The world is afraid of hunger and demands more food from Brazil; What answer?

Within weeks, there has been a warning that a moment of food insecurity could quickly escalate into a scenario of global famine. World Trade Organization (WTO) urged Brazil to increase grain production; Ukraine is desperately seeking to sell stagnant grain behind the conflict lines; in the US, food inflation hit nearly 10%, prompting President Joe Biden to urge farmers to grow a second crop despite heightened weather risks and a short production window in the Northern Hemisphere.

When it comes to food security and agricultural production, the global geopolitical agenda simply does not allow Brazil to be left out of the limelight. For at least four decades, the country has staggered competitors with its ability to expand production. Take soybeans as an example, a major export crop, with global production growing 7.73 times from 1970 to 2017, Harvest in Brazil increased 76 times over the same period: from 1.5 million tons in 1970 to 114 million tons in 2017. In 2021, a crop of 138 million tons was predicted, but it turned out to be slightly higher than 120 million due to drought in the Southern region.

The country has a huge stock of arable land.

In addition to productivity growth, no other country in the world has such a large land stock. Embrapa estimates that there are at least 30 million hectares of underutilized land or degraded pastures in the country that can still be converted to farmland without cutting down trees. Today, plantations cover 67 million hectares.

At the diplomatic level, the WTO call for Brazil to produce more food was answered by President Jair Bolsonaro himself, who assured: “There will definitely be more food. Year after year, our productivity is growing, whether it is in agriculture or whether it is in animal husbandry.”

With the exception of a few years of climate shocks, the country is actually breaking records in agricultural production. In this new cycle, despite the high cost of essentials such as diesel fuel, fertilizers and pesticides, the Department of Agriculture sees favorable conditions for some optimism.

“Today, Brazilian growers have a desire to plant. Because it is capitalized and the main agricultural commodities are valued. The exchange ratio of these commodities, such as soybeans and corn, is still beneficial for the producer,” said Luis Rangel, director of programs at the Department of Agriculture.

If the world wants more food, it must provide funding.

Rangel estimates that even as the federal government is working to increase official credit for farmers, the biggest contribution should come from other areas of funding. In other words, if the world needs more food from Brazil, it will also have to participate in the financing of these efforts. A new agribusiness law passed in 2021 created Fiagros, agribusiness investment funds designed to be more attractive to investors.

“These conversations and appeals from the UN and FAO should help attract this investment. Brazil has a large mining company, Vale, whose funding does not have to be open source. I think the same thing could happen in agriculture,” Rangel emphasizes, noting that scarce official resources tend to go to government policies to support small and medium-sized producers. Currently, only 30% of production is associated with government funding.

The strength of agribusiness will spark the interest of new banks in the country, especially Chinese banks, which are attracted by the size of the commercial partnership (Brazil is the largest supplier of food to this Asian country). In addition to these international resources, Rangel points out that agricultural production relies on a large proportion of self-financing producers and on the promotion of barter transactions – a kind of barter in which a farmer exchanges his products for inputs and fertilizers directly from the trade.

For former minister Roberto Rodriguez, the moment calls for a military plan

The scenario of war requires extraordinary measures for the use of food plantations. According to Roberto Rodríguez, former Minister of Agriculture and Agribusiness Research Coordinator at Fundação Getúlio Vargas, this is what is set for Brazil today. The opportunity will lie in the imminent announcement of a new harvesting plan. “It is necessary to understand that in the conditions of war nothing ordinary can be done. Let’s show the world that we can meet the demand for quality food in a sustainable way. It’s time for the entire nation to mobilize. Yes, but you don’t have any money? Well, let’s double the reserve requirements of private banks, let’s invest in rural credit. We will call on trading companies to make barter much deeper, wider.”

“Producers are ready. The production of 310 or 320 million tons is neither a phantom nor an absurdity. But there must be a push the size of a war,” he emphasizes. Parallel investments in roads and ports could show results in seven to eight months, still in time to help with the flow of the next spring crop, says Rodriguez. “All this creates jobs in the veins. A diplomatic offensive is also needed. It is incredible that Brazil does not have a trade agreement with India. We can implement these trade agreements and commit ourselves to increase corn production to, for example, 130 million tons. I have no doubt that with this orchestration there will be a quick response.”

Production growth is “guaranteed” in the long term

Brazil is one of the few countries with vast territories suitable for the production of two or even three crops a year. In the long term, there will be no harvests unless the country “shoots itself in the foot,” said Desio Luis Gazzoni, agronomist and Embrapa Soja researcher. However, he is skeptical about the possibility of a quick response. “In the short term, everything should work out. It will take money to invest and solve the fertilizer crisis. The seed industry would have to say that they have more seeds than usual, which is not true due to the latest drought. We should have more trucks, let’s say we have improved roads and ports. And this is not so. There are many things that contradict this,” he said.

Of the total that would need to be added to global food production to feed 9 billion people in 2050, about 40% would have to come from Brazilian soil, according to the FAO. The current scenario has made this task more urgent, but the environmental problem cannot be ignored. “The world doesn’t care if deforestation is legal or illegal. They say enough, stop deforestation, and it doesn’t matter that it’s extra territory or that we have the strictest forest legislation of all,” Gazzoni assesses.

soybean producer
Eusir Brocco, grain producer in Pato Branco, Parana, during the 2018/19 cycle.| Michel Willian / Gazeta do Povo Archive

Producing more is beautiful, but not so easy

Speculation that a country can put more food on the global table may “seem beautiful in the short term, but it’s not that simple,” says Glauber Silveira, executive director of the Brazilian Corn Producers Association (Abramilho). “The government is not even able to fulfill its obligations under the plan for the last harvest. Every year there is this soap opera, this begging for resources, which our competitors do not have. We have problems with storage, we are going through a period of exorbitant prices for fertilizers. We have not been able to respond to anyone in the near future,” he says.

“Ah, but they say President Bolsonaro supports Agro. Yes, he supports it, but he is not just the president of agro, he is from all over Brazil. The Ministry of Agriculture has no autonomy. It’s up to Paulo Guedes, lots of technicians, congressional law. Brazil has a very serious problem, which I call environmental politics and radicalism, which prevent us from being a great nation,” Silveira emphasizes.

The qualification of livestock “returns” the area to agriculture

The skyrocketing cost of fertilizer makes it difficult to get more food out of areas devoted to agriculture, many of which are already operating at peak productivity anyway. Gazzoni of Embrapa sees great potential in cattle “returned” pastures as ranchers intensify their use of technology and need fewer open fields for livestock.

As for the opening of new areas, even in the legal field, the pace may slow down. This is reported by 37-year-old producer Douglas Daronch in the south of Tocantins, in Gurupi. “People don’t expand much more here, no. The expansion today is due to people who come from abroad, from Mato Grosso and Bahia, and who arrive already with capital,” he says. Daronch himself is saving resources and is negotiating the purchase of a total area of ​​350 hectares to add to the current 500 hectares cultivated for rent. But he points out that “this will happen in two years, and nothing is known yet.” “Everyone has an expansion policy. I don’t like to expand quickly, I prefer to first fix the site, build a soil profile, and then increase. I am more down to earth,” he concludes.

Leave a Comment