American Farm Bureau PALs Group Brazil Trip, Day 1 & 2
*This is the first in a series of blogs detailing the events of the American Farm Bureau Federation PALs group trip to Brazil. New posts will be added daily.
By Terisha Driggs and Emily Buck
Yesterday we arrived in Sao Paulo, Brazil to find that our hotel was at the epicenter of a political protest. The Brazilian citizens are embroiled with government corruption involving insider contracts with the government run oil company, Petrobras. The citizens came out in full force; nearly 2 million people protesting the government and calling for the impeachment of Dilma, their President. The protest was a family affair, much different than we might see in the United States. It was more like being at a tailgate party… families, dogs, and vendors flooded the streets in what can only be described as peaceful protest, despite heavy police presence. Brazil is a young democracy that was under military rule until the 1980s, but since becoming a democracy has made dramatic improvement in developing the country. There are still many issues; food insecurity, infrastructure, and at the present a collapsing economy. However, as we learned today, they have made major breakthroughs in agriculture, forest preservation, and climate change.
In a visit with the Monsanto we learned about the impact that they have had in the communities where they are present. Monsanto has 23 community support programs that focus on education, culture, sports, leisure, health, environment and wellness to help the communities where their facilities are located. For the past 16 years they have been ranked as one of the top companies to work for in Brazil. But Monsanto is a for profit company and despite their involvement in and encouragement of community service they have shareholders to answer to. They are a biotech research and development company that focus on promoting sustainable development of agriculture in Brazil. They are in the process of developing a special soy bean seed, INTACTA, for Brazil that focuses on solving the problem of destructive caterpillars; a problem unique to Brazil. Around 95% of Brazilian soybeans are grown using GM seeds, which is their largest export, with 65% going to China.
One lesson learned is that despite what the media says, Brazil is not deforesting the Amazon. Not only that, but the citizens are eager for us to hear about the reforestation and debunk this myth. The Brazilians that we spoke to were unhappy with the image that the European Union has created of Brazil destroying the forest. In the hundred years from 1850 to 1950 Brazilian forests grew by 4.2% while European forests shrunk. Today, the Brazilian government has mandated conservation by as much as 80% of private land that cannot be farmed or turned into anything other than forest reserve. Our visit to Sociedade Rural Brasileira was very informative about some of these efforts and many more.
“An old business in a new century”
We spent the afternoon at the office of the Sociedade Rural Brasileira, a group started in1919 by agribusinesses to advocate toward policy, promote agriculture and work with trade. Their group consists of bankers, stock markets, co-ops, businesses and farmers, and the society works as a negotiator at times between these members. Gustavo Diniz Junqueira, the president, discussed with us about the current state of Brazialn agriculture. It was amazing to learn the many facts about how agriculture has changed from one of the top countries in importing food up until 1990 to now where they are the largest exporter in the world in animal proteins. In 1950 they spent 50% of their income on food and only use 15% today. Their agriculture numbers have steadily increased and now make up 23% of the GDP.
It was very clear that their organization, and its members, were concerned with environmental viability and farming sustainability. They have even done research that shows that cattle production is not related to the deforestation issues. And even though they have to set aside 20% of their land for native forest, they have still seen a 5.5 times increase in production in the last 21 years. While he said many of the regions differ in production management, they see a lot of growth due to year-round production, ideal climate and topography and usage of no-till and double to triple cropping. However, they are facing issues similar to us such as bio security, financing and climate change. They have a major issue with infrastructure and getting products from the field to ports. Gustavo feels that Brazil and the US need to partner more in agriculture business to think about how to do business differently in the future.
With the average age of the farmer being 40, compared to 55-60 in the US, there is definitely an industry with young leaders looking to grow and advance in Brazil. They are concerned on economic viability as well as environmental issues, and with over 5 million farmers on 2/3 of the country, they will be a force to watch in the international market for many years to come.
Following lunch we had the chance to talk with Luana Maia from the Brazialn Coalition on Climate, Forests and Agriculture. This was a very interesting group of many influential players in Brazil that are concerned with climate change. This movement is bringing together agriculturalists and environmentalists to find a common ground on issues. They see themselves as moving the groups from independent to having interdependence. It is an interesting model, and she assured us they don’t always agree, but they look for a common point. Some current initiatives include: registering every farmer is in compliance with the forest code, tracking deforestation and development of low carbon livestock production. She indicated that they are talking to the World Bank about this model. I’m not sure how such an initiative would go in the US. It would mean getting some very passionate people with very different views to sit down together and comprise. It may not happen, but it surely is a model that seems effective and worth looking at further.
They ended our discussions with a statement that really hit me. “People don’t need awareness anymore, they need solutions on how to operate.” They have reached a point that all agree on the issues. We in the US need to find that point where we can move to solutions and past awareness.
The trip is giving us many interesting things to discuss and ponder. We ended our day back by the hotel at an amazing pizza place, proving pizza is universal! We are all tired but ready to see what the rest of the trip has in store for us.