Historic Flooding in Southern Brazil Spares Mills and Olive Groves

Producers are struggling in the aftermath of the worst flooding in Rio Grande do Sul’s history. While mills and groves were largely spared, sales have been severely impacted.

15 May 2024, Brazil, Arroio Do Meio: Rio Grande do Sul has been severely affected by devastating floods. (Photo: Antonio Valiente/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)
By Daniel Dawson
May. 23, 2024 00:25 UTC
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15 May 2024, Brazil, Arroio Do Meio: Rio Grande do Sul has been severely affected by devastating floods. (Photo: Antonio Valiente/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

Unprecedented rain­fall has dev­as­tated hun­dreds of towns and com­mu­ni­ties in Brazil’s south­ern­most state of Rio Grande do Sul, and author­i­ties fear more may be com­ing.

In the past month, Brazil’s most sig­nif­i­cant olive-grow­ing state has received 800 mil­lime­ters of rain, more than London gets annu­ally.

It’s been a night­mare. Nobody knows what to do next. The gov­ern­ment doesn’t know what is going to hap­pen. There’s a sense in some areas that peo­ple don’t want to live there any­more.- Rafael Marchetti, CEO, Prosperato

The rain has resulted in his­toric floods, with 157 peo­ple killed and 88 still miss­ing. A fur­ther 650,000 peo­ple have been dis­placed, more than a quar­ter of the state’s pop­u­la­tion.

Along with the human toll, the flood­ing has caused an esti­mated $2 bil­lion (€1.85 bil­lion) of dam­age and dis­rupted the state’s olive oil sales and ship­ping.

See Also:Extreme Weather Events Are Getting Worse, Report Finds

However, local pro­duc­ers con­firmed to Olive Oil Times that the flood­ing did not dis­rupt the har­vest, which con­cluded in April and did lim­ited dam­age to groves and mills.

Olive groves are planted in high areas,” said Rafael Sittoni Goelzer, the mar­ket­ing rela­tions direc­tor of Viamão-based Estância das Oliveiras, sit­u­ated in a flood-affected area east of Porto Alegre.

We do not have olive groves in Brazil in coastal or low-lying areas, so no orchard in the state had direct impacts from the floods,” he added. The mills are located close to the plant­ing areas and are not impacted either.”

However, the award-win­ning pro­ducer added that logis­tics had been indef­i­nitely par­a­lyzed, mak­ing trans­port­ing the olive oil from the lat­est har­vest to super­mar­kets and spe­cialty food stores impos­si­ble.

In addi­tion to hav­ing around 50 high­way points with block­ages, the only inter­na­tional air­port in the state is under water, with no expected return to oper­a­tion,” Goelzer said. We are unable to trans­port our prod­ucts within the state, and we are hav­ing dif­fi­cul­ties send­ing the oils to other states and coun­tries.”

Unable to sell his olive oil, Goelzer said the com­pany is focused on sup­port­ing res­cue efforts. He and his team are work­ing to col­lect food, water, cloth­ing and mat­tresses for some of the 76,000 peo­ple forced out of their homes.

Rafael Marchetti, the chief exec­u­tive of Prosperato, Brazil’s largest olive oil pro­ducer, con­firmed that sales have slowed as the state braces for fur­ther flood­ing with more rain in the fore­cast.

We were about to start sell­ing the olive oil pro­duced from the lat­est har­vest,” Marchetti said. We had every­thing pre­pared, and the day we were sched­uled to announce its release, the flood­ing began.”

Our house got flooded, but we only had mate­r­ial losses. My fam­ily and I are all fine,” he added. Porto Alegre and nearby cities are in chaos. The main high­ways are blocked, and our olive oil sales are prac­ti­cally frozen because trans­port com­pa­nies are unable to make the routes.”

At the onset of the heavy rain­fall, which began in the last week of April, Marchetti decided to wait a few days to see if the flood­ing would sub­side before releas­ing the lat­est harvest’s extra vir­gin olive oils.

However, the flood waters con­tin­ued to rise, and mete­o­rol­o­gists pre­dict that it could take more than a month for them to sub­side.

It’s been [three] weeks, and the company’s sales are frozen, even from our local shop at the mill,” Marchetti said. While the store remains open, foot traf­fic has fallen sub­stan­tially.

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Prosperato sells a large por­tion of its extra vir­gin olive oil in Porto Alegre and the rest of Rio Grande do Sul. The com­pany also sells in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro but has been unable to trans­port the oils there.

The trans­port com­pa­nies can­not tell us when they will work again,” Marchetti said. The main road to access Porto Alegre is still blocked.”

All the cus­tomers know that things are going to take a longer time to get them,” he added. They under­stand the sit­u­a­tion and are wait­ing for their orders to arrive.”

Since the com­pa­ny’s mill and groves are located at higher ele­va­tions, they were not dam­aged, and bot­tling, cap­ping and label­ing con­tinue.

We are work­ing to be ready for the new har­vest and for when the sit­u­a­tion returns to nor­mal,” Marchetti said. However, some of the olive oil can­not be bot­tled because a ship­ment of caps did not arrive due to the flood­ing, which dam­aged the sup­pli­er’s ware­house.

Farther west in the state, the pro­duc­ers behind Lagar H are work­ing to rebuild the dam­aged infra­struc­ture sup­port­ing their olive grove and the local com­mu­nity.

The com­pa­ny’s olive groves are near Cachoeira do Sul, about 160 kilo­me­ters west of Porto Alegre on the Jacui River.

We are very impacted by this tragedy,” said co-owner Glenda Haas. Our entire fam­ily is from Rio Grande do Sul, and although per­son­ally, every­one is fine, it is very dif­fi­cult to see the pain and loss of so many peo­ple in a place that means so much to us.”

Some employ­ees have had to leave their homes, but we are help­ing them with recon­struc­tion and pur­chas­ing nec­es­sary goods,” she added.

While the com­pa­ny’s olive groves were not harmed, Haas said the extreme rain­fall dam­aged some of their drainage and cul­verts, which take excess water away from the trees.

Like many of her col­leagues, Haas com­pleted the har­vest before the rain began and shipped her lat­est olive oil pro­duc­tion to dis­tri­b­u­tion cen­ters in São Paulo before the flood­ing started.

We are cur­rently help­ing numer­ous insti­tu­tions and vol­un­tary move­ments with dona­tions of money or olive oil, in addi­tion to pro­vid­ing all the nec­es­sary sup­port to our employ­ees directly,” she said.

The nat­ural dis­as­ter comes after a poor har­vest in south­ern Brazil, pro­voked by pre­vi­ous rains that fell from September through December.

By the time the olives were flow­er­ing dur­ing September, we had a lot of rain,” Marchetti said. This resulted in some blos­soms falling from the tree and fail­ing to become olives.

However, the con­tin­ued rain through­out November and December helped increase the oil yield in the remain­ing olives to lev­els sig­nif­i­cantly above aver­age.

Overall, Prosperato’s har­vest declined about 30 per­cent from pre­vi­ous years. Not all grow­ers were as lucky.

Along with olives from the company’s groves, Prosperato sources olives from about 20 other regional farm­ers. Some other pro­duc­ers lost 90 or even 100 per­cent of their har­vest,” Marchetti said. This year, we only bought olives from two of our usual part­ners.”

Marchetti lives in Guaíbo, a city near Porto Alegre on the west­ern shores of Guaíba Lake. As the lake began to rise, reach­ing a record-high 5.3 meters in some places, Marchetti left to stay with his sis­ter, who lives in the north of the state.

He plans to return and start rebuild­ing as soon as the waters sub­side but does not know what he will return to and how he will begin to rebuild, a feel­ing shared by many of the 2.2 mil­lion res­i­dents of Rio Grande do Sul.

It’s been a night­mare. Nobody knows what to do next,” he con­cluded. The gov­ern­ment doesn’t know what is going to hap­pen. There’s a sense in some areas that peo­ple don’t want to live there any­more.”



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