Silenced Alternatives, Invisible Pathways: Sustainable Agri-food Systems of the Cerrado, Brazil

IDS and the Centre for Sustainable Development at the University of Brasília are partners in convening a dialogue on sustainable agri-food development trajectories in Brazil, with a focus on the role of science, technology and knowledge.

Brazil has become a global agricultural powerhouse as leading producer and trader of agri-food commodities. It is often regarded as a success story of modernisation and this is invariably linked to the conversion of its tropical savannah (in the Cerrado biome) into farmland and the expansion of the production frontier, presently reaching Matopiba, a Cerrado subregion covering the states of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia. Despite the ecological and social costs of this trajectory, its logic remains unchallenged. Science and technology continue to be centred on productive intensification (often large-scale soybean mono-cropping) and top-down, linear approaches to innovation and extension, overlooking harmful impact on local people (smallholders, family farms and traditional and minority communities), food and nutrition security and agrobiodiversity. The dominant system overshadows technological alternatives with the potential to deliver sustainable, socially just and morally acceptable outcomes. This partnership comes at a time when sustainable development is at a crossroads globally and in Brazil, where the Amazon and the Cerrado are again under attack. It tackles an outstanding issue for both socio-economic development and ecological and cultural safeguarding. Seeking to influence agri-food policy and practice over the long term, it aims to expand/consolidate a network of UK and Brazilian scholars and practitioners working on alternative technology. The lead partners will build on their track record of engaged research in Brazil and the global South and experience in hosting events that link research with field practice.


  • Building the knowledge base by sharing evidence on and lived experiences with alternative technological pathways for sustainable agri-food systems, in relation to the SDGs.
  • Situating Brazil’s experience in the international context by contrasting its agricultural science and technology and public policies, with those of other countries in the global South.
  • Connecting Brazilian and UK early career researchers with a diversity of backgrounds.
  • Creating a safe space for fruitful interaction between research and practice by organising sessions with a balanced mix of researchers and practitioners
    Sustaining collaborative UK-Brazil research over the long term by promoting staff and student exchanges and consolidating network on a pressing global development challenge.

Envisaged Impact

  • Alternative technologies and diverse forms of knowledge and practices outside the frame of productive intensification become widely recognised as part of the solution to sustainable development.
  • Knowledge generated about alternative technologies and invisible pathways leads to changes in top-down, linear approach to agricultural science and technology, making this more embedded in local knowledge systems.
  • Engagement of practitioners drives new funding opportunities and new policies/programmes that harness and protect diverse technological practices and knowledge systems.


Key contacts

Lídia Cabral

Rural Futures Cluster Lead


Supported by
Newton Fund

About this project

Programmes and centres
Brazil IDS Initiative