I landed in Sao Paulo. I was to meet one of the people from our group here
and he would give me a ride to the hotel. After two hours and no one showing up
holding my name on a card, I remained unclaimed at the luggage carousel. This
was early in cell phone days and I had no number, no contact, just a hope that
someone would be there. With the name of my hotel, I would have taken a cab but
I did not even have that.
Nearing the three-hour mark my ride arrived and easily picked me out for
Les Kletke. I am not famous so I am guessing it was because I was the only one in
the area, and the forlorn look on my face.
“Sorry, I was in a meeting and it was really interesting,” he said. “I forgot
about the time.” I did not bother to ask what the meeting was about that could hold
someone’s attention for that long, never mind running past the time that person
was due to do their job. I had never been to a meeting that interesting and doubted
I would get invited to one.
We got to the hotel and Surprise Number Two. Dennis and I would be
staying at a different hotel. The paying tour was booked here; the invited guests
were at a more budget conscious establishment. Think Motel 6 with their floors.
Dennis and I checked in and carried our gear up the stairs. I was out of breath and
needed to stop on the second landing, while Dennis who was shorter, heavier and a
smoker, was not even breathing hard, “Not used to the humidity, hey Kletke?” he
said, “We are used to this in Chatham.” Oh, was about all I could say, but we
decided it was time for a refreshment and made our way to a sidewalk cafe.
Within a couple of blocks of our motel we found a place of business that
would meet our needs, went in and ordered two beers. The waiter brought a litre
bottle and two glasses, and poured us each a beer. We thought there was a
language problem, and told him we ordered two beer, “Yes, I know but so it does
not get warm,” he said, adjusting his white gloves and returning with a champagne
bucket, ice and the other beer. On his next trip he brought out the crackers and
cheese with some type of dry meat. Things were looking up; we enjoyed our visit
and discussed what we expected to see. Done, we asked for our bill, it came to the
equivalent of about six bucks. We were not done, and settled back in our chairs for
another round. Brazil was looking up.
This was the time that pictures of 40 combines going down the field had
just hit the Internet and I was anxious to see their agriculture first hand. We got to
visit some farms in the southern part of the country in the states of Mato Grosso
and Mato Grosso do Sul.
The farms we visited were operated by people of Dutch descent and would
have been showpiece farms in any part of the world. It did not take us long to
recognize that these were young farmers with the resources they needed and the
drive to make things happen. They had the pioneering attitude of their
grandfathers who had carved this land from the jungle, and the advantage of the
technology of today. They could be 1000 miles away on new land and home for
the weekend, thanks to the helicopter they employed.
The new land they were opening was a dream-come-true. The wood they
got from it virtually paid for the clearing, and the only nutrient requirement for the
first five or so years was lime, which was relatively cheap. The clearing was not
complex, two large caterpillars with 100 metres of logging chain between them
moving up the field. The sound of the trees crashing was the most impressive part
of the operation, and we stayed to watch for a while.
At the village, which was central to the settlement, we found a collection of
upscale houses, schools and a church ‘neat as a pin’. (Did I mention they were
Dutch descendants?) Right down to a working windmill in the village.
We were treated to a presentation on the farm, in a classroom on the farm.
“We cannot wait for the government,” said our host as we made or way to a
theatre complete with slanted floor and padded seats, “we have our own extension
system to provide information.” When the lecture ended I walked over to the
speaker and told him I worked in extension in Canada and had never seen anything
of that caliber of demonstration and in that kind of facility.
“I thought you might like it,” he said with a smile, “I took the liberty to
prepare a CD for you. It is translated into English,” and he handed me a disc. I
managed a “Thank you.”
We went out to a field and from a single vantage point I took a picture of
the combine harvesting beans, the sprayer spraying Roundup to kill weeds, and a
planter putting in the next crop of corn. The crops were all conventional because
GMOs were not allowed, but they could use Roundup for pre-harvest burn down. I
knew better then to ask, I saw how things worked and how the people embraced
technology. I did not have to ask if they used GMOs.
Three crops a year does a lot to cut down the overhead on the farm
operation and we spent some time discussing the matter of how much of an
advantage it was. Our host acknowledged they might appear a bit over capitalized
for the acres they farmed, “But keep in mind we cover it three times a year.”
He told us about their John Deere equipment, that most of it was built in his
country where wages were about 1/3 of what they were in the US, so machinery
was a bit more affordable.
On the topic of labour we spoke about farm labour and how it was a
problem in North America. He said they had people lining up at their gate every
morning looking for work, and they could have all the farm labour they needed.
“I am not sure how many more years it will last,” he said, “The economy is
changing and someday these people may not be as hungry for work. But we will
be all right for a few more years because of the population, and factory jobs are
not that desirable. People find it cheaper to live in the country where they can
grow their own food.”
The more we visited the more it became apparent that Brazil was going to
be a force to be reckoned with in the international market. The only place that I
did not see them competing was in the curling rink, once the domain of prairie
farmers, but Brazil has already joined the World Curling Association.
We visited a hog operation where I was impressed by the cleanliness and
lack of odour, but it was an open-air facility with a lot of concrete and the manure
was washed away. The issue of environmental restriction did not come into the
discussion. Our host focused on the quality of the genetics (Dutch) and I
recognized the company name. They were well established in the Canadian market
as a provider of genetics for breeding herds. Again it seemed the Brazilian farmer
had a huge advantage, access to all of the world’s best genetics, cheap feed grown
locally, low cost labour, and a lower cost of dealing with manure. It was not
viewed as waste here, its nutrient value was recognized and it was returned to the
land. Again, the year round access to farmland was an advantage.
We alternated our time between farm visits and cities; we called on
administrators who explained the potential of Brazilian farms and what the
country was doing to expand production.
Infrastructure was a problem; trucks would haul beans to port to be loaded
on ships and spend the day in lineups.
One of the farms we visited had bought an abandoned rail liner in
Manitoba. The farmer was planning to pull up the line here, and build his own
railway in Brazil to facilitate moving his grain to an export position. The size of
the operation and the capital that these farmers spoke of was mindboggling.
Though the thought of Canada tearing up rail lines and this country buying them
for salvage prices to put them down as existing railways did send a message.
The country was not only a leader in production, its people know how to
enjoy a meal. I must say I was not mature enough to handle the food available in
restaurants. The salad bar was always heaped with the freshest of vegetables but
my downfall was the meat. As you dined, serving staff made their way through the
restaurant with skewers loaded with chicken, beef, pork and lamb; placing the end
of the skewer in your plate they carved off as much as you wanted. They would
continue in this manner till you covered your plate with your napkin to indicate
you were done. I admit, on a few occasions I did not know when I was done.
There was one other time Dennis and I stayed a little too long for our own
good. It was at a market in Sao Paulo. We had free time in the afternoon and spent
it wandering the market and buying the occasional souvenir. We found a lunch
counter (think 1950s) with stools around a U-shaped arborite top. It was already
late in the afternoon when we sat down to enjoy a burger and a malted
beverage—or perhaps two—and darkness set in. Suddenly the crowd changed
entirely, the cafe that had been a family type restaurant only an hour earlier
transformed to a much seedier environment with the coming of night.
We realized that what had been a fun place for a burger was not a fun place
for two overweight tourists and paid our bill. We had a few requests to stay, and
did not have to confer with each other, we were of the same mindset in refusing
the invites. We found many of the stalls in the market place were not closed and
those that were open now housed a very different type of clientele than they had
earlier. We made our way back to the hotel in good time and realized that things
change a lot with nightfall in this country’s largest city.
It was not our only lunch counter faux pas. On the only day when Goudy
and his key people took our translator with them to meetings we were not required
nor invited to attend, Dennis and I along with a few American farmers were on
another rural tour. We stopped at a local restaurant and were having breakfast
when one of the farmers asked for a glass of fruit juice—no comprende. Dennis
stepped in to help with his newly acquired Portuguese and asked for El fructo
Juico. The waitress smiled, nodded, and headed off to the kitchen and returned
with a glass of what looked like grape juice . . .
We did attend one more cultural event in Sao Paulo, and while the true
Carnival is in Rio, something that was on my list of someday events, this trip
removed it from my list. Brazilians told me that Rio was very dangerous and they
noticed I always had my camera around my neck.
“For a camera of that value they would slit your throat in Rio,” one local
told me. That took Rio off the list but we were fortunate enough to have a scaled
down version of Carnival in Sao Paulo during or visit. The costumes and the
music was all I thought it would be. It did not disappoint but there are cultural
rules to the crews that march in the parade and the main one is age before beauty.
Members of these clubs do not quit participating in parades just because they have
a few years of experience. Each club in the parade is lead by the most senior
members with the young girls bringing up the rear. My observation was that there
is a certain age when you should be wearing underwear and supportive underwear
is a better option.