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close this bookCERES No. 072 (FAO Ceres, 1979, 50 p.)
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Brazil raising production of tropical fruits

- a brilliant future

Names like graviola, araticum-ape, pitanga, mangostao and maracuja sound just as unintelligible to a great number of Brazilians as they do to foreigners. If we substitute these picturesque Indian names with their corresponding scientific terms of Anona muricata, Anona reticulata, Eugenia uniflora, Garcinia mangostana and Passiglora edulis, understanding becomes the privilege of botanists and Latinists. However, they are simply tropical fruits - soursop, custard apple, Surinam cherry, mangosteen and passion fruit - delicate and delicious, rich in nutrients and easy to cultivate. But, little is known beyond traditional techniques, which do not always lead to steady, abundant and economical production.

One of the objectives of the project being developed by FAO at the Research Centre for the Development of Bahia (CEPED) is the inclusion of these fruits in every Brazilian's daily diet as well as in foreign diets.

This is the results of studies by UNCTAD/GATT, the Tropical Products Institute of London, and export promotional offices of several countries which revealed a growing demand in Europe and the United States for tropical fruits, both fresh and processed, due to their therapeutic and dietary values, and excellent taste and aroma. This applies not only to the above-mentioned more exotic and little-known fruits, but also to the popular and familiar species being exported by
African and Near East countries.

In northeastern Brazil, the climate is hot and humid during the major part of the year, with a mean temperature favourable to the cultivation of practically all tropical fruits. In this region, encompassing one fifth of Brazil's territory and one fourth of its population, grows an infinite variety of native fruits. By far the most important is pineapple; also significant are bananas, cashews and passion fruit, as well as papaws, persimmons, mangoes and many other varieties.

A few kilometres from the littoral is the Sertao, a large semiarid area which, with irrigation, will become more suitable for fruit growing than the humid coastal zone where many plant diseases prevail. Research has shown, for example, that the mangoes from Juazeiro are relatively free from anthracnose, which severely attacks those from San Salvador. FAO experts believe that the newly irrigated areas along the Sao Francisco river will become an important production area for high-quality fruits in the next decade.

There is no doubt that a very important role is reserved for these fruits; however, there are some contradictions in this region. For example, during 1976, in only nine northeastern States, banana production was of the order of 180000 clusters, but per caput consumption was equivalent to two bananas per week. Although up-to-date statistics regarding papaws only cover the southern region, it appears that Brazil is the largest producer in the world (more because of excellent ecological conditions than skilled production techniques). Despite this fact, the quantity of papaws consumed in the northeastern region of the country would be equivalent to one slice per person... per month! Brazil is also the second largest producer in the world of pineapples, after the United States. In 1975, Brazilian pineapple production was of the order of 584 000 tons, the major part from the State of Paraiba, in the heart of the northeastern region. Even so, inhabitants of that area are not eating more than one single, medium-sized pineapple per year.

The project is nearing its sixth year, with a respectable compilation of achievements. In just a few years, the CEPED Food Section has grown from picturesque headquarters in the tourist district of Montserrat to modern installations in Camacari, with well-equipped laboratories, a library, pilot plants and, more importantly, a highly competent staff. Although a state institution, CEPED has the efficient collaboration - both technical and economic - of several Brazilian credit, research and rural extension institutes, in addition to the support of private companies.

The CEPED team, with FAO's technical collaboration, has produced numerous studies and technical publications during these years, resulting from completed experiments and tests. Among such results can be mentioned the adaptation of sun-drying techniques for the production of raisins in the Sao Francisco valley; the perfecting of storage of pineapples, mangoes, onions, and other tropical fruits; the compilation of data, covering the entire cycle of marketing of fresh as well as processed fruits.

All this laboratory and desk labour begins with lengthy, careful and patient field work on the Centre's own land, at private properties and, principally, in the Experimental Station for Tropical Fruit Culture, located 180 km from El Salvador, which pertains to the agricultural research services of the local Secretariat of Agriculture, and has become a sort of United Nations orchard, with fruit from all over the world. The research programme of the station is carried out by the Federal Agricultural Research Services and the National Research Centre for Cassava and Fruits.

There are no exact and updated statistics on the number of people working in fruit growing in this part of the country. It is known that a great part of the fruit is produced or picked in the forest by small farmers, but there is also a big pineapple plantation in Bahia which produces about 20000 tons and employs about 500 workers (and more during harvest).

The fruit-processing industry in the area employed 6600 workers in 1975; 55 percent of these were permanently employed. This figure is growing steadily thanks to the production of processed fruit, mainly doces (marmalade, jam, jelly, etc.) and juices. The average processing units are small and can hardly be called industries, but total production was 20.2 thousand tons in 1969, increasing to 51.2 thousand tons in 1975. It is estimated that production was 62 000 tons in 1977.

In a 1976 report to the United Nations, FAO technician Saeed A. Chaudri stated: "In view of observed facts, it can very safely be said that the future of the production and processing of tropical fruits in northeastern Brazil is brilliant." To help to transform that future into the present is CEPED's task.