By Nicholas Vital*
Brazilian agribusiness has become a global powerhouse but has forgotten to tell its story. New research by Aberje shows that the industry’s communication still has a lot to evolve.
Ad break during the primetime soap opera in Brazil. One ad shows a golden crop surrounded by native forests, where modern machinery works to harvest grain. It also includes large numbers highlighting the economic and social impacts of the industry, surprising millions throughout the country. Very well produced, the campaign “Agribusiness: the wealth industry of Brazil,” has been broadcasted for two years ago in primetime on Rede Globo. It aims to enhance the national agribusiness, which on the one hand is increasingly consolidating as an engine of the Brazilian economy, on the other it is attacked every other day and also by critics of the sector. The quality of the ads is outstanding, but unfortunately not sufficient to convince a significant portion of viewers, especially in large urban centers.
In countries like the United States farmers are seen as heroes, responsible for producing the food that supplies the cities and keeping the price of food stable. Not in Brazil, though. Even being responsible for about a quarter of the national GDP, agribusiness is viewed with suspicion by Brazilians. In cities like Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, farmers are often seen as landowners, deforesters, squatters, enemies of the indigenous peoples, with little concern for animal welfare or the health of their consumers. A totally distorted and detached image of reality.
However, how is it possible for such a historically important sector, which guarantees cheap food at the table of Brazilians, generates millions of jobs and still pays dividends for the country, to have such a bad image to its population? The answer is simple: although some practices and processes still need to be advanced, good communication is still lacking. In the last four decades, thanks to the adoption of cutting-edge technologies, Brazil has left the uncomfortable position of food importer to become the world’s breadbasket. Average yield per hectare soared, which even contributed to the sustainability of the activity. Nevertheless, the industry simply forgot to communicate its achievements to society. The story of Brazilian agribusiness ultimately was told by its detractors.
According to the survey “Agribusiness Communication in Brazil,” conducted by Aberje in partnership with the Brazilian Agribusiness Association (Abag), only 28% of companies in the sector has Communication structured at the board or vice presidency level. Another revealing data from the survey – which included 60 of the largest agribusiness groups in the country, with a combined turnover of over 800 billion real – is that 10% of these companies do not have any communication structure.
“Communication structures are still fragile due to the size and relevance of the sector,” says Paulo Nassar, professor at ECA/USP and CEO of Aberje. “The research is very rich in data and shows important communication shortcomings. What we see is that communication is still very focused on practical actions, outside of the conversation around the design of organizational policies. Top management determines how the organization narrates the world and how it communicates with the community. When communicators do not participate in these discussions, the organization is detached from society.”
* Nicholas Vital is a journalist, author of the book “Agradeça aos agrotóxicos por estar vivo” (Thank Agrochemicals for Being Alive), Aberje Content Head and Curator of the Agribusiness Communication Lab.