Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Eating Local Isn't Easy... Even in Brazil

In the most recent edition of Globo Rural, a combination of TV network, magazine and website from Brazil's media giant Globo, there was an interesting article which highlights the difficulty in sustaining a commercially viable locally-sourced food distribution system. As Brazilians become aware of the benefits of eating foods that are produced nearby, commercial pressures on the farmers and ranchers who provide local food often make it difficult for the consumer to find local foods. This situation is not unique to Brazil, but neither is Brazil immune from the problem. The following is a translation of the Globo Rural article, which concerns tomatoes from the central-west Brazilian state of Goiás.

In Goiás, the tomato harvest has already begun. This years crop was very good, but the large quantity of tomatoes entering the market has disrupted the normal pricing of the crop.

For twenty years farmer Deusdete Pereira has dedicated himself to the cultivation of tomatoes in the municipality of Goianópolis, in the center of the state. During the growing season, he was optimistic, betting that this year's profits would be large, as they were last year. But now that the harvest has begun, his situation has changed. "Last year, we did very well. Now, this year is beginning badly," he says.

The price of a 25 kg (55 lb) case of tomatoes has dropped by 71%. In August, 2009, the price of a caseof table tomatoes was R$35 (USD $19.80). Today, a case is worth R$10 (USD $5.65). According to the state agricultural department, Emater, the reason for this drop in price is the entry into the market of tomatoes from other regions, which are fighting for market share.

The majority of tomatoes grown in Goiás are sold outside the state. By the beginning of September local producers will have harvested two million tons of tomatoes.

On the property of farmer Marciclei Franco, with the product ready to go to market, he is also worried. "This year is difficult. It's either price-match or lose everything. The price is very low. There are too many tomatoes on the market, tomatoes from [competitors from other regions], he says.

Goiás is Brazil's largest producer of tomatoes, and provides 25% of the national crop.

When prices for a crop are so low that crop is not sustainable, as is the case with tomatoes this year in Goiás, farmers often stop producing for local markets, and consumers are forced to purchase alternatives from farther away. It's a difficult economic problem to solve, and one that will have to be addressed sooner or later, in Brazil and elsewhere, if the "eat local" revolution is going to succeed.

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