New and old ways of coffee farming meet as cousins Carlos Alberto and Luís Carlos “Japao” Bassetto face the camera. The screen in their hands was used many years ago to clean the coffee cherries. Behind them, there is a brand new mechanical harvester that does the job of 80 people.
The photo was taken in Pratania, western Sao Paulo, where most of the 5,000 population make a living from agriculture.
Here, the technology helps the Bassetto family – and another 113 associated farmers – gain ground in the coveted fair trade market. The cooperative where they work at, founded in 2004, produces around 7,000 coffee bags a year. The best grains are sold to coffee shops in the United States, Switzerland and New Zealand.
“With the mechanical harvester, we can sell up to 70% of our produce (from the current 50%) to fair trade coffee wholesalers,” says Luís Carlos. “They require a wide set of social and environmental standards, but also ensure fair payment.”
The vehicle was purchased with the help of a World Bank initiative that enables Sao Paulo small farmers to improve access to markets. Nowadays it benefits 8,000 families and another 14,000 will be reached until late 2015.
So far, the project has supported not only coffee farmers, but also honey, milk, grains, vegetable and fruit producers. They are now able to learn modern, sustainable farming techniques; make sure their produce meets safety standards – so that they can be served in public school meals, for example –; and purchase equipment.
“Coffee crops demand a lot of manpower, which the region lacks these days,” says Claudio Vivan, technical director at the state Rural Development Office in Botucatu, which provides support to Pratania small farmers. “In addition, the yields are much lower when the fruit are picked up manually. With the mechanical harvester, farmers can wait until the fruit is perfectly ripe, and reap it much faster.”
Brazil is among the world’s largest coffee producers and consumers. And particularly in Sao Paulo, coffee farming has leveraged development between the 1940s and 1970s. Local road and urban infrastructure blossomed thanks to the economic growth of these years.
However, farmers have struggled with bad weather, pest outbreaks, and the decline in global coffee prices over the following years. As a result, many of them were discouraged, either opting for different crops or quitting their farms.