Chinese machinery may reduce triple working day of Brazil’s Northeast farmers

Equipment is undergoing trials in Rio Grande do Norte state and may improve quality of life in rural areas
Female farmers using Chinese machinery in Rio Grande do Norte state. Photo: Afonso Bezerra

By Afonso Bezerra
Translated by: Ana Paula Rocha

From Brasil de Fato

The use of Chinese machinery in the Northeast could have a positive impact on the work of female farmers. That’s is the assessment of the workers themselves, who hope that the arrival of machinery will reduce working time and increase production.

“Unfortunately, women have a triple working day, you know? They work on farms, do housework and also need to go to street fairs [to sell their products]. Many of them study, too. This [the Chinese machinery] will optimize our time in farms because we also need to be at street fairs and attend the movement’s meetings to expose our production, not to mention market logistics, which is something we need.”

That’s Antônia Diana da Silva’s assessment. She is a farmer who lives in the São Romão settlement, in the city of Mossoró, Rio Grande do Sul.

“It’s a dream of family farmers to implement mechanization in their farms. While I clean one field with the hoe, I’ll clean four with the machine,” she celebrates, mentioning the big leap the equipment can make for family farming and agroecology.

“We can use machines for everything. We can use them in agroecological production to bring quality food with no pesticides to workers’ tables, to the tables of the Brazilian population.”

First steps

On Friday (02), equipment manufactured by Chinese companies began operating on Brazilian soil during a demonstration in the town of Apodi, Rio Grande do Norte. The Minister for Agrarian Development and Family Farming, Paulo Teixeira (Workers’ Party), and the governor of Rio Grande do Norte, Fátima Bezerra (Workers’ Party), attended the event, as well as union leaders and people’s movements.

The initiative is part of a partnership between Brazil and China, sewn by people’s movements and Brazil’s Northeast Consortium. The agreement started in 2022 when the Consortium signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the International Institute of Agricultural Equipment Innovation and Intelligent Agriculture of China Agricultural University. The International Association for People’s Cooperation (Baobá) also signed the MOU.

“Our comrades from China have a commitment with us: they will help set up machine factories for family farming, here, in the Northeast region, based on the equipment we think is important to us,” said João Pedro Stédile, from the national leadership of the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST).

“There is no successful policy without social movements. The MST is the one that suggested and helped to make this partnership happen,” Minister Paulo Teixeira explained during a press conference on the day of the event in Apodi.

Professor Yang Minli, from China Agricultural University, mentioned the similarities between the realities of Brazil and China and praised the partnership between the two countries. She was one of the main organizers of the partnership.

“Both Brazil and China are huge agricultural countries. In recent years, our partnership in the agribusiness sector has been growing, and the two countries benefit from this commercial transaction. However, we must remember that China, although a big country, has a small agriculture sector, just like here. Our agriculture sector exists thanks to small families, like those here in the Northeast region.”

First, the machines will undergo a trial period to assess how well they adapt to Brazilian reality. A harvester, a planter and a drone used for soil fertilization were presented at the event.

“The idea is to test these Chinese machines on our soil, in our farms, to see how efficient they are. We’re going to analyze the amount of fuel they consume, maintenance, the wear and tear on parts, besides seeing how they perform in farms, whether it’s harvesting rice or managing the land. The idea is to see how efficient it is in the field so we can suggest adaptations,” explained Maria da Saúde, from the MST’s production sector in Pernambuco state.

Northeast region’s development

According to João Pedro Stédile, the expectation is to advance in building factories in the northeastern states. During his speech at the political event in Apodi, last Friday (02), Stédile criticized the concentration of the machinery market in Brazil and showed how this scenario is a major obstacle to peasant family farming.

“Here in Brazil, there are eight tractor factories. China has 8,000. There are no organic fertilizer factories in Brazil. In China, there are 1,200 organic fertilizer factories, and they make fertilizer with organic matter, with families’ and restaurants’ leftovers. 

With this, the goal is to build a rice harvester factory in Maranhão state, with the possibility of serving the states of Pará and Tocantins; a factory in the Cariri region, Ceará state; another in Rio Grande do Norte and a bio-input factory in Pernambuco state. 

“Without a factory in the Northeast region, we won’t have mechanization. We want these factories to come here to the Northeast, to come to Rio Grande do Norte, so that we can expand the supply of mechanization at a fair price,” explained Alexandre Lima, Rio Grande do Norte’s Secretary for Family Farming.

Edited by: Matheus Alves de Almeida