|Amazonia: Resiliency and Dynamism of the Land and Its People (UNU, 1995, 253 pages)|
|6. Agro-forestry and perennial cropping systems|
The collapse of colonization efforts in the Bragantina zone east of Belém at the turn of the twentieth century has been cited as evidence of the unfavourable environment for agricultural development in Amazonia. Although ecological constraints can certainly play a role in undercutting agricultural production, socio-economic problems are as much to blame for farm failures in the region (Falesi, Baena, and Dutra 1980). The Amazon is neither a "green hell" on the verge of turning into a "red desert" nor an Eden with a cornucopia of resources that can be heavily exploited with little regard for conservation. Rather, the region is a mosaic of environments with different constraints and potentials. Even highly leached oxisols and ultisols can be productively managed, as evidenced by dense indigenous populations in some upland areas in the distant past, and as farmers have recently demonstrated near Tomé-Açu and in parts of the Bragantina zone.
Flush with cash from the Amazon rubber boom of the late nineteenth century, the state government of Pará, financed the construction of a 230 km railroad linking Belém with Braganca between 1883 and 1907 (Penteado 1968). Soils of the Bragantina zone are at least 87 per cent oxisols, the most weathered type of soils in the Amazon, and, because of the abundant rainfall (which usually exceeds 3,000 mm/year), are highly leached. Low soil fertility and poor guidance for farmers were major factors behind the failure of settlers from the drought-plagued North-east region and from Europe (Lima 1958; Penteado 1974).
Annual crop production posed great difficulties for colonists in the Bragantina zone in the early part of the twentieth century, even with the presence of a railroad linking two growing cities. Perennial crops, on the other hand, have been planted successfully in the past, such as during the colonial period when productive sugarcane and cacao plantations were established for the export trade.
The mix of perennial cash and food crops has changed constantly in the Bragantina zone in response to market conditions and disease and pest attack. In the 1940s, for example, coconut, banana, orange, avocado, and guava were the most important perennial crops in the region (Penteado 1968: 15). Except for coconut, these crops have ceded space to other more profitable species. All the perennial crops important in the 1940s are still grown, but their relative contribution to the area's economy has declined. Bananas, for example, are struck by too many diseases in the Bragantina zone to be grown on a large scale. More recently, other perennial cash crops that are ecologically better suited to the generally poor soils than annual crops are spearheading an economic revival in the area.
African oil-palm, papaya, passionfruit, Barbados cherry, coconut, and citrus currently reign as the main perennial cash crops in the Bragantina zone. Oil-palm is cultivated by large operators, as described in the previous chapter, and by small-scale farmers. Some farmers with oil-palm groves on properties in the 25-100 ha range belong to Cooperativa Agricola Mixta de Santa Isabel, which processes oil-palm. Started by Japanese-Brazilians, this co-op is headquartered some 50 km east of Belém and contains members from diverse ethnic origins. In the vicinity of Belém vegetables are grown profitably, and some communities still derive appreciable income from selling manioc, flour, the region's basic staple.
Yellow passionfruit has emerged as an important cash crop in the Bragantina zone within the past decade. Passionfruit is grown as a monoculture and as an intercrop, particularly with citrus and African oil-palm. Brazil is a leading producer of passionfruit juice in the world market, and Pará, has quickly emerged as the most important state in Brazil for passionfruit production (Falesi and Osaqui 1992). AMAFRUTAS, a large passionfruit juice processing plant near Belém recently provided a stimulus for production of the succulent fruit. Independent truckers contract with individual growers and take freshpicked passionfruit to the processing facility, where the load is weighed and the truckers paid.
AMAFRUTAS is owned by a Swiss pharmaceutical company, CIBAGEIGY, and the juice is exported to Europe. The appetite of Europeans and North Americans for exotic tropical fruits is growing, and more fruit-processing facilities are likely to be established in the Bragantina zone. For example, Swissair serves passionfruit sherbet between courses on some first class flights - the tip of an iceberg of potential demand for passionfruit juice in Europe. In up-market stores in London, for example, purple passionfruit from Kenya were selling briskly for US$0.50 each in December 1989.
Another indication of Bragantina's dynamic agriculture is the emergence of Barbados cherry, known locally as acerola, as a viable cash crop in the 1980s. Introduced by Japanese-Brazilians, Barbados cherry has become a popular fruit drink and ice-cream in Belém The bright red berries are exceptionally high in vitamin C and the tasty pulp is frozen in plastic bags and sold in stores for home consumption, restaurants, and snack bars. Native to the West Indies and northern South America, Barbados cherry is an ideal hedgerow around fields and backyards. Belém already has over 1.2 million inhabitants and the market for Barbados cherry is growing. In 1991, the prices for Barbados cherry pulp declined somewhat in Pará as more producers came on line, but the crop is still profitable and growers rarely grow the bush as a monocrop.
Papaya, indigenous to tropical America, has been grown in Amazonia for a long time, where it also occurs as a bird-dispersed volunteer plant. Local seedling papayas are highly variable and, because they can reach the size of watermelons, often do not ship well. "Sunrise Solo," a papaya variety developed in Hawaii, has revolutionized papaya cultivation in the Bragantina zone and other parts of tropical Brazil. "Solo Sunrise" has elevated papaya from a door yard plant to a plantation crop in the Brazilian Amazon, often as an intercrop with rubber or other perennials. "Sunrise Solo" is the size and shape of a large pear, so it travels with minimal damage. Also, "Sunrise Solo" is a convenient serving size and its deep-orange flesh is widely appreciated. "Sunrise Solo" papayas from the Bragantina zone are sent to Belém and urban centres in central and southern Brazil along the asphalted Belém-Brasília highway. Market prices for "Sunrise Solo" are sufficiently high to justify mechanical preparation of the land, fertilizers, and, in some cases, irrigation. Although the Bragantina receives heavy rainfall from December to June, a week or more may pass during the dry season without a shower.
As in the case of black pepper and African oil-palm, diseases and pests are sure to raise the production cost of current hits such as passionfruit, Barbados cherry, and "Sunrise Solo" papaya. Farmers are adopting several strategies to overcome these constraints, such as multiple-cropping, the deployment of pestresistant cultivars when available, and the testing of new crops.
Mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana) is one of the premier fruits of SouthEast Asia, but hitherto has lingered as a botanical curiosity in tropical America. Several Japanese-Brazilian farmers in the Bragantina zone have modest plantings of young mangosteen trees, which were planted in the late 1980s. The sweet, white pulp of mangosteen is finding a ready market in fashionable shopping malls in São Paulo, such as MorumbiShopping.'
Japanese-Brazilians, with their intensive input of family and hired labour, cooperative spirit, and keen business sense, have often been the catalysts for economic change in the Bragantina zone and some other areas of Amazonia. Other factors behind the agricultural revival of the Bragantina zone include relatively large, nearby urban markets and all-weather roads. Along the hardtop road to Vigia, for example, one Japanese-Brazilian farmer has intercropped "Sunrise Solo" papaya, orange, mangosteen, bell pepper (Capsicum annum), and Barbados cherry, with the latter forming a thick hedge around the field. This thriving 10 ha farm was formerly planted to black pepper.
Japanese-Brazilians are not the only innovative farmers in the greater Bragantina area, however. A former extension agent from Sergipe, a relatively dry state in the Brazilian North-east region, introduced commercial citrus cultivation to the vicinity of Capitao Poço in 1976 (fig. 6.3). Initially helped by bank loans, Antonio Soares soon found orange-growing highly profitable, and managed to increase his holdings from 25 ha to 400 ha by 1990. Close to 2 million orange trees are now planted around Capitão Poço, making it the citrus capital of Amazonia. When the nearby municipality of Irituia is included, some 3 million orange trees are planted in north-eastern Pará, and these recently planted groves now supply close to 40 per cent of the state's market for orange (Falesi and Osaqui 1992).
Although São Paulo still accounts for 90 per cent of Brazil's citrus production, Amazonia's contribution (about 1 per cent of national production) is growing. Orange planting in the Bragantina zone has reached a sufficient scale to justify investments in an orange juice factory. CITROPAR plans to inaugurate an orange juice factory in the Bragantina zone in 1997 to cater for the local and regional markets. By the late 1990s, CITROPAR plans to have 1 million orange trees planted, which will be managed with technical assistance from the Faculty of Agronomical Sciences (FCAP - Faculdade de Ciencias Agrárias do Pará, in Belém
Most of the orange groves are planted to "Pêra," with smaller areas devoted to the "Baianinha" and "Valencia" varieties. Some growers still plant a few of the older varieties, such as a farmer at Belterra who maintains some grafted "Selecta," introduced to Brazil in colonial times (Rosengarten 1991: 23). Many orange groves are established in old pastures or former second growth. Oranges from Capitao Poço are sent as far as Manaus and Imperatriz in the neighbouring states of Amazonas and Maranhão, respectively. Oranges are harvested all year round, thereby providing steady employment, although production peaks during the dry season.
Aware of the dangers of relying too heavily on one crop for income, some citrus growers in the Capitão Poço area are diversifying their farms. For example, 16 km from Capitão Poço the owner of Sitio Rabo de Couro plans to cut back his orange acreage to make room for other crops. In 1992, the 50 ha property had 32 ha in "Pêra" orange, 7 ha in passionfruit intercropped with coconut, and an experimental 1 ha area planted to orange and cotton.
In response to the strong market for citrus products, other farming communities are seizing the opportunity of growing oranges, and to a lesser extent limes and tangerines. Near Castanhal, Pará, for example, Sitio Andiroba has established 5,000 orange trees from seedlings grafted in Capitão Poço (fig. 6.4). Several growers have taken to commercial citrus cultivation along the Manaus-Itacoatiara Highway in Amazonas; in the vicinity of Santarém Pará, and around Rolim de Moura in southern Rondônia. Commercial orange-growing near Santarém dates to the early 1970s, when Miguel das Freiras and the Parente family began selling grafted oranges, particularly along the Santarém-Belterra stretch of the BR 163 highway.
Approximately 90 per cent of the orange groves in the Brazilian Amazon are planted to the "Pêra" variety, typically grafted on rough lemon (limão-cravo or limão galego). "Pêra" is popular because it remains juicy even when the dry season is accentuated, thus commanding a premium price when other varieties are either too dry or not producing. Still, the proliferation of "Pêra" is a risky proposition in case of a disease outbreak. Some growers in Rondônia. are importing grafted oranges from São Paulo, a practice that may help spread diseases such as citrus canker and CVC, a disease of unknown aetiology in southern Brazil.
The Bragantina experience is a good indicator of what is likely to happen in other areas of Amazonia as they become increasingly altered and populated. Occupation of Amazonia does not necessarily lead to a swidden tailspin with declining yields, devastation of the landscape, and rural misery. With a network of all-weather roads, sizeable urban markets, and new technologies supplied by the private and public sectors, farmers can flourish on some of the poorest soils in South America with high rainfall and intense disease and pest pressure. Intensification of land use without resorting to excessive use of agrochemicals has helped raise living standards in rural and urban areas of the Bragantina zone.