Sun, May 05, 2013 - Page 14 News List

Food inflation threatens Brazil’s rise to agricultural superpower

By Caroline Stauffer and Silvio Cascione  /  Reuters, SALTO, Brazil

Brazil is the world’s top producer of sugar, citrus and coffee, the No. 1 exporter of poultry and beef and is on the verge of becoming the leading soybean grower, but land for non-export crops is increasingly scarce.

Data from statistics agency IBGE show that the area planted with rice and beans — staples of the national diet — has fallen about 30 percent since 1990, when the population was 25 percent smaller.

Cury and other farmers cannot move too far from the cities in search of cheaper land and labor in the interior like their soy and corn farming counterparts because vegetables would spoil long before they arrived.

Though tomato prices in Brazilian grocery stores have fallen slightly since March, when they cost more than in supermarkets in northern Alaska at US$8 per kilogram, onion prices remain about US$3 per kilogram, double their price in Mexico City and three times what they cost in Lima, Peru.

Though tomato producers welcomed this year’s boon of higher prices, Cury said it is not making them rich because of the large gap between wholesale and consumer prices. A box of Cury’s tomatoes costs 3.5 reais, but was selling for four times that amount at a local supermarket, he said.

He said the small profits limits farmers’ ability to increase food output, ensuring high prices for years to come if nothing changes.

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