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Food & Agriculture

Small Rural Businesses in Brazil Set Sights on Domestic Market

RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec 7 2012 (IPS) - “Canjinjin has special powers,” said Deize Coelho de Barros. The recipe for this local liquor, made from a mixture of herbs, was handed down from her African ancestors, and is seen as a sort of traditional “Viagra” in her homeland, the western Brazilian state of Mato Grosso.

“The Portuguese brought black slaves here to work,” she told IPS. “We continued the tradition of this liquor, which our people still drink at festivals and celebrations, to give us energy,” says Coelho de Barros, one of the 57 members of a cooperative in a “quilombo”, the name given to settlements created by escaped slaves in the 19th century.

Family farms produce most of the food consumed in Brazil. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Family farms produce most of the food that ends up on tables in Brazil. But they also make traditional and natural products, on a small-scale, which have a hard time reaching markets at home or abroad.

Brazil is known worldwide for its large-scale exports of commodities like soybeans and beef, but not for its typical products like canjinjin, cachaça, a liquor distilled from sugarcane juice, or the top-notch charcuterie prepared by the gaúchos, the people of the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul.

Over 4.3 million families in Brazil are involved in small-scale food production, which is responsible for 10 percent of GDP. By contrast, in the large agribusiness export sector, vast tracts of land are in very few hands, according to official figures.

“Many people think that guaraná (a shrub with energy-boosting berries used to make the most popular soft drink in Brazil) is grown on large plantations, like soybeans, but it is actually grown on half- or one-hectare plots,” said Eldes Batista, a spokesman for a consortium of native Sateré-Mawé producers in the state of Amazonas, who represent over 11,000 members of this indigenous group.

Batista showed IPS more than 10 products extracted from the Amazon jungle, including guaraná, copaiba oil (for sore throats) and “miranta”, said to strengthen the immune system, stimulate sexual desire and improve muscle tone.

“We work with the wisdom of our ancestors. Mythologically, we are children of the guaraná,” said Batista, who along with Coelho de Barros and another 650 exhibitors participated in the 8th National Fair of Family Agriculture and Land Reform in Rio de Janeiro Nov. 21-25, devoted to cosmetics, handcrafts, food, and other products.

“In addition to being a staple drink among our people, guaraná facilitates assimilation of knowledge,” said Batista.

The Sateré-Mawé have been exporting guaraná to the European Union since 1996. But now, because of the global crisis which is hitting Europe particularly hard, and due to the strong growth of the Brazilian economy, they are aiming at the domestic market.

“As the international crisis weakened the European market, orders declined and we began to have excess stock. The family agriculture fair gives us the opportunity to widen our market and make our products known in Brazil,” Batista said.

“Targeting the internal market is much more profitable nowadays than looking abroad, where foreign markets are closing their doors,” Arnoldo Campos, a representative of the Ministry of Agricultural Development and one of the coordinators of the fair, told IPS.

The authorities expected this year’s family agriculture fair to do some 7.5 million dollars in business – three million dollars more than the 2009 fair that was also held in Rio de Janeiro.

The family agriculture fair rotates every year through different regions, giving farmers a chance not only to sell their products but also to meet representatives of stores selling organic and natural products, pharmacies, markets, restaurants, hotels and large supermarket chains, in order to set up direct sales channels, without intermediaries.

For small companies, the hope of doing good business often runs aground because of the difficulties in distributing and marketing their products in the big cities.

“We have several goals,” said Campos. “In the first place, we want Brazilians, especially those who live in big cities, to understand the importance of family farming, and secondly, we want to take our products to the market and promote them.

“And we want to shorten the links of the productive chain, to bring supply and demand closer together,” he said.

“Family farms are the main food producer in Brazil, and the wide diversity of the produce is a guarantee of national food security,” Campos said.

Small-scale family farms produce a wide variety of food crops in different regions of Brazil.

Brazil nuts from the northern state of Pará and necklaces of berries and seeds from the Amazon are displayed alongside sweets made from typical fruits like cupuaçu, armchairs made out of rainforest woods, traditional medicines, salami from the south and guava jams from the centre and west of the country.

There are also cosmetics like handmade soaps from the state of Rio Grande do Norte, which have “skin clearing, wound healing, anti-inflammatory, astringent and anti-mycotic properties,” as Marta Asis, the representative of the Associação de Maricultivadoras de Macroalgas da Praia de Pitangui, an association of algae growers, told IPS.

Plans to stimulate family agriculture, implemented by the private sector and the government, are being run in tandem with policies like the school lunch programme, which purchases products from family farms to provide the food served in the country’s public schools.

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