The world fears hunger and asks for more food from Brazil; What’s the answer?

In the space of a few weeks, the warning was raised that the moment of food insecurity could quickly turn into a scenario of global hunger. The World Trade Organization (WTO) appealed to Brazil to increase its grain production; Ukraine desperately seeks outlets for stagnant grain behind the lines of conflict; in the United States, food inflation reached nearly 10% and prompted President Joe Biden to urge farmers to grow a second crop, despite growing weather risks and the short production window in the Northern Hemisphere.

When it comes to food security and agricultural production, the global geopolitical design simply does not allow Brazil not to play a leading role. For at least four decades, the country has stunned competitors with its ability to expand its production. Taking soy, the main export crop, for example, while global production grew 7.73 times from 1970 to 2017, The Brazilian crops in the same period grew 76 times: from 1.5 million tons in 1970 to 114 million tons in 2017. A harvest of 138 million tons was expected in 2021, but was just over 120 million due to drought in the southern region.

The country has a large stock of arable land.

Aside from productivity gains, no other country in the world has this much land. Embrapa estimates that the country has at least 30 million hectares of underutilized land or degraded pastures that can still be converted to agriculture without cutting down a tree. Today the plantations occupy 67 million hectares.

On a diplomatic level, the response to the WTO’s call for Brazil to produce more food was given by President Jair Bolsonaro himself, who assured: “There will certainly be more food. Year after year, our productivity increases, both in agriculture. that it is in the cattle “.

With the exception of years of climate frustration, the country has actually broken successive records in agricultural production. In this new cycle, despite the high cost of essential goods such as diesel, fertilizers and pesticides, the Ministry of Agriculture sees favorable conditions for a certain optimism.

“Today there is an appetite on the part of Brazilian producers to plant. Because it is capitalized and the main agricultural raw materials are valued. The exchange ratio of these commodities, such as soybeans and corn, is still profitable for the producer, ”said Luiz Rangel, director of programs at the Ministry of Agriculture.

If the world wants more food, it must provide funding

In Rangel’s assessment, although the federal government works to increase the official credit supply to farmers, the largest contribution should come from other funding axes. In other words, if the world needs more food from Brazil, it will also have to participate in funding that effort. The new agri-food law, passed in 2021, created Fiagros – agri-food investment funds, designed to be more attractive to investors.

“These conversations and appeals from the United Nations and FAO should help attract these investments. Brazil has a large mining company, which is Vale, and the funding of which does not have to be public. I think the same can happen in agriculture ”, emphasizes Rangel, noting that scarce official resources tend to be directed towards public policies in support of small and medium-sized producers. Currently only 30% of production is linked to public funding.

The strength of agribusiness would arouse the interest of new banks to operate in the country, especially Chinese, attracted by the size of the commercial partnership (Brazil is the largest supplier of food in the Asian country). In addition to these international resources, Rangel points out that agricultural production is anchored by a significant share of self-financed producers and the disclosure of barter operations, a sort of barter in which the farmer exchanges his products for inputs and fertilizers, directly with the Commerce

For former minister Roberto Rodrigues, the moment calls for a war plan

A war scenario requires extraordinary measures to exploit food plantations. This is what is planned for Brazil today, according to former Minister of Agriculture and coordinator of agri-food studies at Fundação Getúlio Vargas, Roberto Rodrigues. The opportunity would be in the upcoming announcement of a new collection plan. “It must be understood that in a war scenario nothing conventional can be done. We show the world that we can meet the demand for quality food in a sustainable way. It is time for the whole nation to mobilize. Yes, but you have no money? Well, let’s double the reserve requirement of private banks, put the money into rural credit. We call on commercial companies to make barters much deeper, wider ”.

“The producers are ready. Producing 310 or 320 million tons is not a ghost or absurd thing. But there has to be a push as big as the war, ”she points out. Parallel investments, in roads and ports, could produce results in seven to eight months, still in time to help with the flow of the next summer harvest, Rodrigues argues. “All of this generates jobs in the veins. A diplomatic offensive is also needed. It’s amazing that Brazil doesn’t have a trade deal with India. We can pursue these trade agreements and commit to increasing corn production, for example, to 130 million tons. I have no doubt that, with this orchestration, there will be a quick response ”.

Production growth is “guaranteed” in the long run

Brazil is one of the few countries with large areas of land suitable for producing two or even three crops per year. In the long term, there will not be a multiplication of crops only if the country “shoots itself in the foot”, evaluates the agronomist and researcher of the Embrapa Soja Décio Luiz Gazzoni. He is skeptical, however, about the possibility of a quick response. “In the short term, everything should work out. It would need money to invest and resolve the fertilizer crisis. The seed industry should say they have more seeds than usual, which is not true due to the latest drought. We would need more trucks, let’s say we have improved roads and ports. And that’s not the case. There are many things that go against it, ”he considers.

According to FAO, of the entire volume that will have to be added to global food production to feed 9 billion people in 2050, about 40% will have to come from Brazilian soil. The current scenario has added urgency to this challenge, while the environmental issue cannot be ignored. “The world doesn’t care if deforestation is legal or illegal. They say enough, enough to deforest, and it does not matter whether they are areas in surplus or that we have the most severe forest legislation of all ”, Gazzoni evaluates.

soy producer
Eucir Brocco, wheat producer in Pato Branco, Paraná, during the 2018/19 cycle| Michel Willian / Gazeta do Povo Archive

Producing more is nice, but not that simple

The argument that the country can put more food on the global table in the short term may “sound nice, but it’s not that simple,” assesses Glauber Silveira, executive director of the Brazilian Association of Corn Producers (Abramilho). «The government is not even able to respect the commitments of the plan for the past harvest. Every year there is this soap opera, this alms of resources, which is not the case with our competitors. We have a storage problem, we are going through a period of exorbitant fertilizer prices. We haven’t been able to respond to anyone in the short term, “he says.

“Ah, but they say that President Bolsonaro supports Agro. Yes, he supports him, but he is not only president of agro, he is from all over Brazil. The Ministry of Agriculture has no autonomy. It depends on Paulo Guedes, on many technicians, on the law of Congress. Brazil has a very serious problem that I call environmental politics and radicalism, which prevent us from being a great nation ”, Silveira emphasizes.

The qualification of livestock “returns” areas to agriculture

The soaring cost of fertilizers makes it difficult to extract more food from established areas for agriculture, many of which, however, are already operating near maximum productivity. Gazzoni, of Embrapa, sees great potential in pastures “returned” by cattle, as ranchers step up their use of technology and need less open fields for cattle.

As for the opening of new areas, including in the regulatory framework, the pace could slow down. In the south of Tocantins, in Gurupi, 37-year-old producer Douglas Daronch tells the moment. “The people here aren’t expanding much more, no. The expansion today is made up of people who come from abroad, from Mato Grosso and Bahia, and arrive already capitalized, ”he says. Daronch himself is saving resources and is negotiating the purchase of a gross area of ​​350 hectares, to add to the current 500 hectares, cultivated under lease. But he points out that “there are now two years left and nothing is certain yet.” “Everyone has an expansion policy. I don’t like to expand quickly, I prefer to consolidate the area first, build the soil profile and then increase it. I’m more down to earth, ”he concludes.

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