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jan 15, 2018
Food and Beverages

Meet the Brazilian apps transforming agribusiness

Brazil has long been one of the world’s top agricultural producers and exporters, as one of the earth’s most expansive and fertile territories. While the average global agricultural output grows by 1.84 percent each year, in Brazil this is 4 percent. Agribusiness now accounts for 20 percent of Brazil’s jobs, 25 percent of its GDP and 46 percent of its total exports.

By the 1970s, Brazil was already producing 30 million tons of food per year, described by Celso Moretti, director of the Brazilian Corporation for Agricultural Research (Embrapa), as a “net importer for food” at that point in time. Production has only increased since, with the Brazilian agribusiness market taking on an explosive growth of 600 percent in the four decades since: during the 2010s’, Brazil has produced an average of more than 230 million annual tons in harvests.

However, recent developments due to new technology, Brazil’s growth in the last decade has completed an even more dramatic climb, and one that looks promising for future agribusiness endeavors in the country. In 2007, each hectare yielded 2.85 tons for the country’s farmers. By 2017, this was 3.85 tons per hectare – thanks to the sway of agritech’s rapid development.

Although agritech is a recent field, it’s catching attention across the globe. With Brazil’s standing as the world’s largest exporter of sugar, coffee, orange juice, soya and chicken meat, as well as the second for beef meat and the fourth for pork meat, agritech could help save on energy and costs for producers while improving their yields.

The state of Minas Gerais is one place where this demonstrable impact is most pronounced. Some of the world’s most celebrated coffee beans are grown and produced in this state, and much of it comes from small, specialist farms who can’t afford productivity tools used by larger producers. But this year, thanks to agritech developments, coffee farmer Rafael Henrique Luz’s Fazenda da Serra had its first ever mechanical harvest.

The agribusiness app that helped Luz’s farm was Uller, a mobile app that describes itself as the Uber of the agribusiness world. Created by 25-year-old Danielle Fonseca, Uller allows small producers to rent mechanized harvest tools instead of performing manual harvests, saving small producers approximately half of the time and the money they would normally spend on harvests.

Fonseca, who is the daughter of a farmer, explains on Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (Apex-Brasil)’s BBC series how she came up with and implemented her idea in just a year. “We were already familiar with the sharing economy and users ourselves of services like Uber and AirBnb,” she said. “So I started to think on how this could be applied to farmers like us, creating a more sustainable economy.”

Uller operates mainly in the south of Minas Gerais for now, but already has more than 200 users and a projected revenue of approximately US $200,000 from its first year. Nor is Fonseca alone in agritech innovation. Online hub StartAgro is another recent startup, aiming to connect agribusiness producers with both innovators and investors for increased productivity. StartAgro’s founder, Clayton Melo, told Apex-Brasil’s BBC series that he believes there could be up to 200 agritech startups in Brazil. “Brazil has probably the second largest number only behind the Unites States,” he said. “Most of them are in the first life stages, so there is a lot of potential for innovation in the years to come.”

Brazil’s agritech startups may be small, but they’re growing fast. BovControl, an app that allows cattle producers to collect, analyses and keep track of all information regarding their herd, was recently named one of Forbes’s 25 Most Innovative Ag-Tech Startups and already has over 30,000 producers in five continents. “The user base is growing at a rate of 5 percent a month, so we are doubling that base of users every year”, says Marcelo Murachovsky. Increased productivity, it seems, as well as reduced resource and energy waste, is becoming even more possible for Brazilian producers.

The video, made by Apex-Brasil in partnership with the BBC and the second in the current series of four, details how innovations are helping Brazil’s already powerful agribusiness sector become more dynamic and sustainable. You can watch the BBC’s video with Apex-Brasil here.