Life and Work
alysson paolinelli

July 10th, 1936, Alysson Paolinelli was born, in the small municipality Bambuí, with 5,000 inhabitants, Minas Gerais. The city is 270 km from Belo Horizonte, the capital of the state. His father was an agronomist and responsible for the small town’s agricultural technical assistance office. Early on, Alysson realized there the importance of the public sector’s role in agricultural development and in improving the population’s life and income. This was a seed that germinated as visions and dreams for Brazilian agriculture, still in its youth.

He left his hometown at the age of 15 to attend high school in Lavras / Minas Gerais, where he also graduated as an agronomist from the Lavras School of Agriculture (ESAL), in 1959. In the same year, he became a professor of Hydraulics, Irrigation and Drainage at the institution, where he would later serve as Director, until 1970.

New Model

Invited to the Minas Gerais Department of Agriculture in 1971, he took on the challenge of implementing a new agricultural production matrix in the State, based on the incorporation of technology and credit policies that stimulate modernization. Then he created the Integrated Credit Program (PCI), aiming to implement colonization projects guided by technical assistance. This was an innovative policy in Brazil at that time, which even brought more strength to the concept of sustainability in the country’s food production.

The seed bed of Transformation

The PCI was a program of historic importance, even inspiring the creation of subsequent federal programs. In 1973, another project highlighted Paolinelli’s activities: the settlements in the Alto Pananaíba region, developed in partnership with the Agricultural Cooperative of Cotia (CAC) and under the management of the Alto Paranaíba Directed Settlement Program (PADAP), which would become a model for the organization of other agricultural colonization projects in the Brazilian Cerrado.

alysson paolinelli

Paolinelli in the Ministry

His job as Secretary of Agriculture was focused on increasing food production and aligning with sustainability concepts. That is why he called the attention of the Federal Government, which invited Alysson Paolinelli to the Ministry of Agriculture. He took office in March 1974 and opened a period of striking policies for the agricultural sector and for the development of the Brazilian Midwest.

He prioritized science and structured the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), attracting the best brains from universities and technical assistance agencies and offering more than 2,000 scholarships for Master’s and Doctorate degrees, at the best agricultural science universities in the world. The mission: to bring to Brazil the most modern agricultural research and technology on the planet.

The objective was to expand agriculture at an accelerated rate, reduce food imports and achieve self-sufficiency. The goal was to intensify the rational occupation of areas in the Midwest. To deal with this challenge, Paolinelli created, in 1975, the Cerrados Development Program (Polocentro) with new agricultural policy mechanisms for the region, bringing infrastructure and technology to the food production.

To support the Polocentro with specific agricultural research for the region, Embrapa Cerrados was also implemented, boosting a jump in brazilian agriculture: between 1975 and 2020, our grain production grew 6.4 times (from 39.4 million tons to 251,9 million tons) and the planting area just doubled (from 32.8 to 65.2 million ha). It was the largest sustainable agricultural revolution in history.

alysson paolinelli

Executive, parliamentary and rural leader

After the Ministry, he took over the Bank of Minas Gerais State (Bemge), in which he stayed from 1979 to 1983, with innovative management. In the same decade, he assumed the presidency of Fiat Allis Latin (1983-1986) and then returned to the federal government, now in the Legislative: he was elected as federal deputy by Minas Gerais in 1987, participating in the National Constituent Assembly that promulgated the Brazilian Federal Constitution 1988. In the same period, he was chosen as president of the National Agriculture Confederation (CNA).

Borlaug’s praise

After the legislative period, Paolinelli once again occupied the Minas Gerais Agriculture Department (1991-1998), starting again his tireless struggle for the modernization of farmers fand food production.

It was around this time that Alysson Paolinelli’s work received the recognition that he considers to be the most important in his life. It came from Norman Borlaug, considered “father” of the Green Revolution. He also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. Visiting Brazil in 1994, Borlaug told the press:

“The Brazilian Cerrado is being the stage for humanity’s second “Green Revolution”. Brazilian researchers developed technologies that 20 years ago made an unproductive area in the largest food reserve in the world. I want to take these technologies to Africa”. (Folha de S. Paulo, 12/13/1994).

Norman Boulaug, Prêmio Nobel da Paz de 1970, esteve no Brasil nos anos 1990 e elogiou a revolução agrícola tropical

The biggest food security award

In the past two decades, Paolinelli has remained active in the political-economic scene of Brazilian agriculture, always opening new horizons with his views and leadership. Its main highlights in this period were:

  • In 2006 he received the World Food Prize (see box below).
  • In 2010 he was chosen president of the Brazilian Association of Maize Producers (Abramilho), preparing Brazil’s transformation into a major corn exporter;
  • Also started to direct the Future Forum, an initiative aimed at the debate on sustainable development — with a focus on science, research, innovation and technology;
  • In 2019 he was nominated as Goodwill Ambassador of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA);
  • And he also became the holder of the Luiz de Queiroz Chair at the Luiz de Queiroz School of Agriculture (ESALQ-USP), an honor reserved for notable personalities.

Main awards and honors

In 2006 Alysson Paolinelli received the World Food Prize (photo below), an international award created by Norman Borlaug to recognize the work of people with a huge and relevant contribution to world food security. The award is regarded as a “Nobel Prize for Food” and its official website highlights the following about Paolinelli’s choice:

“Before Paolinelli’s work, Brazil needed to import most of its food. But in the decades after the development of its agricultural production plan for the Cerrado region, Brazil became an exporter of food (…) ”.

Other outstanding awards:

  • Frederico de Menezes Veiga Award, from Embrapa (1981);
  • Professor Emeritus at the University of Lavras (2006);
  • Personality of Agribusiness (2006), by the Brazilian Agribusiness Association;
    National Order of Scientific Merit — Grã-Cruz Class (2008);
  • Medal of 150 years of MAPA – Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply;
  • Luiz de Queiroz Medal (2017).
  • In 2019 he was appointed Goodwill Ambassador of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).