Conventional vs. Organic: The Story of Fazenda Santo Antonio da Agua Limpa

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the pros and cons of chemical-free food production and its contra, the use of GM seeds, fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides to maximise crop.  It is felt by some that the notoriety-inducing horror stories involving the likes of Monsanto, Bayer and Dow are sensationalised rareties and that these companies, as well as non-organic growing methods are unfairly lambasted.

The story of Fazenda Santo Antonio da Agua Limpa suggests otherwise.  The Pereira Lima’s, the family that have held onto the farm since it’s inception in 1822, are not one to deliver their state of affairs with melodrama.  In all facets, they are modest and understated – their history with farming is very real, as are the struggles they’ve endured.

Fazenda Santo Antonio was the first farm in Brazil’s Mogiana region to start producing coffee, a product that they dedicated their land and labour to until the mid 1990s.   In the 1960s, sales agents from international agricultural corporations started to pay visits to the farm (and all those in the region) promoting the latest technology in manufactured seed varieties and chemical growth enhancers.

Swayed by an impressive sales routine and the demands of the international market, Fazenda Santo Antonio embarked on a 30-year partnership with big agribusinesses.  Year after year, the farm was met with dramatically lower harvest than expected (and promised), some years, due to unforeseen weather patterns, they suffered complete crop failures.   Despite enduring crop-less years, bills would still need to be paid – the agribusiness firms were of course, not expected to take responsibility for the workings of the natural world.  When the farm could not pay, the agribusiness firm would be right on hand to help – facilitating bank loan after bank loan.  Soon enough, the farm found itself in a mountain of debt and still awaiting the super-harvest that would get them out if it.  However, as with the nature of agriculture, when one farm experiences a good harvest, so does it’s competitors – with a surplus of product entering the market… the product value inevitably decreases.   Beyond financial devastation and unreliable crops, the chemical products used throughout the growing process were extremely hazardous to the health of farm labourers.  On a weekly basis, workers were treated at the local hospital for a series of afflictions such as chemical abrasion to the skin, intoxication, allergies and poisoning.

In 1993, with the farm in the hands of a new generation, it was decided that something had to give.  João Pereira Lima Neto, the farm’s most recent successor resolved to end the high-input, chemical intensive coffee growing and introduced a new farm philosophy, Agricultura da Grande Natureza.  The core value of this new process is simple, when faced with a problem – bring life to the situation, not death.

Less than 20 years on and Fazenda Santo Antonio is brimming with life. The Agricultura da Grande Natureza outlook has inspired a bio-diverse environment and business – the farm produces organic shade-grown coffee (Nature Coffee), organic fruit and vegetables, fosters a variety of open-grazing, grass-fed livestock and maintains an active reforestation initiative.   Instead of conditioning the land to generate a single type of crop, the Pereira Lima family are focused on restoring the natural habitatat of the Mata Atlântica ecosystem, producing within it not in place of it.  On this farm, all life is respected and valued

At Fazenda Santo Antonio, the situation is simple.  In switching to Agricultura da Grande Natureza, the farm is no longer reliant on agricultural corporations.  Here, they look to nature for the answer to their problems and if the flourishing crop, thriving livestock and energetic people are to act as a testament – it’s clear that Mother Nature delivers. 

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