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Lessons from Brazil…can Zim learn from the template

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BRAZIL is a republic in South America comprising about half the area and half the population of the entire South American continent. 

It was colonised by the Portuguese from 1500 onwards and became independent in 1822, and a republic in 1889.

It consists the tropical Amazon Basin in the north; semi-arid scrub in the north-east and a vast central table land, not unlike Zimbabwe’s central plateau. 

The central plateau of Brazil is an important agro-industrial producing zone of coffee, commercial crops and minerals, especially iron ore.

Indigenous Brazilian people (erroneously called ‘Indians’), began farming approximately 12 000 years ago, producing cassava, peanuts, tobacco, sweet potato and maize, mainly for food, as well as straw and timber. 

They cultivated indigenous fruits and extracted essence from many other local plants.

Although mostly renowned for its beaches, street carnivals, capoeira, samba, salsa and sultry ‘fado’ music, making Brazil a key tourist destination, its now robust agriculture, initially focused on sugarcane plantations, is historically one of the main bases of the country’s economy.

During the colonial period, Brazil depended heavily on sugarcane. 

Colonial slave masters imported slaves from Africa to work on the plantations. 

Brazil continued to lead world sugarcane production into the 21st Century. 

Ninety percent of sugarcane production is concentrated in São Paulo, Alagoas, Pernambuco, Minas Gerais, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Goiás and Paraná.

Brazil, now a world powerhouse in agriculture, eventually became the world’s largest exporter of coffee, beef and crop-based ethanol. 

The success of agriculture under the direction of Statesman and President (1930-1945 and 1951-1954)  Getulio Dornelles Vargas (1883-1954), during Vargas’ estado novo (new State) era, led to the saying: “Brazil – Breadbasket of the World.”

An invitation to an agricultural sojourn in Brazil, covering tropical soil studies, agronomy and hydrology; tropical forestry and botanical conservation at Paraná University, in Curitiba, Brazil, awakened me to how Zimbabwe can learn and expand its agro production and processing potential. The principal agricultural products of Brazil are cattle, coffee, cotton, corn, wheat, rice, soy, sugarcane, tobacco, beans, floriculture and fruit as well as forestry, vegetables and cassava.

In 2008, Brazil’s biggest export market was the EU, while China was the largest single importing country with a      13,2 percent share, followed by the Netherlands with 9,5 percent and the US at 8,7 percent.

In 2010, Brazil was the third largest exporter of agricultural products in the world, behind only the US and the EU.

In 2015, Brazil was ranked fifth among the 20 largest countries by agricultural output, according to the IMF and the CIA World Facebook. 

Brazil was followed by Nigeria in Africa.

In 2018, Brazil was by far the largest world producer of sugarcane — producing 746,8 million tonnes. 

In addition to exporting sugar, Brazil uses much of its cane for ethanol production. 

Brazil was also the fourth largest world producer of cotton at 4,9 million tonnes, trailing India, US and China. It was also the second largest world producer of tobacco at        762 000 tonnes, second only to China.

The main staples, in 2018, registered Brazil as the third largest world producer of maize (82,2 million tonnes), second only to the US and China; the ninth largest world producer of rice (11,7 million tonnes) and the seventh largest world producer of sorghum (2,2 million tonnes). 

It was the fifth largest world producer of cassava (17,6 million tonnes), second only to Nigeria, Thailand, Congo and Ghana; it produced 897 000 tonnes of oats and    330 000 tonnes of barley.

In spite of the world financial crisis of 2008-2009, Brazil recorded a growth of 9,1 percent in agricultural production, principally motivated by favourable weather. 

The production of grains that year reached an unprecedented 145 400 000 tonnes. 

The principal products were corn (13,1 percent growth) and soy (2,4 percent growth).

In 2018, Brazil produced 5,4 million tonnes of wheat and 117,8 million tonnes of soy. 

It was the second largest world producer of soy, second only to the US. 

By 2020, however, Brazil had surpassed the US soybean production.

Brazil’s regions offer a wide diversity of climate. Agriculture reflects this diversity. 

In 1995, the north produced 4,2 percent, the north-east 13,6 percent, the centre-west 10,4 percent, the south-east       41,8 percent with the South at 30 percent. 

The centre-west and north regions recently expanded their share to the total.

Much as Zimbabwe is partitioned into five main natural agro-regions, according to differences in soils and effective rainfall, here, rainfall patterns and crop production progressively deteriorate from Region One to Five in Zimbabwe, so too in Brazil.

The southern half to two-thirds of Brazil have a semi-temperate climate, higher rainfall, more fertile soil, more advanced technology as well as input use, adequate infrastructure and more experienced farmers. 

This region produces and exports most of Brazil’s grains and oilseeds.

The south-east is the largest producer of lemons in the country, with 86 percent of the total obtained in 2018. 

Only the State of São Paulo produces 79 percent of the total.

The drought-ridden north-east region and Amazon Basin which lack well-distributed rainfall, good soil and adequate infrastructure, is mostly occupied by subsistence farmers. Both regions, however, are increasingly important as exporters of forest products, cocoa and tropical fruits.

The Amazon Basin is the part of South America drained by the Amazon River and its tributaries. 

Most of the basin is covered by the Amazon Rainforest, also known as Amazonia. 

The Amazon drainage basin covers an area of about 6 915 000 square km or roughly 40 percent of the South American continent. 

It is located in the countries of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela.

Similar to the Zambezi River Basin, seasonal floods redistribute nutrient-rich silt onto beaches and islands, enabling dry-season riverside agriculture of rice, beans and corn on the rivers’ shoreline. 

With an area of 5 500 000 sq km of dense tropical forest, it is the largest rainforest in the world.

It was from here that the Portuguese plundered Brazilwood timber used for cabinetry. 

Brazilwood, also called ‘brasil’ or ‘brasa’, is a red wood obtained from various caesalpiniaceous tropical trees of the genus caesalpinia.

The Portuguese arrived in the 15th Century mainly to control trade in Brazilwood until other crops began to be exported.

Dr Tony Monda is Zimbabwean socio-economic analyst and scholar. He is currently conducting Veterinary Epidemiology, Agronomy and Food Security and Agro-economic research in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa.

For views and comments, email:tonym.MONDA@gmail.com

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