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Brazil to buy rice from Mercosur countries to feed storm-hit Rio Grande do Sul

17 May 2024

Brazil's National Supply Company (Conab) has been entrusted with purchasing one million tons of rice to feed the people of Rio Grande do Sul and avoid the intervention of middle people seeking a black market profit from the victims of the unprecedented storms. Under normal circumstances, Rio Grande do Sul accounts for 70% of Brazil's rice production.

According to the latest report, 143 have died so far since April 29 while 125 others are missing and 806 injured whereas the number of people evacuated from their homes reached 618,000, with 81,000 of them in shelters and 537,000 housed elsewhere, with either friends or relatives. Relief operations have resulted in 76,399 people and 10,555 animals rescued as 446 municipalities statewide have been affected. Further rain and cold weather forecasts for the next few days keep authorities on guard.

In this scenario, the federal government published on Friday in the Official Gazette (DOU) the measure authorizing the Conab to import up to one million tons of ready-to-eat or paddy rice. The measure seeks to keep food prices from rising, the Agriculture Ministry argued. The purchase will be made through public auctions at market price. Stocks will preferably be sold to small retailers.

”At the moment, the measure comes to avoid any speculation with the price of rice. I've also talked to the producers to make it clear that it's not to compete with our rice, because the producers already have (enough) to supply national demand, but they have logistical difficulties. With logistical difficulties to supply, comes speculation,“ Minister Carlos Fávaro explained in a statement. ”We don't want any burden on Brazilians' pockets. We want stability and food on the table,” he added.

Last Thursday, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced he would issue a Provisional Measure (MP) to allow rice imports to lower the domestic price of the product. ”You don't have to pay tax on food. I've been a bit pissed off because the other day I saw a 5kg packet of rice on the market shelf for R$33 (US$ 6.4). I said: 'No, that's not normal'. Poor people can't afford to pay R$33 for a 5kg packet of rice. Today, we're sending a measure for comrade [Lower House Speaker Arthur] Lira to vote on. We're going to have to import rice from Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina... so that we can lower the price of rice and beans in this country, which is essential food for the people,” Lula said.

Brazil's average annual consumption of rice is close to 10 million tons. Conab President Edegar Preto also pointed out that part of the production in Rio Grande do Sul was not harvested and that 15 percent is in lands that remain under water.

According to the member of the national coordination of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), Diego Moreira, the new initiative would not have been necessary had the governments of former Presidents Michel Temer (2016-2018) and Jair Bolsonaro (2019-2023) not stopped Conab's food purchases and created reserves.

Under Lula, Brazil canceled the sale of Conab warehouses kicked off by Bolsonaro and promised to rebuild them. In June 2023 Conab made its first food purchase in six years, consisting of corn. Stocks of rice and beans remained at zero.

Source : mercopress