The choice for irrigated fruit growing has proven to be an excellent option for the region of the São Francisco River Valley in Brazil’s Northeast region. And not only for the income generated for the producers, but also for creating jobs.
Studies by the extinct Superintendence for the Development of the Northeast (Sudene) show that this sector is the one that has the lowest cost for job generated, when compared to other sectors in the economy.
One hectare of irrigated land in the São Francisco Valley costs today, in average, US$ 10,000 to the public authorities. For a grape crop, five people per hectare are needed, which costs US$ 2,000 per job generated.
The automobile industry, for example, takes in at least US$ 47,400 per job generated; the pharmaceutical, US$ 42,400; the petrochemical, US$ 38,600; and steelworks, at least US$ 15,600.
As well as generating jobs at a low cost, irrigated fruit growing causes positive consequences in the social aspect. One of the most obvious is keeping man in the fields.
It is estimated that there are 400,000 employed workers in irrigated agriculture in the São Francisco Valley. In another situation, this contingent would have already migrated to the northeastern capitals or cities in the Southeast of Brazil.
Such a great mass of hired people also created a pretty organized union movement. Currently there are in the region 10 unions acting in the cities involved with irrigated agriculture. Together, they have won social benefits that are not very common in the interior of the Northeast region of Brazil.
“Here, almost the entirety of the workers are registered. Transportation is free and safe, made in buses. No one may be transported in the back of trucks. In the farms, there are masculine and feminine clothes and everybody has individual safety equipments,” tells the president of the city of Petrolina Rural Workers Union, Manoel Moreira.
The strength of fruit growing in the São Francisco Valley has also made appear a significant rural middle class. Calculations made by the Vale Export, cooperative of producers in the region, show that a small farmer, exploiting six hectares of grapes, may reach annual revenues of US$ 125,000.
Estimating a profitability of 30%, this fruit producer would have a monthly income of about US$ 3,300, which is quite significant for the region.
This middle class ends up imposing a demand for more qualified products and services. The effects of this can already be seen at the Valley’s financial center: the sister cities of Petrolina and Juazeiro.
The first one located in the state of Pernambuco and the latter in Bahia, are separated only by the São Francisco River, an obstacle overcome by a bridge 50 years ago.
One of the sectors growing the most in the region is civil construction. Luxurious buildings are being built by the river shores in Petrolina. One of them, called Morada do Rio, has 250 square meter apartments and a panoramic elevator.
“We find it easier to sell A or B standard units. The target audience are farmers, university level public sector employees and the medical class,” explains Audísio Venâncio, director of construction company Construtora Venâncio, on of the five largest in the Valley.
The constructor’s statement shows another segment in plain expansion in the Valley. Petrolina and Juazeiro have become a significant medical hub in the interior, with specialized clinics and hospitals coming up every year.
Services such as computerized tomography or complex interventions like organ transplants are a reality in that region, called the ‘sertão’ (backland) in Brazil. Medicine will be one of the courses offered by the Federal University of São Francisco, institution already registered in the Federal Official Gazette. The physical installations are already being built.
The mayor of Petrolina, Fernando Bezerra Coelho, compares the experience in the São Francisco Valley with what happened in California, in the United States.
“At the end of the gold cycle, in the 1930s, California became the poorest union in the North American federation. A very strong investment in irrigation was then made. Soon after came the universities, and with them, technology. Today, California is amongst the richest of the American states,” says the mayor.
In spite of the evident benefits, Brazil still invests shyly in irrigated agriculture. In the country there are 2.9 million irrigated hectares, which corresponds to 6.4% of the total cultivated surface of 45 million hectares. It is estimated that the irrigation potential surpasses 30 million hectares, which could double national agriculture production.
According to the International Management Institute, organization that advises the FAO, countries like Mexico are already in a much more advanced situation than ours in what concerns using up irrigation soil.
In that country there is a public irrigation project that increased from 200,000 hectares to 8.3 million hectares of irrigated are. This in just over 50 years.
The most populated countries in the planet, China and India, solidly invest in irrigation due to its unique capacity of creating jobs in the rural areas, reason for which they manage to keep 80% of their population away from the urban areas.
China has the largest irrigated area in the world, with 50 million hectares and launched an ambitious program planning to irrigate one million hectares per year.
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