Social and economic up and downgrading in Brazil’s hortifruiticulture

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Within the framework of the Capturing the Gains research network, which adopts a global value chain (GVC) perspective, this article analyzes developments in the hortifruiticulture sector and Brazilian food retail with the aim of identifying processes of social and economic up and  downgrading as a result of participation in GVCs. Recent literature on these questions in Latin America and Brazil, which has largely been conducted within the retail trans-nationalization perspective developed by Reardon and colleagues, is first reviewed. We then analyze recent data on the retail sector, highlighting the shift of the dominant actors to non-food sales and the growth of local and regional outlets in response to the increased purchasing capacity of low-income groups. Retail is recognized to have decreased the number of farm produce suppliers and increased quality demands. Our research, however, has identified substantial informal subcontracting, with positive effects on inclusion but raising doubts on the efficiency of standards. In revisiting Brazil’s most important and most studied fruit export pole, Petrolina, we conclude that the agricultural sector has increased its bargaining power within the GVC given the opportunities opened up by an expanding domestic market. This has similarly led to farmworker economic upgrading via longer production periods. Even though working conditions are harsh, trade union negotiating strength in the current political conjuncture has been significantly improved, leading to important measures of social upgrading.