sexta-feira, 28 de fevereiro de 2020

Brazilian agriculture calls for a greenhouse revolution

Historically, vegetable consumption in Brazil has remained low despite the fact that the country is internationally recognized as an agricultural superpower. The reasons for this apparent paradox are diverse and relatively difficult to resolve. There are cultural reasons, but it is generally agreed that the high cost of vegetables is one of the main causes of low consumption. Brazilian population has already surpassed 200 million people and the average income of the population has increased in recent years. Despite what was expected, however, the average domestic consumption of vegetables in the country has actually decreased. 

Brazil is the largest tropical country and, as such, presents a great variability of climates and soils in its territory. Although greenhouse vegetable farming is practiced from the subtropical Southern region to the hot and humid Amazon region, the reasons why greenhouse horticulture is adopted may differ according to latitude. The growing interest in greenhouse vegetable production is associated with the increase in consumer income, the urbanization of Brazilian population and the increasing concern about food safety, the use of chemical pesticides and the possibility of increasing water and fertilizer use efficiency.

The intensive use of inputs and the great dependence on imports expose the vulnerable side of Brazilian agriculture, making the development of systems and practices that increase efficiency in the use of inputs urgent if the sustainability of the vegetable value chain is a real priority. The already mentioned increase in the average income of Brazilian population, the Brazilian labor legislation and the competition with other economic activities perceived as less strenuous have made the labor force for agriculture scarce and expensive, which has created new challenges for agriculture. Agricultural scientific research has been pressed to provide innovative solutions to these challenges. The expansion of greenhouse agriculture is thought to be one of those solutions. 

The perception that the increase in the frequency of extreme climatic events due to global climate changes will greatly affect vegetable-producing areas is another factor involved in intensifying the search for solutions in protected cultivation. It is never too much to remember that unforeseen climatic events can affect not only the productivity of vegetables, but their physical quality, and the fact that the Brazilian consumer "buys vegetables with his eyes" has already become proverbial. 

The concentration of greenhouse vegetable production around metropolitan areas, which are the largest consumers of this type of produce, makes it possible to reduce the distance between producing areas and consuming regions, favoring the reduction of losses due to inadequate transport over long distances. It is a known fact that vegetable post-harvest losses play an important role in regulating supply and, consequently, vegetable prices in Brazil. 

A factor that has prevented the widespread adoption of the production of vegetables in protected cultivation in Brazil is the high internal temperatures, mainly in farms in the Midwest, Northeast and North Brazil, but also occasionally Southeast and even in Southern Brazil, which are colder subtropical regions. The adoption of temperature control techniques generally used in other regions of the world, such as the use of air conditioning, comes up against the high price of electricity that would inevitably lead to an increase in the cost of production and in the price of vegetables. Considering that the average domestic consumption of vegetables by Brazilians is around 27 kilograms per person per year (in South Korea the average consumption is 170 kilograms per inhabitant per year), it is clear that Brazilian greenhouse farmers have a hard time adopting modern technology. 

The fundamental question of developing research solutions to reduce the internal temperature in the protected environment remains. There are technical solutions, mainly involving techniques and materials in the construction and coverage of structures for protected cultivation, used in several countries to control internal climatic variables, mainly temperature and light. These techniques are still little known and even less used in Brazil, mainly due to the lack of research and validation under tropical conditions. Along with the development of technologies adapted to the Brazilian horticulturist, it is urgent that the Brazilian population eat more vegetables and fruits.

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