- François-Xavier Branthôme
"Broadening trade horizons for processing tomatoes"
In Brazil, tomatoes have become a source of employment and revenue, whether they are grown as table-tomatoes or for processing. The industrial sector alone generates 3.2 billion Brazilian reals (BRL) every year (approximately USD 965 million or EUR 832 million, val. Nov. 2017). The state of Goiás is the country's main growing region, with 12 300 hectares planted with specific varieties for processing. This activity generates seven direct jobs per hectare. Some farms harvest up to 1 200 metric tonnes (mT) per day – 60 truck-loads – which are delivered to processing plants less than one hour after leaving the fields. Such a level of efficiency is not systematic within the industry, even in the most developed contexts.
In the federal district (around the capital, Brasilia, which is located in the state of Goiás), the cultivation of processing tomatoes is the main activity of 383 growers, mostly on smaller farms. Last year, this district produced 26 750 mT. According to data from the Association for Technical Assistance and Rural Extension of the federal district, production amounted to 25 295 mT as of the end of August 2017.
In 2017, Brazil's production of tomatoes for processing amounted to 1.45 million mT.
According to Embraca (the Brazilian Society for Agricultural Research), about fifty varieties have been developed in Brazil in addition to the nine varieties that are grown for table consumption. The most commonly found varieties are used as raw materials for manufacturing sauces as well as other tomato products. Crops intended for processing are grown on about 17 300 hectares, resulting in a total production volume of approximately 1.4 million tonnes. The state of Goiás, which is the main growing region for this sector, has 12 300 hectares dedicated to processing tomatoes, with the neighboring states of Minas Gerais and São Paulo accounting for the rest of the country's crop, namely 2 000 hectares and 3 000 hectares respectively.
The most productive farms can reach yields of approximately 110 tonnes/hectare. Plantation operations are carried out from 1 January to 30 June, with a 120-day cycle that has the first harvesting operations taking place early May.
Last year, the state of Goiás alone produced 1.198 million mT of processing tomatoes, with a further 49 300 mT grown for consumption as table-tomatoes. The predominance of Goiás in this field can be attributed to its abundance of fertile land, a favorable climate, but more importantly, some major investments in developing the agricultural sector, all of which have contributed to the expansion of planted surfaces and led to an improvement in the technological level of the processing industry. "We have achieved the highest yields in the country and sharply increased our profitability because we have invested in qualified manpower for growing tomatoes," stated the Secretary of Development for the state of Goiás, Francisco Gonzaga Pontes. Several of the world's biggest companies in the tomato processing sector have set up factories in Goiás state. Public policy has encouraged the development of a favorable environment (tax incentives for setting up processing plants and product distribution infrastructures, renovation of the road network, proximity of agricultural cultivation areas), allowing the state of Goiás to become a hub for the tomato processing industry and considerably reducing the cost of logistics.
The state has welcomed no less than 13 processing plants, in Abadiânia, Luziânia, Nerópolis, Vianópolis, Morrinhos, Turvânia, Anápolis, Cristalina, Orizona and Goiânia. The cost of processed products supplied to distributors is relatively low. "This production sector adds value and generates extremely positive profitability for growers, while also creating jobs and sources of revenue in the regions where companies have set up," said Francisco Pontes.
A comfortable growth potential
Another decisive factor for the Brazilian tomato products market is its undeniable growth potential. According to data supplied by the Abratop association (Associação Brasileira de Tomate para Processamento, or Brazilian Processing Tomatoes Association), the per capita consumption of tomato products currently amounts to 3 kg/year approximately (6.5 kg according to the most recent data supplied by the WPTC, editor's note), well ahead of the levels reached in a number of countries in North Africa, the Asia-Pacific region, the United States and several European countries. In addition to the wide availability of tomato products in these countries or regions that enjoy well-established tomato processing industries, the "health" benefits linked to the lycopene content of tomatoes have played a decisive role in the development of consumption, and this contributes to the likely growth in consumption of these same tomato products throughout Brazil.
In fact, the satisfaction of a considerable proportion of Brazilian demand still depends on imports from Chile, China, Italy, the USA, etc. Over the past three marketing years, Brazil has imported approximately 20 500 tonnes of paste per year, 12 800 tonnes of canned tomatoes and 800 tonnes of sauces, for a total value close on USD 30 million. These foreign purchases serve to supplement the requirements of several processing companies in the northeast and southern regions of the country, but they remain episodic. “For us, the challenge is to improve the energy infrastructure, promote the installation of new irrigation systems, and reduce the burden of taxes and transport costs for the export market, by extending the trade horizons of processing tomatoes," declared the chairman of Abratop, Rafael Satana.