Farm: Fazenda Sao Bento
Varietal: Red Catuaí
Altitude: 1,100 metres above sea level
Owner: Armando Tomizawa
Town / City: Carmo do Paranáiba
Region: Cerrado Mineiro
Fazenda Sao Bento Catuaí Nat. - Brazil
It might surprise to you to learn that Brazil is home to largest population of Japanese outside of Japan. There are currently around 1.5 million people of Japanese extraction living in the country, and in many ways the culture of Japan has seeped into Brazilian culture in diverse and surprising ways. What you also may not know is that Japanese-Brazilians are seamlessly tied to coffee production in the country. Armando Tomizawa’s story is inextricably linked to this fascinating history.
At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, Brazil’s coffee industry was booming. As in so many countries, though, the industry had been shamefully built on the back of African slave labour, and when Brazil abolished slavery in 1888 they were left with a labour problem. They sought far and wide, reaching out first to European immigrants – particularly those from Italy, to sustain the economic juggernaut. This proved insufficient, however.
At the time, Japan was facing its own problems. For more than 200 years (the Edo Period), Japan had been run according to a strict, feudalist system and had engaged in a fully isolationist foreign policy. The Meiji revolution dawned in 1868: Japan was to now be an Empire and the focus was outward rather than inward, bringing demographic crisis and deep social changes.
Meiji changes were aimed at reopening Japan to the world, and as part of this process, the country realised a need for fast-paced modernisation to quickly achieve a high level of industrial and military development in order to compete with the West. This radical social and economic change was mostly financed by charging high land taxes on farmers and by mechanising farming where possible. This, in turn, led to unprecedented rural poverty. Many displaced farmers and labourers began the long march into the cities to try and avoid starvation. However, those moving to the cities found that their new homes were not prepared for this rural exodus. Emigration outwords was devised as a means of avoiding social turmoil and pressure on the government. The new government also saw the advantage of exporting ‘superior’ Japanese culture, which would only further the country’s aims of Empire.
Brazil with its labour needs was a primary beneficiary of these policies (they may have also seen it as a route to export more coffee into Japan!). In 1907, the Brazilian and the Japanese governments signed a treaty permitting Japanese migration to Brazil, and the following year the first ship carrying Japanese immigrants landed at the port of Santos. Hundreds of families and afterwards thousands came to Brazil, pursuing the dream of making money through “Brazilian gold” – that is to say, coffee. Truthfully, many of these new migrants expected to return, newly wealthy, to Japan, but the reality when they arrived in Brazil was different. In the first seven years, more than 14,000 Japanese migrants arrived in Brazil. From 1917 through 1941, more than 164,000 new immigrants arrived, with some 75% of them going to Sao Paulo to work in coffee. Instead of returning home, as originally intended, many stayed.
Armando Tomizawa’s ancestral past fits squarely into this wider history. Armando’s ancestors were part of the Japanese immigrant diaspora in the decades of 1920 and 1930. Along with thousands of other immigrant families, they found their first jobs on coffee farms.
Armando Tomizawa was born in 1952 in the city Assaí, in the north of Paraná state. From childhood he used to work on the coffee plantations together with his six siblings. However, Armando is the only one of his siblings who stayed in coffee up to the present day.
Armando moved to Carmo do Paranáiba in 1979 with his wife and eldest daughter (he was 27 at the time). The main motivation for leaving Parana state was the severe dark frost that damaged coffee plantations across the region in 1975. Although he tried to continue with coffee farming after the frost, coffee production simply wasn't a profitable activity in the area anymore. At a friend's invitation, who was starting a farm in Carmo do Paranáiba at the time, he visited the region. He liked the area and bought a small farm of 10 hectares. The farm was named Fazenda Sao Bento due to a small river that has the same name. The Sao Bento used to be a big farm that was divided in smaller areas and he purchased a small parcel of it. Here he began a coffee plantation from the ground up. At the time, the area was native Cerrado biome without any infra-structure, such as electricity, buildings, roads, etc. Armando and his young family really were starting from scratch.
Over the years, thanks to hard work and good luck, the coffee farm has proved prosperous. As his son Maycon says, his father came to Cerrado only with courage in his luggage. Today he owns two mid-sized farms - Sao Bento (which is now grown to more than 170 hectares) and Fazenda Paraiso. He had three children, and Maycon (the youngest son) has followed in his father’s footsteps, working on the farms as head of operations. His wife Patricia, Armando's daughter-in-law, also helps with the family business, overseeing coffee traceability and certification. Patricia is also a roast master, and she runs the family’s small roastery, manning the stall where they sell their own coffee in a street market every Sunday. They also provide coffee roasting service to other producers and companies.
Farming Practices and Processing
In all his farming activities, particularly with regards to the use of agrochemicals and fertilizers, Armando follows the recommendations of his co-op’s agronomist. The Agronomist is highly trained and experienced in the particularities of the region and selects products based on trials that take place at the co-ops experimental farm.
Armando is diligent about crop renovation and renovates each parcel significantly every other year. His current focus is increasing the volume of specialty coffee production on the farm. To this end, he’s invested heavily in varieties known for their quality cupping characteristics, such as Red Catuaí, Yellow Catuaí, Yellow Bourbon. Armando is always one for innovation, however, and the farm has a small experimental field where new varieties are trialled. Currently he is experimenting with Arara, Guará, Catucaí 2SL, Acaua Novo, Tupi, IPR 100, and Paraiso. These varieties have all been selected according to characteristics such as productivity, cup quality, and resistance to drought, pests and diseases.
Much of the farm is planted under Red and Yellow Catuaí, and this lot hails from a section of 100% Red Catuaí trees. Annually, this part of the farm is harvested mechanically and is then dried on patios. After the coffee reaches about 12 percent humidity, it is rested for at least 30 days. Dry milling is completed at the farm and the green coffee is then transported to the Aequitas warehouse.
For the first time, having his coffee exported through the family-owned Aequitas Coffee exporters gives Armando a feeling of fulfilment and recognition for this work. As opposed to traditional coffee trade in which normally the producer has no idea as to where his coffee is going, doesn’t receive any feedback for quality, and where she/he is vulnerable to market prices, Aequitas is 100% committed to transparency. The goal of the company is to connect coffee producers from the region of São Gotardo to the specialty coffee market and to create overall awareness amongst them of the choices they have rather than being reduced to a secondary link in the supply chain. Aequitas feels that producers deserve to be recognized and rewarded by the coffee community for the love and effort they dedicate in producing an outstanding coffee.
Mercanta is proud to support the efforts of Aequitas in bringing new speciality coffees from this region to the market.
More about PADAP
In the beginning of the 1970s, the Government of Minas Gerais, in partnership with the Federal Government, implemented the first settlement project in Brazil, PADAP (Directed Settlement Program of Alto Paranaíba), which consisted of investments concentrated in a single continuous area, with technical assistance and privileged credit lines, with an incentive to intensify the use of modern inputs and agricultural mechanization. Compounding the municipalities of São Gotardo, Rio Paranaíba, Ibia and Campos Altos, the Cotia Agricultural Cooperative - Central Cooperative (CAC-CC) was responsible for selecting the settlers and the necessary subsidies for the development of the project. Until this time, the region had no economic activities and the agriculture was primarily subsistence by the native people.
Under PADAP, an ambitious rural settlement took place in São Gotardo region. The Cooperativa of Cotia, the largest agricultural co-op at that time, formed mainly by Japanese and Japanese descendants was requested to select a group of pioneers to explore the region and for this reason, many farms in the area are owned by Japanese-Brazilian families today. Nowadays, PADAP is considered one of the most successful settlement projects in Brazil. The region has a farming diversity that it’s not common to other agricultural regions in the country. Apart from coffee, São Gotardo region produces carrot and garlic – our main products – also potato, onion, beetroot, corn, soybean, wheat and others. You can read more about PADAP here.