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[RIO DE JANEIRO] Brazil is taking steps to increase the value of its exports by developing agricultural nanotechnologies — microscopic products intended to improve the quality of farm produce.

The Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) said last week (17 April) that it would be building a US$1.9 million laboratory dedicated to the field.

The National Nanotechnology Laboratory for Agribusiness will be housed at Embrapa's agricultural instrumentation unit in São Paulo while purpose built facilities are set up in the city later this year.

The unit's head, Ladislau Martin-Neto, says the next steps will be importing research equipment and recruiting a committee to manage the lab.

Areas of research have already been defined. They include producing 'nanofibres' to strengthen natural fibres, for example those from coconut and sisal, and making 'nanoparticles' that contain pesticides and control their release.

Additional funds will support a network of researchers from Embrapa units, universities, research institutions and the private sector to encourage research collaborations.

Martin-Neto says that although Embrapa has been conducting research in agricultural nanotechnology for ten years, Brazil has a long way to go to keep up with the developed world.

"Our investments are very small compared to those of the United States and Japan," he says. "We are investing in tropical agriculture as it is an area in which Brazil can be competitive. The number of patents registered in this field is still limited."

Agriculture accounts for about 30 per cent of Brazil's gross domestic product.

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