A testament to the country’s rich biodiversity and culture, Brazilian fruit farming is based on three pillars of sustainability (environmental, economic, and social), preserving biodiversity, creating jobs and promoting regional development.
Favourable climate and soil conditions allow Brazil to enjoy a great variety of fruit all year round, ranging from oranges, bananas, melons and mangos, typically Brazilian fruits known all over the world, to jabuticaba, açaí, soursop and countless others, each adapted to the country’s diverse biomes. Representing a myriad of colours and flavours, all share one thing in common: they are part of Brazil’s national diversity and culture.
In recent years, Brazil’s annual fruit production has exceeded 41 million tons and occupied an average of 2.6 million hectares. This means only 0.3% of the national territory is dedicated to fruit farming, versus 7.8% used by crops. Of the over 940,000 agricultural enterprises distributed throughout the country, 81% correspond to family farming. In 2021, fruit farming employed 193,900 formal workers, a 9% increase on 2020, which corresponded to 11.5% of the total number of jobs in agriculture and livestock farming.
The expansion of Brazilian fruit farming is grounded in technical and scientific developments. When coupled with the diversity of agriculturally-rich regions, these innovations enable the conscious use of land, without the need to explore new areas.
Due to the excellence and diversity of Brazilian fruit production, the sector has experienced impressive growth in the international market, but it remains in an initial phase with the continued potential to expand its production, supply period and market share in the global scenario. In 2021, the export basket comprised more than 40 fruits and posted record sales of US$1.07 billion with more than 80% of the sector’s revenues in the international market coming from only seven varieties of fruit (mango, melon, grape, lime, apple, watermelon and papaya). The main destination of these exports is the European Union, accounting for 52.6% of the proceeds in 2021, followed by the United Kingdom and the United States, with 15.7% and 12.8%, respectively.
The expansion of Brazilian fruit farming is grounded in technical and scientific developments. When coupled with the diversity of agriculturally-rich regions, these innovations enable the conscious use of land, without the need to explore new areas. The harvest figures for the most popular fruits shows a considerable increase in productivity: from 2010 to 2020, mango production grew by 32%, while the cultivated area declined by 6%, representing a 40.3% upturn in productivity. A similar pattern was observed with lemons and limes, whose productivity increased by 17.4% in the same period.
BRAZILIAN FRUIT FARMING IN CONTEXT
A leader in fruit production, the Southeast region accounts for 51% of the national output. Its micro-climates and varied elevations allow the cultivation of both temperate and tropical fruits. The importance of fruit farming for the region can be seen in the volume and diversity of production. Comprising the states of São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo, the region also boasts the highest population concentration, around 42% of the country’s inhabitants.
The Ribeira Valley, located in the southern tip of the state of São Paulo, is known nationally for its banana production, as well as for its preservation of ecological diversity and indigenous and quilombola traditions. In the north of Minas Gerais, the Jaíba Project stands out, a hub of irrigated banana, Tahiti lime, mango and papaya production. Founded through a regional initiative, the collective brand Região do Jaíba has traceability, nutrition, and integrity as its pillars of action. The brand has opened many doors and boosted the international recognition for the region’s products.
In the Southeast, we also find the Citrus Belt of São Paulo and the Southwest/Triângulo Mineiro region, which together help make Brazil the largest producer and exporter of orange juice, with a market share of 61% of world production and 72% of international trade.
Other crops and methods of increasing harvest yield have been gaining prominence. In the last five years, avocado production in the Triângulo Mineiro region has increased by 79%. One of the strategies adopted is the reallocation of fruits. Produce that does not meet the requirements to be sold fresh has been used instead to produce oil, thus enabling the best use of the harvest, diversifying income and increasing employment in the region.
Brazil’s second main producing region is the Northeast, which accounts for 24% of the national fruit production. Comprising the states of Bahia, Sergipe, Alagoas, Pernambuco, Paraíba, Rio Grande do Norte, Ceará, Maranhão and Piauí, the Northeast lies in an intertropical zone where the predominance of the arid climate may seem, at first glance, not to offer favourable conditions for fruit production. However, the search for alternatives and the development of strategies adapted to the regional conditions have made cities in the Northeast leaders in technological innovation in fruit farming.
In the São Francisco Valley, the regions of Juazeiro (in the state of Bahia) and Petrolina (in the state of Pernambuco) have both become major irrigation hubs with grape growing serving as a ripe example of the region’s successful technological innovation. Previously, this fruit was limited to seasonal production and supply in Brazil, mainly in the second half of the year and originating in the South region of the country. The development of seeds adapted to the tropical climate, as well as “dormancy-breaking” practices – to counteract the natural dormancy period when plants or parts of plants are temporarily unable to grow and which, in fruit-growing, occurs prior to the flowering and fruiting stages – allowed grape cultivation to increase in the region. Today, the São Francisco Valley is responsible for 62% of the national production of table grapes (207,700 tons). Another highlight for the region is mango, whose production in the Valley accounts for 61% of the national output (963,000 tons, produced on 29,600 hectares).
The city of Mossoró, located in the Chapada do Apodi region, in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, is another hub of irrigated fruit farming. The city, which is less than 50 km away from the state’s coast, has mostly sandy soil and its main source of water for irrigation is groundwater.
The water is saline, and its use in irrigation is conditioned to the control of salinity and electrical conductivity. New studies on irrigation management and the development of crops adapted to the regional conditions have increased production, enabling this micro-region to account for almost 50% of the melons and 12% of the watermelons produced in the country, most of which are intended for export.
Representing temperate fruit growing, the southern states – Paraná, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul – account for approximately 12% of the national fruit production. Due to the harsh winters, this production mostly focuses on temperate climate fruits, such as apples, grapes, peaches and plums. The region is responsible for 96% of the country’s industrial grape production, destined mainly for the production of drinks such as juices, wines and sparkling wines. In contrast with other regions, the South stands out for its prevalence of associative and cooperative activities.
The North (comprising the states of Amazonas, Acre, Roraima, Rondônia, Amapá, Pará and Tocantins) and Mid-West (comprising the states of Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Goiás and the Federal District) together represent 52% of the national territory (over 440 million hectares). However, only 0.14% of the land area of these regions is devoted to fruit farming, an approximate 616,000 hectares, thus leading these states to account for a small 13% of the nation’s fruit production. Comprising the Amazon, Cerrado, Pantanal and, to a lesser extent, Atlantic Rainforest biomes, the significant biodiversity of these regions also provides a wonderful variety in fruit farming.
Fruits such as guaraná, cupuaçu, açaí, cocoa, Brazil nut and many others still virtually unknown outside the country, originate from the North and Mid-West regions. An example of agriculture in the region is the cultivation of Brazil nuts – a typical fruit of the Amazon region, which has been recognised for its high nutritional value. The tree is common in the north of the country, and today, in addition to generating food, it is also used for recovery and reforestation of areas in the Amazon biome. Açaí is also a typical fruit of the region: 1.5 million tons are produced annually, 94% of which in the state of Pará. Both the açaí and the heart-of-palm of the açaí palm are part of the regional culture, a key ingredient in typical dishes that make up the local diet and a key source of income for the people in Pará.
A peculiar aspect of the Northern region is its extractive activity, a method of forest conservation and social and economic development. In addition to helping preserve the native forest, it is the main source of livelihood for indigenous peoples and riverside dwellers. Açaí, in particular, stands out as an example of sustainable production in regional fruit farming. The fruit is used in the food industry and, more recently, the fibre contained inside it has also been utilized by the paper and furniture industries. Furthermore, the açaí palm is a palm tree with multiple fronds, which enables the extraction of the açaí heart-of-palm without causing the death of the tree.
SUPPORT FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF SUSTAINABLE FRUIT FARMING
All the cases mentioned above are a testament to the commitment of various actors involved, both public and private, from research institutions and technical assistants to rural producers. The Brazilian government has developed programmes for putting good agricultural methods into practice and increasing production efficiency. The Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) promotes technological innovation in the chain through units specialised in fruit farming, located in the city of Petrolina and the states of Bahia and Rio Grande do Sul. The CNA/Senar System works with rural producers to carry out training and support technological development in the sector. Initiatives such as Projeto Biomas (Biomes Project) and the Pravaler Programme aim at helping producers with managing resources on rural properties and at supporting state environmental agencies in carrying out the initiatives of the Environmental Regularisation Programme (PRA).
Brazilian fruit farming, whether temperate or tropical fruits, those known worldwide or only consumed regionally, shares common features: appreciation of the land, preservation of natural resources, and production of healthy and tasty food.
The System owns the Centre of Excellence in Fruticulture, located in the city of Juazeiro, in the state of Bahia. The institution is directly involved in the professionalization of the sector, ensuring the training of skilled labour and the development of innovative production techniques. Courses are also offered in other regions. In 2021 alone, more than 5,800 fruit growers participated in Senar’s training courses, in addition to specific courses by production chains, including 1,700 banana growers and 1,300 grape growers. The Technical and Managerial Assistance arm, Senar ATeG, also provides assistance to fruit producers and, in six years, it has served over 13,000 producers in 25 states.
Brazilian fruit farming, whether temperate or tropical fruits, those known worldwide or only consumed regionally, shares common features: appreciation of the land, preservation of natural resources, and production of healthy and tasty food. The national fruit production continues to progressively incorporate technology and innovation, while still preserving generational legacy, thus ensuring nutrition, income generation, cultural preservation and environmental sustainability. Although its main consumers are the Brazilian people, Brazil’s fruits are increasingly present in new markets, where demand and recognition are intensifying.
Letícia Barony – Agricultural engineer with a bachelor’s degree from the Federal University of Viçosa (UFV) and an MBA in Agribusiness from USP/Esalq. She has professional experience in the sector of vegetable seeds, focusing on the production and development of new materials adapted to climates and consumer markets. Currently she is a Horticulture technical advisor at the CNA/Senar System, where she represents rural producers before the public and private sectors. She carries out market analyses to help develop, promote and defend public policies and private initiatives that promote sustainable agricultural production. The aim of these initiatives is to boost the sector’s economic and social development, based on the efficient use of available resources and food production.
**Text first published in the AgriSustainability Matters newsletter of the Brazilian Embassy in London