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Jaws dropped earlier this year when export figures showed Brazil was becoming the global top exporter in grain and oilseeds, surpassing the the likes of soy. And now, as 2024 unfolds, it’s clear there’s even more to come in other commodities from the South American powerhouse.


In January, the public entity called The National Supply Company, which operates under the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply, announced that Brazil exported a record US$1.2 billion worth of fruit and vegetables in 2023. That’s nearly 27 per cent more than 2022.


Fruit exports to Canada – Brazil’s seventh biggest export market -- reached more than 23,715 tonnes, up a whopping 18.7 per cent. This tonnage comprised mostly mangoes and melons, as well as grapes, watermelon, lemons and apples.


The United States, Brazil’s third largest export destination, imported 94,140 tones, 22 per cent more than 2022.


Some industry observers wondered if this spike was tied to poor weather-related production last year in Chile and Peru, Brazil’s competitors. And while that’s true to an extent with certain crops, particularly grapes, the story’s much deeper, says Guilherme Coelho, president of Abrafrutas, the Brazilian Association of Producers and Exporters of Fruits.


“Brazilian food is valued internationally for its quality, flavour, and diversity,” says Coelho. “Sustainable production and responsible agricultural practices contribute to the attractiveness of our fruits on the global market. We are optimistic about the future of fruit exports from Brazil.”


Indeed, Brazil’s taken a methodic approach to exports, one that’s been watched closely by industry observers. Five years ago, media outlets such as The Grower   published stories about the country’s aggressive plans to promote its fruit and vegetable sector, to reach agreements with importers around the globe and to compete with other growers on the world stage…just like it did for grain.


The numbers tell the tale. Since 2000, Brazil’s had an eightfold increase in agricultural exports, from US$20 billion to US$165.5 billion. Most of that growth has been in grain, meat, coffee, sugarcane and oilseeds. But surpassing the US$1 billion mark in fruit and vegetable exports is a significant milestone too.


Coelho says increasing productivity using modern tropical agriculture techniques such as irrigation and developing climate-adapted varieties was a key.


Another backstory is land use. Brazil is often accused of destroying the Amazon rainforest to produce crops. But Coelho and others point to a huge increase in production with only a minor increase in cultivated land in the last 45 years. As he notes, Brazil has 850 million hectares of land – the fifth largest in the world – and owing to favourable climate it can produce three harvests a year.


Yet Brazil only uses 82 million hectares for what it calls perennial crops such as fruit and coffee, and for “temporary” crops such as grains, oilseeds, sugar and cotton. Another 140 million hectares are dedicated to livestock production.


Marketing is another factor fueling this Brazilian leap forward. Coelho says besides the growing global demand for high-quality fruits, the sector has focused on strengthening its international marketing activity, promoting the ‘Frutas do Brasil’ brand.


It’s also set out to improve infrastructure and quality, to meet global demand. Brazilian fruit exporters are distinguished by certification such as Global G.A.P. and Rainforest Alliance.


“That gives credibility to our fruit and vegetables, and opens doors to demanding markets,” says Coelho, particularly in Europe, which has been highly critical of Brazil’s alleged disregard for the rainforest.


But there are two sides to that story. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison reported back in 2015 that Brazil's Soy Moratorium (SoyM) was the first voluntary zero-deforestation agreement implemented in the tropics. They say it set the stage for supply-chain governance of other commodities, such as beef and palm oil...which is music to Coelho’s ears.


“We implement policies aimed at environmental preservation, the social well-being of the communities involved in the production, and high standards of governance throughout the production chain,” he says.


For example, Abrafrutas, which he represents, is working with the national government on public policies and public-private partnerships. Its goal is to improve the structure of ports and airports, the efficiency of customs and maintain export fruit quality.


Coelho points to the construction of the FTrade Logistics Distribution Center in Petrolina, which opens this year, as an encouraging development. The region of Petrolina, in northeast Brazil, is home to the Vale do São Francisco fruit cluster, one of the important areas for fruit exports in Brazil.


In addition, Abrafrutas participates in international fairs such as Fruit Logística and Fruit Attraction, which have been fundamental in expanding the reach of its fruits in global markets.


“These events are strategic to consolidate the position of Brazilian fruits in selected countries,” he says. “Additionally, we are exploring new markets in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, identifying promising opportunities to expand our global presence.”


Based on its performance so far, further expansion shouldn’t be a problem.  



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Submitted by Owen Roberts on 26 February 2024