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Searching for sustainable competitiveness in agribusiness: the role of animal and plant health

Sanitary and phytosanitary issues have been a major concern for the Brazilian and global agribusiness for decades, reflecting on the everyday life of growers, processors, input companies, agronomists, veterinarians, biologists and animal scientists who assist the sector, as well as governmental organs. Nevertheless, the understanding of the role of animal and plant health for sustainable competitiveness of agribusiness is still limited for most society.


In general, the challenge of animal and plant health is evident when it comes to the obstacles faced by the Brazilian exportations of agricultural and livestock products, which, from January to November 2016, totaled 66.7 billion USD. Health issues are frequently discussed regarding commercial barriers and are also the focus of tough, long negotiations with a high level of scientific content, as observed in the negotiations for the opening of the North-American market to the Brazilian in natura beef in 2016. There is, however, an aspect underestimated – or even unknown – by the public, which is related to the protection of the market and the domestic consumer, as well as the preservation of the livestock and crops health in Brazil. This aspect points to the other side of health issues, besides commercial policies, but also correlated, which is crop and livestock protection.


In my opinion, for both agribusiness exporters and importers, cassava growers who supply the domestic market, or sugar growers, the challenge is the same: to ensure that throughout the production and distribution processes, adequate health conditions are observed and recognized by all the sectors involved as well as by consumers, regardless if the product is to be allocated to the international or domestic markets, except for eventual health specifications and additional techniques required by purchasers overseas.


The difficulty to classify social, economic and environmental impacts of sanitary measures imposed to the productive sector, or its absence or non-observance, is one of the factors that hamper the comprehension of the relevance of this subject theme is for the Brazilian agribusiness. Pests and diseases in crops or animal farms can, besides threaten public health, promote the reallocation of land use, migration of crops and animal farming, regional unemployment, and even compromise the trade balance.


The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that during the outbreak of Escherichia coli in Germany in 2011, growers and processors lost 1.3 billion USD. In the United States, losses were estimated at 3.3 billion USD in 2015, due to the sanitary crisis caused by the avian flu, hampering exportations of the sector. Social impacts are not usually considered, but in the Brazilian history, there are evidences of relevant social impacts. Based on case studies on growers from Joia (RS), where there was a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in 2000, Pettres et al. (2007, p.1)[1] concluded that this outbreak led to changes in the way of life local people, affected their mental health, leading to income losses and changes in the regional economy. All these aspects underscores the relevance of sanitary issues in its several aspects.


In a competitive world, the guarantee of an adequate sanitary status and its maintenance will be more and more a differential among competitive suppliers. Sanitary issues will continue to be, for a long time, an instrument to compete in the international and domestic markets. Agents and segments that adopt sanitary procedures to their processes will ensure one of the main components for the sustainability of their businesses.


The hypothesis that sustainability for the agribusiness depends mostly on health management requires the entire chain of cropping and cattle-farming the adoption of measures prescribed by the legislation and regulatory documents to comply with these rules and standards required by the market, in a system that ensures reliability. It requires the stakeholders of supply chains to comply with national (and, in some cases, international) rules in their several spheres. Moreover, it requires governmental agencies to provide a legal framework to ensure sanitary conditions for agro-industrial production and to be aligned with standards preconized by international organizations. Furthermore, the proposed thesis requires agents to devote commitment to the ensure basic conditions for the good functioning of agro-industrial chains, ensuring a coherent, transparent and modern regulatory environment, in addition to the monitoring of these processes. Above all, sustainability will be reached in an environment that strengthens the interaction between the private sector, government and research and teaching institutions.


Forecasts released by Mapa for 2025/26, published in July/2016, indicate that both the domestic and the international markets will spur the agribusiness dynamism, estimating an increase of 30% in the production (grains and meat) in 10 years (MAPA, 2016, p. 92). This report makes clear that efforts in terms of infrastructure, investments in research and financing are essential to achieve this objective. In this context, the strengthening of sanitary policies is necessary, since it is a challenge for the mid and long-terms. Sanitary procedures should aim at the long-term vision, already embedded in the Agricultural Defense Plan (PDA), launched by Mapa in 2015. This plan has been reinforced by authorities in the agro-industrial sector, in the news and in recent actions of the Ministry of Agriculture, strengthening the importance of plant and animal health, in a clear recognition of the relevance of this theme for the sustainable competitiveness of our agribusiness.


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