In June, the federal government announced a Harvest Plan for Family Farming with record values. The program will allocate BRL 71.6 billion in rural credit to encourage the work of small producers during the 2023/2024 harvest – 34% more than in the previous harvest.
For farmers and economists, however, all this investment may have limited effect. That’s because, according to them, today the Crop Plan for Family Farming runs into two problems: the indebtedness of small producers and the lack of technical support for the government’s subsidized credit to be effectively converted into production.
Carolina Bueno, an economist and researcher interested in family farming, said the last few years have been especially difficult for small farmers.
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“They got into a lot of debt due to the lack of policies in previous governments, especially during the administration of Jair Bolsonaro (PL). They also had a lot of production losses due to climate issues, such as droughts,” he explained.
Diego Moreira, from the national coordination of the production sector of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), confirms the situation. According to him, around 50% of family farmers in the country have some debt in arrears and, therefore, have restrictions on taking out new loans. In the case of settlers, this percentage reaches 70%.
Moreira calls for government action to seek a solution to these debts so that the Safra Plan credit reaches those who need it.
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“We need an immediate ‘Desenrola’ (a federal debt renegotiation program) in the countryside so that settled families and family farming families can access loans,” he said. “As beautiful as the Safra Plan is, if the families do not have the CPFs able to access the resources, they will not access it”, he warns.
In an interview with Brasil de Fato on Friday (25), Patrícia Vasconcelos Lima, secretary of Family Agriculture and Agroecology at the Ministry of Agrarian Development (MDA), said that the government is aware of the problem of indebtedness of small farmers and is taking action to ensure that they are able to borrow.
“Minister Paulo Teixeira (of the MDA) commissioned a survey with financial agents, with the Central Bank, to address this issue of farmers who are unable to access credit due to pending registration issues”, he said.
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Economist and agronomist José Giacomo Baccarin points out that credit for family farmers cannot come without technical support to boost their production. He, who was the federal government’s Secretary of Food and Nutrition Security between 2003 and 2005, during Lula’s first administration, said that such support does not exist today.
Baccarin pointed out that Brazilian conventional agriculture is so efficient at producing and exporting soybeans and corn, for example, due to the research carried out by the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) on behalf of the sector.
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The same company, however, does the same work in favor of family farming. The small producers, then, “compete” with the big ones in inequality.
“We cannot not think that family farming will compete with the big ones on a hoe basis”, he stated. “We need to have machinery, research and this research has to reach the family farmer.”
Secretary Patrícia Lima stated that the government is working to bring Embrapa closer to family farming and wants to make agreements so that the machines reach the producers.
Baccarin said that support for family farming is essential. The sector is largely responsible for producing the food that reaches Brazilians’ tables. It needs support, just as conventional agriculture already receives – Crop Plan 2023/2024 aimed at agribusiness provides for credit of R$ 364 billion, five times the value of family farming.
“In poultry, pork and milk production, around half of the herd is in the hands of family farmers; cassava and beans is above 50%; and vegetables, family farming is predominant”, listed the economist.
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Vitor Hugo Miro Couto Silva, economist and professor at the Department of Agricultural Economics at the Federal University of Ceará (UFC), explained that, without government support, family farmers could even abandon production. This, however, would have a harmful effect on the cost of food in the country, which would tend to rise.
“In basic economics, we learn that if a certain activity does not give a return that encourages producers to keep producing, they leave the market. Can you imagine having a reduction in the production of rice, beans, meat? This will have a huge cost for society as a whole”, she highlights.
more than food
Carolina Bueno points out that the effects of family farming on the economy go beyond food prices. First, it generates employment in areas in the interior of the country and boosts the economy of these locations.
Patrícia Lima, from MDA, said that 70% of the rural workforce are family farmers, who consume and invest where they live.
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Carolina also stated that family farming contributes to healthy nutrition for the national population, as it provides natural food. These foods usually come from regions close to cities, thus reducing the need to use fossil fuels to transport them from producer to consumer – that is, they are more sustainable.
For her, family farming needs to be strengthened in the context of climate change. The economist argues that the conventional Harvest Plan and that for family farming should be equated.
Editing: Rodrigo Chagas