Naija Update

Foodie Update ( Contrasting Agricultural Landscapes)

The Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture Livestock and Food
Supply ( Ministério da
Agricultura, Pecuária e Abastecimento , MAPA) has made a common practice of
choosing ministry candidates who are heavily involved in the country’s agricultural and
economic affairs.

Its new interim minister of agriculture is no exception. Born in 1956, Blairo Borges Maggi is a trained agronomist and
former governor of the state of Mato Grosso. In fact, Maggi,
who was put in place on May 12, is nicknamed “the soybean king” (o rei da soja).

His company, Grupo Amaggi, is the country’s leading soybean producer.
To talk about soybeans in Brazil but not only in Brazil is tantamount to talking about a GM crop.

According to data
collected by the International Service for the Acquisition of
Agri-biotech Applications (ISAA), in 2014 there were 29.1 million hectares of
transgenic soybean crops a sizable portion of the 42.2
million hectares given over to GM crops (besides soybeans, 12.5 million hectares of corn and 0.6 million hectares of cotton) were being grown
on Brazilian soil.

It is worth pointing out that 89.2% of
Brazil’s soybean, corn and cotton crops are transgenic. In 2014, Brazil was the world’s second most important GMO
producer, close on the heels of the United States. The crops in question are largely bound for
animal feed and hydrocarbon
production rather than being for human consumption.

Despite monoculture fields that stretch as far as the eye can see, and the growing
importance of transgenic crops, Brazil also happens to
have the world’s richest biodiversity. It has more than 3,000 species of edible plants, an incalculable number of mushrooms and many animal species.

Unfortunately, only a
few of these native, domestic animal breeds are being
officially recognized. The Slow Food Ark of Taste, a catalog of
endangered plant varieties, animal breeds and artisanal
food products, lists about 80 products for Brazil (with another 120 currently being
screened for inclusion): from
Abacaxi pequeno, a pineapple variety of the Bromeliaceae
family, smaller and with a slightly tarter flavor than the
common pineapple, to the Sateré-Mawé Native Waranà, a fruit with seeds rich
in guaranine, a substance that helps combat tiredness and
stimulates cognitive functions and memory.

These and
innumerable other food products protected and
promoted by family farming ensure the food sovereignty of
local communities.
In Brazil alone, family farming produces 70% of the food
that arrives on the tables of almost 200 million people
every day.

This healthy, high-
quality food comes from 4.3 million small family-run farms which, though they take up
only 24% of the total area of land occupied by farming, produce 37% of Brazil’s meat
and vegetables, employing 13.8 million people, the
equivalent of 77% of those working in agriculture.

This success was partly achieved thanks to the policies
implemented by a government that, over the last decade,
viewed family farming as a strategy for food safety, for
reducing poverty and
inequality, for social inclusion and mobility, and for spurring local development in rural

Those farsighted
policies made the Brazilian experience a reference point
for other Latin American governments and national cooperation organizations.
Numerous changes have taken place in Brazil in the last few
weeks, however. One such change has been the elimination of the Ministry of Agrarian Development
(Ministério do
Desenvolvimento Agrário, Mda).

Created in 1999 to
promote agrarian reform, local
development and family farming, it has now been absorbed into the Ministry of
Social and Agrarian
Development (Ministério do
Desenvolvimento Social e Agrário, Mdsa), headed by
Osmar Terra.

These changes create food for thought and pose questions about how these two
agricultural, economic and social systems will communicate with each other.
‘It remains to be seen which direction the Brazilian interim
government will go’ says Valentina Bianco, a Slow Food South American correspondent, ‘and how it will continue to achieve the results of a decade of policies that raised Brazil out of the
world map of hunger and poverty, acknowledging family farming’s leading role in local
development and the
valorization of food culture.’

Can an interim government erase the public policies,
programs and actions that favored family farming, which
for over a decade,
characterized the country and made it a model at international level?’ asks Georges Schnyder, President
of Slow Food Brazil.


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