The southern region of Brazil (Paraná, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul), although only about 7% of the national territory, accounts for 18% of the GDP, and its population is 17% of the 186 million Brazilians. Except for north Paraná, which is tropical, the rest of the region has a subtropical climate, with the lowest temperatures in the country. In the coldest high areas the Araucaria forest predominates, while in the lowest the pampa pastures and along the coast the Atlantic rainforest dominate.
The modernization of agriculture in Brazil started in the southern states, intensively in the 1970s, with negative consequences such as monocultures with loss of genetic diversity, especially agrobiodiversity, along with intense soil erosion, contamination of water, animals, food and humans, loss of capital in the rural sector, and the social devaluation of agriculture.
Family farming accounts for about 90% of all farms in Southeast Brazil. Of the rural sector’s contribution of 30% of GNP, about one-third comes from family farming and its production
chains. Tobacco, maize and soybeans are the main export cash crops. Chicken, pork, and beef also are significant export items from family farms. Rice, cassava, beans, pumpkins/squash, fruits and vegetables are important for subsistence and the domestic market.
The data on organic farming in Brazil are very dispersed, inconsistent, and incomplete. Brazil is supposed to have 887,637 ha under organic cultivation. Organic farming accounts for 0.34% of the total area under agricultural production, and the estimated number of organic farmers is 14,000. Statistical data about the Southern Region are even harder to find. Many family farmers work organically but are not included in the statistics, either because they do not recognize themselves as organic, or they do not sell their products in the organic market, or because they are not certified by a third-party certifier.
A great diversity of products is grown organically for both the domestic and export markets. Crops such as soybeans, rice and maize, fruits (grapes and oranges), coffee from northern Paraná, and vegetables are the main products. There is a wide range of processed products available on the domestic market, especially orange, tangerine and grape juices. Tomato sauce and puree, different fruit jams, and cereal flours also are important.
On family farms, livestock are almost always part of the system: pigs, poultry (meat and eggs), and beef and dairy cattle. However, there is very little offer of animal products in the organic market, for two main reasons: (i) so far the rules regarding animal production in ecological farming are not clear enough; and (ii) the legal sanitary rules to commercialize products of animal origin require a high level of investment, far beyond the possibilities of family farmers.
This high diversity of production is part of the technological strategy of organic production in Southeast Brazil. Basic criteria are the preservation and dissemination of local varieties, intercropping and crop rotation, and integration of agriculture with animal production. For many years more rational management of the soil, the use of liquid biofertilizers to control insects and diseases, a strategy of coexistence with weeds, and the use of homeopathy to treat animals have also been part of the system.
The main organically grown cash crops for export are basically the same as those exported by the conventional market. It is in the domestic market that the higher diversity of products reflects more clearly a well-managed organic system. Usually the organic market offers indigenous species and varieties that are no longer commercialized by conventional agriculture. It is common in a farmers’ street market to find 20 or 30 different varieties of beans, whereas the shelves of a supermarket offer only the three most common ones. Similar high diversity is found in maize, pumpkins/squash, tomatoes, chilis and green peppers.
The first initiatives in organic farming 9locally called agroecology) were a reaction to problems in rural areas. Agro-ecology was connected to the work of NGOs that for political and environmental reasons strongly questioned the technologies of the ‘Green Revolution’, and worked with groups of family farmers. This characteristic of the criticism has linked agro-ecology with the social movements that were emerging as a result of the re-democratization of Brazil after two decades of dictatorship. These movements were fighting for land distribution and ownership, against the construction of dams, and in favor of rural workers’ rights. During the 1980s and 1990s numerous experiences emerged that connected ecological production with small-scale/home processing of such production, local markets to sell the fresh and processed products, and local and participatory systems to guarantee the ecological quality of such products. In 1998 Rede Ecovida de Agroecologia (REA -Ecovida Network on Agro-ecology) was founded after already having existed informally for some years in Southeast Brazil as a result of the historical situation. A few important aspects that led to the creation of REA were:
1 The need for and the feasibility of ecological farmers’ groups and associations and NGOs supporting or providing consultancy on agro-ecology to mutually recognize and support each other.
2 The desire of the groups, associations, and NGOs to build up a network with no hierarchy and oriented by well-defined principles and objectives in order to promote agro-ecology.
3 The recognition that the guarantee of the quality of the production and products should be through participatory mechanisms; in other words, the responsibility to guarantee the quality of the products would be shared by family farmers, technicians, and consumers.
4 The need to have a brand name and a label that represented the Network vis-à-vis the market. The brand name on the products would characterize a series of actions or operations conducting to a product and would be used in promotional materials (t-shirts, caps, newspapers, magazines, folders, banners etc).
REA defines itself as a space where ecological family farmers and their organizations can communicate with supporting organizations and individuals who value the production, processing, commercialization, and consumption of ecological products. The Network functions with well-defined objectives and goals: to strengthen agro-ecology in its broadest aspects; to generate information and make it available for its members; and to create accepted mechanisms for credibility and guarantee of the production of its members. They focus primarily on making whole farms more ecological, including the people who work there and their social relationships. They also stimulate the formation of consumer cooperatives for ecological products, producer-consumer relations, and a mutually fair market.
As of 2006, REA has 24 regional ‘nuclei’ in different stages of organization, connecting 180 municipalities and including 2,800 farmers’ families (around 14,000 persons involved in production). The families are organized in 290 groups, associations, or cooperatives, and there are dozens of small processing units and commercialization units for ecological products. Other members are technicians, professionals, and support and partner organizations. REA is the connecting point for dozens of organizations that have been working with organic agriculture for many years.
Some results of the holistic design for organic development that these organizations are practicing include significant environmental improvement (decreased pesticide use, soil protection, increased biodiversity), economical viability among farmer families (lower production costs, diversity of products, direct sales), and active participation of women in production activities, marketing, education, and organization.
A good example of its impact is the success of one of the organic farmers’ organizations in legalizing a juice extraction method that permits inexpensive, high quality grape juice production without the use of preservatives. The technology is now widespread even among large-scale conventional processors and has led to overall reduced use of artificial food additives.
However, their experience has demonstrated that the transition towards agro-ecology cannot be limited to technological changes, but has to seek to redesign the whole agro-food system. Particularly in the south of Brazil, the fact that REA has put efforts into redesigning the systems of processing, certification, and sale of ecological products has played an important role in the success of this transition. (Author Maria José Guazzelli and Laercio Meeirelles)
Further Reading on Southeast Brazil's Organic Sector development:
Case Studies for Early Organic Development
Early Organic Agricultural Development
Early Market Development for Organic Agriculture
Regulatory Framework for Organic Development
Organization, Structural Support, and Lessons Learned
IFOAM is constantly updating the information on this website. Comments or suggestions contact the Platform Coordinator
Back to the Growing Organic main page