ReportageThe leading sugar region in the world, in the State of Sao Paulo, is delighted with the measures taken by the Brazilian president: dismantling of environmental protection agencies, approval of new pesticides, massive credits, or easing of the conditions of port of gun to defend private property against landless peasants …
Some say money doesn’t smell. It is probably that they never went to the deep interior of the State of Sao Paulo. Here, profit has a very special flavor: that of caramel. A bewitching, invigorating aroma that literally smells of the green hills of the region. Paradoxical, for what is in reality the aroma of cold and powerful Brazilian agribusiness.
The region of the town of Ribeirao Preto, a small piece of Brazil as large as Ile-de-France, 400 kilometers from the coast, is in fact entirely devoted to sugar production. It is almost entirely covered with a vast sea of cane fields, the color of jade, feeding a string of sucrose factories, responsible for said aroma.
Take that of Santa Cecilia, owned by the Viralcool group, near the village of Pitangueiras: a real dungeon of metal and chimneys, vibrant and smoking. “Santa Cecilia has 340 employees, 3.3 million tonnes of cane processed per year, a production capacity of 2,200 tonnes of sugar and 1 million liters of ethanol per day! “, proudly details Ronaldo Barros, 42, industrial director of the place.
Everything here works just in time: less than two hours after being cut in the fields, the cane is dismembered, defibrated, crushed, pressed, heated, wrung out, in order to extract its precious juice, transformed by a complex chemical process into sugar or biofuel. Direction the international port of Santos, six hours away. Then, the wide world. “Everything must go very quickly! It’s a matter of time », insists Ronaldo Barros.
Because time, in Ribeirao Preto, is money. A lot of money. Brazil, the undisputed leader in sugar, holds around 40% of the world market: 41 million tonnes were produced during the last harvest, between April 2020 and March, a quarter of which was transformed into ethanol. The so-called “sucroenergetic” sector exports to 140 countries and employs 500,000 workers. Gross value of production: between 25 billion and 30 billion euros.
But, beyond the numbers, there is the symbol: the history of Brazil has been intertwined with that of its sugar for five centuries. Established in the Northeast from the arrival of the Portuguese, the “blond gold” made in the XVIe and XVIIe centuries the fortune of the elites of Bahia and Recife. It stimulates colonization and encourages the “importation” of millions of slaves, slaving in the cane fields and sugar factories – the devices: true crucibles of Brazilian civilization, according to sociologist Gilberto Freyre.
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