Carlos Piassi remembers the reaction from other farmers when he started planting a second annual crop at his farm near Uberlândia, in Brazil’s grain belt.
No one believed it could be done given the semi-arid region’s relatively short rainy season and long dry winter.
“If you had said you were going to plant a safrinha [the small harvest] here five years ago you were called crazy,” he says at his farm, Fazenda Campo Alegre. The naysayers were wrong. “The safrinha between last year and this has about tripled,” he said.
A landholder and power broker in the country’s capital, Katia Abreu has heard all the warnings about ranches and soybean farms carving up Brazilian forests.
But as she rides a chestnut mare across fields of sorghum and corn — her 12,355-acre spread here in the soft hills of north-central Brazil — Abreu insists Brazilian farmers should be commended, not demonized. Big Agro has transformed this country into a breadbasket to the world, she said, one that’s poised to feed billions.
“We are not ashamed of anything,” Abreu said. “What’s important is that Brazil increase production.”
The move is aimed at introducing more Brazilian agriculture and livestock products into the Chinese market and luring China’s State and private enterprises to invest in Brazil, especially in the field of logistics facilities, including storage and transportation.
“The increasing consumption demand of food from the middle class in China, with a total of around 30 million people by 2015, will create opportunities for Brazil to cooperate with China in the field of food. We can supply more dairy products, meat products and other high-value added agriculture and livestock products,” said Senator Katia Abreu, president of the Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock.
Apart from boosting trade with China and expanding the regional market via its Beijing office, CNA also aims to close the ties between Brazilian suppliers and Chinese importers and promote bilateral trade.
IN A remote corner of Bahia state, in north-eastern Brazil, a vast new farm is springing out of the dry bush. Thirty years ago eucalyptus and pine were planted in this part of the cerrado (Brazil’s savannah). Native shrubs later reclaimed some of it. Now every field tells the story of a transformation. Some have been cut to a litter of tree stumps and scrub; on others, charcoal-makers have moved in to reduce the rootballs to fuel; next, other fields have been levelled and prepared with lime and fertiliser; and some have already been turned into white oceans of cotton. Next season this farm at Jatobá will plant and harvest cotton, soyabeans and maize on 24,000 hectares, 200 times the size of an average farm in Iowa. It will transform a poverty-stricken part of Brazil’s backlands.
Three hundred miles north, in the state of Piauí, the transformation is already complete. Three years ago the Cremaq farm was a failed experiment in growing cashews. Its barns were falling down and the scrub was reasserting its grip. Now the farm—which, like Jatobá, is owned by BrasilAgro, a company that buys and modernises neglected fields—uses radio transmitters to keep track of the weather; runs SAP software; employs 300 people under a gaúcho from southern Brazil; has 200km (124 miles) of new roads criss-crossing the fields; and, at harvest time, resounds to the thunder of lorries which, day and night, carry maize and soya to distant ports. That all this is happening in Piauí—the Timbuktu of Brazil, a remote, somewhat lawless area where the nearest health clinic is half a day’s journey away and most people live off state welfare payments—is nothing short of miraculous.