BRASILIA - Palm trees, sunny skies, red soil: those are the first impressions of my first trip back to Brazil since I came here with our Ag Leadership group in 1998. I'm here as a guest of the Ministry of Agriculture, along with several other journalists from around the world. I hope to share with you my discoveries as we journey about the country this week, visiting both large and small scale farms and seeing some of the reasons why this country has such a bright future in agriculture.
That future depends, in part, on those millions more mouths that will need to be fed as the planet races toward 9 billion population by 2050. Last night we had dinner with Tatiana Lacerda Prazeres, Secretary of Foreign Trade, and Augusto Pestana, international director, office of public affairs of the Presidency. who noted that Agriculture in Brazil accounts for 3% of GDP, but when you add in all Ag economic activity, the number is more like 40%. This country's future clearly revolves around exploiting its resources and growing commodities. Brazil is already a leading provider of iron ore to China, its biggest trade partner. It also is a top world provider in soybeans, orange juice, beef, poultry and coffee - things the world wants, and things a growing middle class in developing countries also want.
Brazil is also well positioned to succeed in bioenergy. Its sugarcane industry churns out enough ethanol to fuel a fourth of the nation's cars. The mandated amount of ethanol in gasoline blends is 25%, and since the country's oil industry is state-owned, the gas prices here are fixed. In other words, the Brazilians are not screaming about $4.50 per gallon gas like we are in the states.
Brazil's tantalizing potential is well known to the Chinese, who are sinking real capital into building roads, ports, bridges and trains. "China is our most important trade partner," says Pestana. China's agriculture trade with Brazil grew from 3% to 14% from 2000 to 2010, adds Prazeres.
The take home message last night was this: Brazil has a lot of investors, both foreign and domestic. But they need more. They need a lot more.
Tomorrow I'll tell you what I discover at EMBRAPA, Brazil's research and development agency. It's next on our agenda.