The rural workforce in Brazil is getting younger, according to recent research. Meet the Gen-Y agripreneurs changing the face of farming in Brazil. By Raphael Marques da Silva, on behalf of HarvestPlus.
The economic crisis in Brazil has chosen millennials–the most apt generation for building the future of the country–as its main victim. According to a survey on Millennials and the Nem Nem Generation, conducted by the Standard Intelligence Center in partnership with MindMiners, about 25% of young people between 18 and 32 years old are unemployed.
At the same time, the average age of Brazilian farmers has fallen from 48 (2013) to 46 years old (2017), while the presence of women in the field increased by 7% according to another recent study. These farmers are also showing higher levels of education and tech savviness.
The study, managed by the Brazilian Rural Marketing and Agribusiness Association, highlighted that 21% of the interviewed farmers had an advanced degree, with an emphasis on agronomy (42%), veterinary medicine (9%) and corporate administration (7%).
And unlike farmers from previous generations, the majority are online and regularly use social media as a means of communication, with nearly all of them using Whatsapp (96%), while 67% interact with Facebook and 24% with YouTube.
These studies reflect the fact that Brazil is in the midst of a socio-economic change in which the rural communities, long seen as lagging behind, are catching up to the city.
Priorities among farmers are shifting too, with producers turning towards suppliers who are dedicated to environmentally sustainable practices. With a more engaged, connected and familiar rural environment, farmers in the countryside are increasingly foregoing large urban centers that are plagued by a cruel recession.
Data and trends gathered from these studies point to a Generation Y that is more sustainability-focused, ideological and even scientific.
Breeding more vitamins and minerals in the semi-arid
Valdileia Silva, 21, is an agricultural technician and an example of the new female farmer. The daughter of rural producers from the city of Oeiras-PI, Valdileia works with her father, Luís Costa e Silva, on the family farm. She is enthusiastic about the innovative measures being implemented in their field, such as solar energy irrigation and cultivation of biofortified crop varieties. Solar irrigation has helped save energy and water, and biofortified crops – made available to family famers like Valdileia through the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) and the HarvestPlus research program – have provided more minerals and vitamins.
“Biofortified products have helped us generate income, since they are widely accepted in Oeiras and neighboring cities. By growing them, I can meet the demands of the Food Acquisition Program (PAA), created by the State to encourage family farming, and earn more money. I deliver to eight schools in Piauí and 14 in the municipality, not counting requests from other cities,” she says, proud of her role in contributing to the regional economy. She is also creating jobs: “I employ two young people on my property, both of whom came from agricultural school and were unemployed.”
Values from the field
For Joni Knapp, 20, a technician in agriculture and the environment, his experience in the city lacked “contact with the earth” and he never felt quite at home.
“The values from the countryside, including the importance of health and knowing what you produce, encouraged me to return to the field,” says Joni, who lives in the municipality of Campina das Missões, in Rio Grande do Sul.
His family business involves producing milk through a cooperative to then pasteurize the product. Combining sustainability and innovation comes naturally to the young farmer. His hunger for knowledge has kept him in touch with a cheese producer in the region who is experienced in enriching the product with micronutrients. According to Joni, dialogue with elders is fundamental, but it’s something that often does not exist in the field, leading young people to leave.
“Young people are hesitant to take over the family business because many believe in the myth that the city is a perfect place. Parents often do not interact with their children, and conflict with their parents, even more so than low wages, motivates many to move to urban centers.”
Sugar cane: National wealth
“Youth today do not have “jeitinho brasileiro” – a Brazilian expression for improvising solutions but also for avoiding or shaping rules – says Mauricio Palazzo, 32. “Today, we study the rules and we comply with them.”
An administrator and farmer, Mauricio is critical of the old “jeitinho” and believes the new generation who work in the fields has shown an increasing commitment to environmental and occupational safety concerns.
Mauricio is the secretary of Socicana – Guariba Sugar Suppliers Association in São Paulo, where 60% of the country’s sugarcane is cultivated.
“Sugarcane gives me a stable income compared to other crops, but I still plant soybeans and peanuts as a form of crop rotation.”
Like any farmer, Maurício sees a lot of potential in agriculture. This optimism is crucial because volatility is part of the daily life of a farmer. Uncontrollable factors such as climate and pests can compromise an entire harvest, and it is up to the farmer to be resilient, and to return to the next season with more experience and better safety measures.
Lívia Gonçalves de Souza, 32, is also part of the Sugar Suppliers Association. She graduated in agronomy and makes a good living planting sugarcane.
The rural entrepreneur who speaks with pride about the recognition she has already won among regional producers for having entered the market early and proven herself capable. She has also gained much credibility for her use of agricultural practices like precision agriculture.
“Today, your technical degree is of no use if you’re not a good manager of your property,” she said.
Agriculture-Livestock Integration in the Amazon
“I completed two years of study in Administration before returning to the countryside,” says João Ricardo Carvalho, who runs two farms in Pará, in the north of Brazil. “I always participate in courses and lectures, because the intention is to strengthen our Integrated Crop-Livestock systems to produce more with less space.”
The technique diminishes the impact on the environment by taking advantage of the same area at different times of the year though rotation or succession. The practice enhances the preservation of natural resources and increases the potential for greater stability and income.
Research corporations in Brazil such as Embrapa have proven that this model contributes to improving soil quality, diversifying income alternatives. Diversifying means of production also increases local food security.
Like other young farmers, João is continuously trying to recast the image of a farmer in Brazil. It is with this same sentiment that he has been rebuilding Fazenda Janaína, his property located in Pará,
Brazil’s cultural diversity is reflected in both the city and the countryside. Optimism is the word of the moment to characterize the agricultural sector, with the export of commodities being the main activity responsible for giving “oxygen” to the economy. The countryside is getting younger, with more women in the workforce, and a prevailing entrepreneurial spirit. Taking all business models to scale is a challenge, but the aspirations of Brazil’s millennial generation, and its commitment to seeking a livelihood through farming, is encouraging.