Sunday, May 15, 2011

Day 24

This morning we had to be at the hotel early to be picked up for a trip to a cashew farm - Gilnei, one of the Brazilian GSE team members works for a large cashew producer and was to be our guide for the day. He picked us up in what has to be the oldest truck on the road - an early 80's model chevy extended cab - it is in this beast that we travled the 135 km to the cashew farm. The farm is enormous (consists of various properties) - approx 100,000 acres and 3,000,000 trees - during harvest season (sept - nov) it employs 5,000 workers - during the rest of the year 350. The farm is really a decent size town - there is housing for employees, approx 500 houses total, a school, two churches (catholic and protestant), supermarket, butcher, multiple football fields, etc. - in the production area that we toured, there were these large storage areas for approx 5 million tonnes of cashew nuts. The cashew nut grows out of the cashew fruit and when harvested, the worker picks the fruit off the tree, twists the nut off and throws the fruit on the ground - only about 5 - 10% of the fruit is used for juice or other purposes and 100% of the nuts are used - apparently the juice market is limited and the shelf life is too short for export - they are researching additional uses for the fruit (dried fruit is crushed and mixed with corn for feed for the local cattle on the farm, but not done commercially, as well as they are beginning production of a cashew burger - a hamburger made out of cashew fruit and nuts - Jenny and Laurie did the taste test and it exceeded their expectations - as a meatatarian in Brazil, I felt it was against my beliefs to partake...) The farm has a bunch of new equipment and if the crop is good, they will process the nuts there, but currently all the processing is being done in Fortaleza at the factory, which we traveled to after an excellent lunch, a nap in a hammock, and a quick visit to the local farm (which had cattle (milk and beef), goats, pigs, and chickens - the pig barns were even set up for proper drainage with two holding tanks that were emptied into portable spreader tanks for fertilizer).

Most of the factories (and other businesses) we have visited have been very labour intensive - many jobs most people wouldn't chose to do - but the cashew factory topped the list of jobs I wouldn't want - most of the cashews are sorted by hand - ladies (apparently men aren't consistent enough so they only use ladies) sit at the side of a conveyor belt with a bucket beside them and pick out the appropriate sized cashew - 9 hours a day, 5 days a week - for minimum wage (makes you wonder if the men are smarter by being 'inconsistent' so they have to do different jobs......nah, attention to detail just typically isn't our thing....) - there is some automated sorting done, but only for whole cashews...the employees at all the facilities we visited are treated very well - this company had housing for most of its employees, all facilities had on site medical for employee and their family, and other benefits including cross training and rotating jobs where applicable. Most of these factories, including the cashew factory today had very low employee turnover and high levels of loyalty - the employees we talked to at the cashew company were very loyal to the owner, whom they all respectfully called president. Given the lifestyle and jobs of many other people we have seen and talked to (beach vendors, people living in the rural areas) the repetitive job duties don't actually seem that bad (trying to say that even though I described it previously as jobs I wouldn't want, they are still better than a lot of other jobs and situatinos that still exist here in Brazil - even though there is a growing middle class, the lower class is still huge and struggling - the richer are getting richer and most of the poor are getting poorer - there is a huge problem with the political system and corruption here, but I will save that discussion for another blog...). Gilnei works at the factory as a food engineer (for processing and research/quality control) and so he provided a very thorough and informative tour - you could tell he was very proud of the company and the work they did.

After the cashew factory visit, we returned to our homes to get ready for the opening of the conference - the schedule indicated a cocktail party at 8 - we were instructed that it was dressy - so we dressed up in cocktail dresses (mine was pants, dress shirt and tie...a nice ensemble) and arrived to find that it was actually the opening ceremonies which included 2 hours of speeches in portuguese, followed by a short social with way too many people and not enough waiters...the best part was reuniting with all our new friends from previous locations and getting to say hi. See the following blog for more on the conference...

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