Coffee has contributed to Brazil's economic success: Small farmers focus on the luxury market
By Reidun J. Samuelsen, Aftenposten Newspaper
DIVINOLANDIA (Aftenposten) - "Coffee is hard work. It must be harvested by hand here in the mountain areas,” said Maria de Lourdes Cunha de Oliveira. Brazil's raw materials are getting much of the credit for the country's economic success over the past decade.
Increased demand and a higher market price of goods such as iron ore, soy and coffee, have provided a better income to Brazil and helped to reduce foreign debt. However, small farmers in the Divinolandia grow premium coffee, but do not see much of the profits.
Many coffee farms are located in the mountain slopes that surround Divinolandia, a village of around 11,000 inhabitants in the Brazilian hinterland. Maria de Lourdes Cunha de Oliveira and some of the other female coffee growers took us to a green landscape at a 1,100-1200 m altitude where yellow and red coffee beans sit in dense clusters on the bushes.
“It's all about the soil; it is particularly rich here. Volcanic soil. The height we cultivate in is very important, and the weather, of course. When there is harvesting between May and August, we all go and look up at the sky," said Maria de Lourdes Cunha de Oliveira. She has tanned skin and is small in stature. Her hands are strong and firm.
At 56-years-old, Maria has a small farm that she runs with her husband. They do most of the work themselves. A few years ago they won the first prize for best coffee in a national competition. It is located in Divinolandia, which means divine land.
Brazil is the world's largest coffee exporter. Brazil's coffee accounted for a quarter of all coffee imports to Norway in 2013. Many people associate the country with large coffee plantations, but 80 percent of the coffee beans are grown on smaller farms. In the last decade the market price of coffee beans has risen significantly. The prices doubled for a few months in 2011, and have since swung down and slightly up.
Have you noticed the economic growth?
"It's true that it's been happening a lot in Brazil, and we have been getting a higher price for the coffee. But everything else is becoming more expensive as well. The workers should have higher wages, machinery and equipment increased in price, so we have not become any richer," explains Carmen Silvia de Avila da Costa.
Her farm is located at a high altitude with breathtaking views. The coffee plants are in neat rows with a slope that would impress even Norwegian mountain farmers. The bushes have morning sun, but escape the blistering afternoon sun as the berries ripen too quickly and ruin the the sweet, intense flavor in the strong sun.
Brazil has experienced an economic up turn in the last decade. The country represents the B in BRIC, a name that is made up of the four major countries Brazil, Russia, India and China. The common BRIC denominator is a large country with great economic growth. However in recent years, Brazilian growth has leveled off and is now in line with the world economy crises.
Exports of agricultural products have been extremely important for Brazil's growth. The proceeds provide a basis for the country to be able to pay down the foreign debt, which in turn led to better loan terms and an upgrade of the economy, "explains Arne-Christian Haukeland, the leader for the DNB in Brazil. It also made the country more lucrative for foreign investment, but when the financial crisis hit there were less investments.
"Brazil lacks the necessary infrastructure for future growth. Bottlenecks in the infrastructure, such as small developed road networks that lead to a small export capacity, means that goods are left too long before being sent off,” said Haukeland.
"The government's micromanagement and frequent rule changes create uncertainty for business...The bureaucracy lacks expertise in several key sectors," Haukeland explains.
Rates at the luxury customers
In Divinolandia, they are prepared to see lower commodity price and worse times. Six years ago the cooperative Aprod was established. Along with the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA), Aprod is working to raise the skills of small farmers and help coordinate negotiations to ensure that each farmer gets a fair price for their coffee supply. The finished coffee beans receive a grade that determines the price," explains Carmen Silvia de Avila da Costa.
The village is a four-to-five hour drive from the city of São Paulo, on the border with the state of Minas Gerais. None of the people that I met in São Paulo have heard of Divinolandia, even though the area draws coffee merchants from countries such as Italy and the United States. The female coffee farmer's hope is that the exclusive coffee ensures their future.
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