Public Sector Organizations and Agricultural Catch-up Dilemma in Emerging Markets: The Orchestrating Role of Embrapa in Brazil

Abstract: How can an emerging economy, beset by political, economic and resource challenges, jump-start the technology catch-up process in the agricultural sector and then forge an ecosystem to facilitate the continual generation and dissemination of innovations? Equally important, how can it maintain the viability and salience of its catch-up initiatives subsequent to the entry and inevitable dominance of multinational companies? We answer these questions by studying catch-up in Brazil’s soy seeds sector over four decades (1973–2015). In an environment of political and economic uncertainty, Embrapa, a public sector organization, forged partnerships to first develop absorptive capacity and innovation capabilities, and then build an ecosystem of diverse organizations to generate and disseminate catch-up outcomes to farmers and other end users. Embrapa also developed critical tacit knowledge and complementary assets that – along with its emphasis on environmental sustainability and protecting national interests – helped maintain its salience even after the entry and market dominance by multinational agribusinesses. In addition to demonstrating critical roles for public sector organizations and public private networks in technological catch-up in an emerging economy’s agricultural sector, our study calls into question the prevalent notion of technological catch-up as a rush to reach the technological frontier at any cost.