15th - 2005 Brazil Post Congress Tour
Sesc North Pantanal, Chapada dos Guimaries, Cuiaba, Campo Verde.
20th - 26th August 2005
The Post Congress Tour group was a much smaller one than for the pre congress tour with 18 people plus guides from just 6 countries. This intrepid group set off from Campinas early on the Saturday morning for Sao Paulo and a flight to Cuiaba, the capital of Mato Grosso State. Ahead lay 6 days of travel in hot dry conditions to see the amazing wildlife in the northern Pantanal (part of the largest inland swamp land in the world, some 230.000 sq.km.), and ancient landscape scenes in the mountainous area of Chapada dos Guimaraes, a plateau 800 metres above Cuiaba and the Pantanal.
As with all congress tours there was a mix of tourism (eco-tourism) and farming, although by the nature of the landscape and the distances to be travelled the days of the week consisted of one or the other, the first part being tourism and the second being farming on the previously savannah areas of Mato Grosso. A scale of farming that was mind blowing to those who came from Europe.
Northern Pantanal - Sesc Eco-tourism centre
Whilst extensive farming is practised in the northern Pantanal, it seemed to consist mainly of stock farming, mainly beef animals, and fairly wild ones at that! A definite contrast to the southern Pantanal farming that had been seen on the pre congress tour. Eco tourism was important to the area, but here they are struggling to decide how much tourism should be allowed to develop, how much should be encouraged - should the roads be bitumen surfaced, should facilities for tourist be increased, and what effects would this development have on the environment? Those tourist facilities that have been allowed seem fairly sophisticated, so the rewards when one has negotiated the roads are very worthwhile.
The Sesc Hotel and Eco-Resort is based on the Cuiaba River and offers much in the way of river based wildlife viewing, including fish, caiman, monkeys and many birds - not least the Tuiuiu (Jabiru stork) the symbol of the Pantanal. Even the cattle gave the walking group, as opposed to the horse riding group, a wildlife scare!
Chapada dos Guimaraes
At Chapada dos Guimaraes, on the highest land in Mato Grosso, the group were taken to the 'true geodesic centre of South America' marked by a surprisingly understated small block of concrete in a car park with what must be one of the grandest views in the world ranging across the plains and the Pantanal nearly a 1000 metres below.
A days walk in the National Park took the group into magnificent scenery descending through deep ravens with waterfalls and natural swimming pools.
Campo Verde - Fazenda Maraba
The main agricultural visit was a day long tour to the Maraba Estate, situated some distance from its nearest town of Campo Verdi, a three hour drive from Cuiaba. Seemingly miles from anywhere, Campo Verde is a centre of large grain silos belonging to the main grain (soya and maize corn) trading companies. It is a town of seemingly endless silos, trucks and trailers.
Huge farming estates have grown out of the savannah, first with beef enterprises to 'tame' the land, and then after a few years moving to soya, maize and increasingly cotton production. Farming in this region is young, most of it developed in the last 30 years or less.
Maraba is an estate that started in 1981 with just 1000ha land. It has grown through acquisition to having 35,000 hectares of cropped land in 2005 - 22,000 ha soya bean, 4,000 ha corn (maize) and 9,000 ha cotton. The estate also carried 12,000 head of cattle on poorer land. The impression was that this was not an atypical estate in the area.
Mariba Farm offices and cotton processing plant. Field visit to cotton.
The group's visit coincided with the cotton being harvested. It is grown in a 4 year rotation, 3 years cotton and 1 year with soya followed by a crop of maize in the same year. We were told that the cotton rows ran for 7km!
Cotton harvester, and harvested cotton being tipped into a field bale compressor. These huge bales, the size of a truck, are covered and stored in field until processing can be carried out.
The cotton is harvested then packed and compressed into huge truck sized bales, hauled to the farm yard, processed, quality assessed, packed into bales, stitched and labelled and stored ready for direct export - all on the estate.
Field bale>processing to remove debris>baling for export>quality assessment under special lighting.
The huge benefits of scale were all too evident, and with this repeated across the Mato Grosso and many other states of Brazil, it is no wonder that Brazil is becoming such a major player in agricultural production. The equipment is modern; the staff well trained and looked after; the technology advanced. But even with the advantages of scale there was concern over prices with soya described as only 'breaking even'. This visit was greatly enhanced by the chance visit of a retired surgeon now a local farmer, who spoke excellent English, who kindly stayed with the group for the whole afternoon.
Cuiaba - Amaggi Soyabean Processing
The second main visit was to the Amaggi soya processing factory in Cuiaba - one of the Maggi private family owned company factories - where soya is processed into vegetable oil and animal feed. The factory processes 1,500 tonnes of soya a day, and operates everyday for 11 months of the year with one month used for maintenance. Unfortunately visitors are not allowed to take photos, but again the technology was high, and the group were allowed to see both the processing and the laboratory testing that ensured that no GM material was allowed into the site. There was a steady flow of trucks bringing soya beans in, and tankers and trucks taking vegetable oil and meal out. Again a very impressive operation.
Infrastructure, in terms of road (quality), rail (lacking) and ports (jammed), is an important limiting factor for Brazilian agriculture.
As with the pre congress tour there were few people who spoke English, so the participants were particularly grateful to the guides who joined the group at various times and helped with the technical translation, to Ana Julia Vidal a young journalist from CEPEA in Piracicaba for being the principal co-ordinator and translator, and to Edson Rochelle the tour operator who once again had arranged the tour. A most memorable trip!
Photos by Tony King