Several inhabitants in the region of Simplício Mendes, a municipality in the
northeastern Brazilian state of Piauí, have stopped travelling by foot or donkey
in recent years because they have bought motorcycles. Many others have also put
refrigerators and television sets in their homes.
What is bringing more income to the sertaneaw6kx (those who live in the semiarid region) and allowing them to live more comfortably is honey. A project for collective production and sale of the product is turning beekeepers into businessmen. They take care of the bees and collect honey, but they also pack it with their own brand, and sell it to Brazil and the world.
Their work is coordinated by the Association of Beekeepers from the Micro-Region of Simplício Mendes (AAPI). And this is not the only initiative for industrialization of agricultural products in the Brazilian semiarid.
There are farmers and cattle-raisers organized into cooperatives and associations for production and sale of yoghurts, cheese, juices, and even umbu jelly (umbu is a fruit typical to the region).
The experience of the Simplício Mendes beekeepers is considered an example in the region. It all started in 1989, with the work of Catholic Church leaders to locally promote beekeeping as a means for improving the living conditions of the inhabitants.
The church would sponsor the purchase of hives for the families. Later on, an organization called Francis of Assisi Fraternity was established in order to play the role. In 1994, a beekeepers association was created to facilitate sales. Currently, farmers from nine municipalities in the semiarid in the surroundings of Simplício Mendes are involved in production.
There are a total of 15,000 hives distributed throughout approximately 1,100 family properties in 31 communities, according to the technical adviser at the AAPI, Paulo José da Silva. “In each community, two people work in quality control for the honey,” he says.
Before starting to produce, the beekeepers receive training. Presently, according to Silva, the association is still in the process of legalizing a cooperative in order to make sales even easier. Honey from the Piauí semiarid reaches the consumers under the brands Nutritivo Mel and Gota Silvestre, and features packages with labels in English as well.
The first export was made in 2002, to Italy. The honey has been tasted in the United States, and is also consumed in several Brazilian states, including Piauí (Northeast), São Paulo (Southeast), and Brazilian capital Brasília (Midwest). Last year, 80 tons of honey were produced.
“Honey production is an incentive for the youths to realize that it is possible to live in our region, that one need not move to the southeast,” Silva says.
In fact, beekeeping is one of the activities most recommended by researchers for the semiarid, since in order to do it, one must preserve the local vegetation, which is the habitat for the bees.
The AAPI associates, for instance, even introduce into the savannah plants that flower during the period in which native trees are scarce, so that the bees can feed. The planted species range from Brazilian pepper trees to leucaenas.
The Umbu Women
Another project for industrialization of agricultural products that takes into account the appreciation of semiarid plants is that of the Family Agriculture Cooperative of Canudos, Uauá and Curaçá (Coopercuc), from the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia. The cooperative produces 100 tons of products per year, including jellies, juices, sweets, pulps, and preserves, made of umbu and passion fruit, which are native species of the savannah, as well as guava and mango.
The work was born from the willingness of leaders at the Regional Institute of Small Appropriate Agriculture (IRPAA) to bring an option for generating income to the countrywomen. The mission of the institute is to help the sertaneaw6kx live well in the semiarid.
Thus, in 1999, women from the municipalities of Canudos, Uauá, and Curaçá, in Bahia, started to transform the fruit, in the kitchens of their homes, into jellies, juices and sweets for family consumption. But the production increased, they began selling at local fairs, the initial 20 women grew to 100 women in 2000 and, in 2002, 4,500 kilograms were being produced.
The solution, in 2003, was to establish the cooperative and put together a small factory in Uauá. Now, Coopercuc has 14 industrial units in the three cities. According to the manager, Egnaldo Gomes Xavier, 68% of the products are made of umbu, 20% of passion fruit, and the remainder of guava and mango.
The Coopercuc products, which total 100 tons a year, are sold in the Brazilian states of Bahia, São Paulo, and the Federal District, and then exported to France, Austria, and Germany. By the end of the year, according to Xavier, the products will also reach Switzerland and Italy.
“In 2000, a bag of raw fruit cost 5 reais (US$ 2.65), and that same bag, after processing, cost 150 reais (US$ 79.3),” says the manager at the cooperative. Industrialization ensures an income for 200 families and injects, according to Xavier, 1 million reais (US$ 532,000) per year into the economy of the three municipalities involved.
“The income of these families has increased by 20%,” he says. In addition to the native umbu, the families also cultivate grafted umbu. Whereas the native variety takes 15 years to yield the first crop, the grafted plant takes from four to five years, Xavier explains.
Yoghurts from Hybrid Cows
Everyday, from 2,500 to 4,000 liters of milk leave the premises of the Mixed Agricultural Cooperative of Afrânio (Camal) transformed into cheeses, yoghurts, and butters under the Pontal brand. The Camal industrial unit is supplied by 150 cattle-raisers in the region.
The cooperative, located in the city of Afrânio, in the northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco, was established to ensure a destination for the milk produced by those raisers, and to improve the local price of the product. In fact, the cooperative was first established in 1991, for another type of activity, and then re-established in 1997, turned to the manufacturing of dairy products.
The cattle-raisers who supply the milk, according to the manager at Camal, Eliomar Pereira de Souza, are small producers. The smallest amount delivered by a raiser per day is five liters, and the largest, 250 liters.
At the industrial unit, nine employees transform the milk, which comes from hybrid cows, into finished products. The dairy products, according to Souza, are sold to bakeries and supermarkets in Petrolina, the largest city in the region, and to neighboring municipalities.
Cheese answers to 90% of production. Presently, the cooperative is trying to obtain a license to sell all over the country.
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