To Brazil and Back

I had a great 9 days in Brazil and was too busy to write. Here is a little summary of what we did and I will write another entry on what we have learned.

I went to Brazil with Prof. Madhu Khanna in order to learn the truth about the biofuel sector in Brazil. We tried to understand why the production of biofuel in Brazil has not increased very much over the last few years and how biofuel production affects the environment. The trip has been very hectic. Madhu and I spent the first day in Sao Paulo, which is a large industrial city with maddening traffic, many high rises, and actually many rivers, bodies of water (some quite dirty) and green spots. Even urbanization cannot kill nature completely in Brazil. We have had a wonderful “local coordinator” named Elizabeth Johnson who was able to get us in contact with many knowledgeable officials, and found us really great accommodations. Equally important was that she made sure that in every place somebody waited for us. Elizabeth and her husband Reese Ewing are business journalists, with excellent knowledge of Brazil and many unique connections. I learned to appreciate in this trip the practicality, knowledge and judgment that good journalists have. We were introduced to Elizabeth by Avery Cohn who was crucial in the design of the trip and his contact in Brazil gave us a great start. Maria Bowman and Renato Nunes were also essential in connecting us to valuable sources.   We would have been lost if we needed to plan this trip on our own.

 

After the one day introduction to the engine of Brazil, Sao Paulo, we went to its ’jewel’, Rio de Janeiro.  The ride from the airport to the Mercure hotel was spectacular, a visual tour of all the great attractions, Christ the Redeemer statue, sugar mountain, Copacabana beach (Pele was there in my mind). The hotel was nice, a great location where we easily walked to two great beaches, Ipanema and Copacabana. We connected with one of the ELP Alumni Manoel and spent a wonderful day with him, his wife Roberta and their son, Leo. We had a great time in the botanic garden, with its great collection of trees shrubs and flowers (including some exotic insect eating flowers and orchids). After a leisurely lunch we planned to visit Jesus at the top of the mountain. We discovered that the clouds would not allow us to see Christ’s face on top of the mountain; Manoel gave us a wonderful tour of the city.  This was really wonderful because he is a leading environmental activist who worked at the department of the environment and his wife was an up and coming lawyer there and now preparing an official website on the forest code in Brazil for the government.  We got both a great tour of a city in a gray day, and a wonderful perspective on many of the questions we investigate.

 

 

We had busy day of meeting on Monday with the officials of the Brazilian development bank and the energy agency and returned very late to Sao Paulo to another grueling and fascinating day of interviews with professors and venture capitalists. Then we left to Pircacaba, which has the UC Davis (agricultural university) of Brazil. The city has 400,000 residents, with clear distinction between the nice homes around campus and the simpler residences of the lower classes.  The university is very spacious – with large rubber plantation and other tropical crops in mid campus. The buildings are neocolonial but the equipment is modern; it is clear that Brazil is up and coming country. The students are very busy- the computer lab packed- and I believe that Brazil has a great future.

 

The next stop in the tour was Campinas, a small university town (60,000 people), which is relatively less, crowded and more calm that the other places we visited.   We arrived there around 10 at night after 12 hours of seminar and interviews. We were guests of my friend Jose Maria who has been coming to Ravello for years and is an expert on research policy.  We participated in a debate on the research on and future of biofuels in Brazil and the professors there gave us a candid overview of the situation.  The price of energy in Brazil is below world price – to subsidize consumers- but the biofuel producers cannot earn sufficient profits and may not grow, as they should. They took us to see the most advanced biofuel company in Brazil- Amyris, which is actually based in Emeryville.  The company makes diesel from Sugar cane- and gets high prices because there is a scarcity of biodiesel.

 

From Campinas we flew to Brasilia, Brazil’s capital. We arrived there at 12 midnight- met by our limousine driver who took us to one of the most fascinating hotels I have been in.  Brasilia was designed as the city of the future in the middle of Brazil by perhaps the greatest architect of the 20th century and when I came to the hotel and during our visit today I understood why.  I took some pictures but they cannot capture the elegance and functionality of the place.

 

The Brazilians are wonderful people – friendly, warm and patient. The entire official we met were very friendly and try to help and answered our detailed and annoying questions. Sometimes we raised controversial topics- like illegal cutting of forest in the Amazon and the responses were rational and candid. The Brazilians are proud in their country and its progress.  They mentioned several times their pride in the emerging middle class- many more people can afford cars – nice homes and spend more money on education. This middle class is the reason of the maddening traffic jams in Sao Paulo. The Brazilian are as expected very excited about succor and assumes that you are familiar with the history of succor from the Middle Ages on. The food is great, and very diverse. There is a lot of Italian influence, many of the people that we met were proud of their Italian ancestry and it translated to great Italian food. There are a lot of Middle Eastern, Lebanese, Greeks and Arabs and I encountered excellent falafel, hummus, dolmas and other Middle Eastern favorites. We actually had a very good Japanese meal and the fertility of the land results in huge fruits and veggies. I had a 12 inch cooked Okra that was sweet and wonderful. Obviously, Brazil has a lot of excellent meats and many BBQ joints. Most days, I had a choice between many  cheeses, variety of veggies and good beef so I was able to stick to my low-carb diet religiously.. There are many Lebanese in Brazil, and excellent Middle Eastern food.

 

I was really happy to be home to Leorah and Zelda and Zarko and had a wonderful rest on Saturday. But on Sunday afternoon, I needed to soldier on and participate in a spectacular development event on our global efforts in Atherton, CA. I feel that this research trip and the development events are two sides of the same coin, the Beahrs ELP alumni already opened doors for us in Brazil and some Brazilian universities are interested in partnerships with Berkeley. I am exhausted after the last ten days but feel satisfied from these meaningful exciting efforts.