmers through conferences, interactive lectures, media outreach, advertisements, written materials and creative methods such as an in-person decision-making game. Advertisements and articles have helped spread the word about best IRM practices — with catchy radio ads airing in 10 agricultural states, ads appearing in 30 newspapers and more than 40 news articles published.

CiB Brazil has also partnered with several organizations to amplify messages about the importance of IRM and refuge adoption — from collaborating with the Brazilian government to grower groups. The Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture worked with CiB Brazil to develop a website on refuge for insect-resistant biotech crops and develop technical information on best practices.

To maximize outreach to farmers, CiB Brazil has partnered with the Brazilian soybean, cotton and maize grower associations and the National Service of Rural Education, which have regular meetings with farmers where IRM information can be shared. They also promote the industry’s best practices to farmers through all of their communications channels.
Last year, AgroBio Brazil, an industry association focused on biotech regulations, launched the incentive program, Refuge Pays Off, to encourage farmer adoption of refuges. Farmers planting refuges in the city of Maracaju in the state Mato Grosso do Sul are awarded with points that can be exchanged for prizes, including electronics. CiB Brazil has partnered with AgroBio Brazil to promote the incentive program.
Impact of BOAS
Following best IRM practices is important because it enhances the longevity of insect-resistant biotech seeds, improves insect control and ensures sustainable farming. Grower groups have conducted surveys with farmers to better understand the impact of industry education efforts. Surveys have revealed that without training, farmers generally know what a refuge is, but they don’t understand of how to implement one. Farmers who have participated in the BOAS program indicate they more fully understand how to implement refuges and best IRM practices.
CiB Brazil’s goal by 2018 is to directly reach out to 50,000 biotech farmers in Brazil and another 100,000 through indirect means such as advertising. Leveraging partnerships with grower groups and other agricultural stakeholders will expand CiB Brazil’s farmer education activities. In addition, it is working with ANDEF, the Brazilian crop protection association, and AgroBio Brazil to develop a farmer education program on weed resistance management, which will be launched in 2018.


Adriana Brodani is executive director of the Council for Biotechnology Information Brazil in São Paulo.