Rochagem Congress Part 2: Professor Suzi Huff Theodoro on the Importance of Promoting Remineralization
Professor Suzi Huff Theodoro speaking at the III Brazilian Rochagem Congress.
V. Miranda Chase, the director of RTE’s online research database, gave a presentation and represented us at the III Brazilian Rochagem Congress. You can read more about the conference in our previous article.
The III Brazilian Rochagem Congress took place in November 2016 at the Embrapa Temperate Climate Research Center in Pelotas in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. The conference explored new technological developments in remineralization and identified channels for institutional partnerships between government sectors, academia, and the private sector. It was the third major remineralization conference held in Brazil.
In a memorable talk, Professor Suzi Huff Theodoro provided an in-depth look at the history of the movement that has brought remineralization where it is today. Her presentation started from Brazil’s decision to become a major food producer. This led to a dependence on imported fertilizers. As a result, Brazil needs to find locally-sourced fertilizers to achieve independence from foreign markets. Remineralization offers the opportunity for Brazil to become more energy independent in the agricultural sector.
Professor Huff Theodoro of the University of Brasilia talked about the history of remineralization for agriculture in Brazil and its pioneers. (She appears in a video that she presented at the conference. Read more about it in the article “Earth Fertilizing Itself.”) When she first started in the field, she and her colleagues worked in isolation for two reasons: first, very few people were working in the area of remineralization, and second, many people were skeptical of the use of rock dust, so working alone was a way to keep a low profile, in order to be able to work at all. Eventually, things started to change, and 2004 saw the first conference “Rocks for Crops” in Brasilia, which eventually produced the “Passos de Minas Letter,” a document with the principles that were being adopted to guide the rochagem movement. People from more than 16 countries attended the conference, and all attendees promised to go back to their countries and create laws to facilitate the use of rock dust.
After that there was a conference in Kenya, and then the II Rochagem Conference in Pocos de Caldas in 2013, where RTE’s Joanna Campe was a keynote speaker. During this conference, participants presented many academic works, many of which would not have been accepted in mainstream academic journals. Nevertheless, farmers on the ground said that the remineralization techniques were working. This knowledge that was being rejected in mainstream academic journals, but accepted by the agroecology movement, was able to address grassroots concerns and was able to explain things that mainstream science could not understand. Remineralization was advancing the science beyond what was accepted at the time.
Over time, the creation of laws and regulations to promote the use of rock dust became a top priority. Professor Huff Theodoro became a lobbyist in Brazil’s National Congress. She took pride in achieving her success as a lobbyist without having to let go of her honesty and transparency. She was backed by her expertise, wealth of knowledge in the field, and a large network of professionals. This success was possible due to strong science and active engagement by a large number of people. She was very humble in giving credit to many others that fought along her side during this journey.
Professor Huff Theodoro said that in order to promote and implement the law, we need to create a standard language. The term remineralizador (which would translate roughly to “remineralizer” in English) was used in the law, and she urged people to use the term. The term remineralizador has a much more subtle definition than the term remineralization. Remineralization (or “Rochagem” as they call it in Brazil) refers to the macro-scale technique of adding rock dust to the soil in order to rejuvenate it. When we add rock dust to the soil, the macro and micro nutrients from the rocks bond with fungi and bacteria and other inorganic matter and microorganisms in the soil, and this interaction promotes biological and chemical reactions which make nutrients available to the plants. Remineralizador refers to the micro-scale molecular process that happens in the soil when we add rock dust.
Remineralizador could be thought of as being the “agents of remineralization,” the very molecular reactions that make soils more fertile. It is possible to have a rock dust with a strong remineralizador factor (if that rock provides good conditioning properties to the soil), and alternatively to have a rock dust with a weak remineralizador factor (meaning that the rock dust can be added but will not help the soil much). Remineralizador is a very catchy term now, and everyone is using it in Brazil.
One important goal of the conference was to revisit past experiences and identify lessons learned; to understand the present situation, and to foresee future challenges. Professor Huff Theodoro finished her talk by emphasizing that, since the law has now been enacted, it is important to promote and implement it. For the next chapter in the remineralization movement, the private sector will be crucial. Now the main goal should be to work together, put ourselves out there, and take it to the next level. Professor Huff Theodoro has provided strong leadership to create a foundation for future development.
Miranda Chase is an Environmental Policy Researcher, with a BA in International Relations and MSc in Integrated Water Management. She is a PhD candidate for the UMass program on Global Governance and Human Security, and is a research fellow from the IGERT program of the National Science Foundation. Her research mainly concerns sustainable development in rural communities of the Amazon basin. As a coordinator for RTE, her goal is to provide a state-of-art database with reliable information about remineralization as a sustainable, effective and affordable solution to agriculture worldwide. This knowledge can assist scientists and policy makers, farmers and gardeners, and the general public in making better environmental decisions.