Listening to the Olive Oil Times podcast (season 3, episode 2) was a staunch reminder of how a charged political atmosphere can hamper niche, yet promising industries.
During the interview, Rafael Marchetti, producer of olive oil for his family’s company, Tecnoplanta that offers turnkey investment opportunities in Brazil’s olive oil sector, reiterated that the current political and economic crises plaguing the country has stymied growth in his once burgeoning business.
This came as little surprise to me. Over the past six to eight months it has become apparent, as I stroll the streets of northeastern Brazil, that more informal street vendors are selling their goods. To help supplement an already insufficient minimum wage (R$880 per month, or roughly $263 at the current exchange rate) people sell corn, popcorn, candy, French fries, and other random food items and tidbits to make ends meet. Olive oil? This condiment and cooking oil doesn’t make the best street hustle in tough times.
Curtis Cord, the publisher of Olive Oil Times, began interviewing Marchetti with a smooth “So, just to break the ice, how do you like President Trump?” Not a conventional way to open a podcast discussion concerning extra virgin olive oil production in Brazil. However, the political crisis in Brazil is not radically dissimilar to what transpired in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and has much to do with the one-year decline in olive oil sales in the country.
Bear in mind that the industry was still recovering from a 2013 Proteste study that concluded that only 8 out of 19 commercialized extra virgin olive oil brands in Brazil could be genuinely considered extra virgin. And now, Brazil continues to be embroiled in a crisis that’s tearing apart not only the niche gourmet extra virgin olive oil industry but also the nation as a whole.
So how can the election of Donald Trump reveal some of Brazil’s political woes at present? Foremost, Trump’s victory per the electoral college (no popular vote needed) is reminiscent of the ouster of Dilma Rousseff, the first female president of Brazil.
Despite Brazil’s public prosecutor finding her innocent of any crime, Rousseff, who had been democratically re-elected in 2014, was removed from office in August. This political drama was partially motivated by the infamous Car Wash investigations which have rocked almost every aspect of Brazilian politics in the past few years. Insinuations swirled rampantly about Rousseff’s involvement in either one crime or another. However, in the end, only her most devoted political foes, many of whom remain in office, were ever formally implicated or charged with actual crimes by authorities.
BBC Brasil recently published an article titled Corrida presidencial 2018 pode ter Trump brasileiro (Brazil’s 2018 presidential race may see a Brazilian Trump). My response was that they already have a Trump president with this newly installed government. The political and economic crises have only worsened since Rousseff’s removal. Replacing her was vice-president, Michel Temer. His robust austerity proposal (MEC 241) aims to put a 20-year freeze on all public expenditures as well as alter the public education curriculum (one of the changes includes a rule that no political debates would be allowed in secondary school).
Protesting Temer’s proposals, secondary school students have occupied hundreds, if not thousands, of schools nationwide, labor unions and social organizations have taken their demands to the streets, and, as I write, a national strike is being organized for the 25th of November.
As Marchetti alluded to during his interview, the one-year drop in locally produced olive oil sales is directly related to the economic and political crises that have intensified over the past year. Data supporting that correlation are few and far between. Nonetheless, while unemployment in Brazil is up to 11.6 percent, making it the seventh-largest unemployed market in a survey of 51 countries, food prices such as black beans, Carioca beans, rice, potatoes, onions, garlic, and, of course, olive oil, have all risen. Since the start of 2016, Carioca beans, a staple food source, one of the most consumed type of beans in Brazil, has risen 54 percent.
Inevitably, gourmet extra virgin olive oil producers like Marchetti find themselves in a catch-22. Whereas their niche food industry is welcomed and needed in Brazil, the political and economic whirlwind sweeping the country doesn’t seem like it will end anytime soon.
Despite all, they’re pressing forward, just like the stone wheels used to press olives in the good old days. But now, much of their work involves educating the public about the quality and freshness of locally produced olive oil. Not only does it reduce our carbon footprint, it can also help to ignite a stagnate economy.