Opportunity knocked – and I answered! I was asked by the Honourable Kellie Leitch, our federal Minister of Labour and Minister of Status of Women, to join her and a small, select group of Canadian business women and leaders in their respective fields to go on the first ever, all-women’s trade mission to Sao Paulo, Brazil. My initial apprehension about travelling to a country about which I knew absolutely nothing, let alone their agricultural and economic sectors, was swept away as I frantically booked flights, hotels, got my visa organized and granted (with 2 days to spare), and prepared for a fantastic opportunity to see another country, experience their culture, and make new friends and connections.
Agriculture is important to every country and Brazil is no exception. Brazil’s climate is favorable for the production of many agricultural products and their exports rank among the top four in the world. Major exports include coffee, soybeans, beef, sugar cane, ethanol, and chicken.
While much of agriculture takes place in other areas of Brazil, Sao Paulo is the economic powerhouse of the country. It took a bit of time for me to wrap my head around the fact that 20 million people reside in the city of Sao Paulo! I really wanted to have an opportunity to see some farms and rural life, but with the distances and concerns about avian influenza, that just wasn’t possible during this trip.
One day we had B2B (Business-to-Business) meetings scheduled; it’s kind of like speed dating, except you’re meeting businesses and organizations who share common goals and needs. I met with the Federation of Agriculture for the state of Sao Paulo, an association that represents alternative poultry production, an agricultural technology firm, UBA (a governing body for the Brazilian poultry industry), and an integrated communications company with a focus on agriculture. Whew, that was a big sentence and I collected a lot of business cards, but it was great to meet these people who also share a passion for agriculture and the poultry industry.
This photo is from a gorgeous buffet we had for lunch and they offered quail eggs, which we saw at several different restaurants as well.
With each of the groups I met, I asked about the three biggest issues facing poultry farming in Brazil. They are: increasing domestic consumption and increasing exports, animal welfare, and improving their production capabilities. Really, not all that different than here in Canada. They also face a lot of logistical issues in getting their products to various markets, since their infrastructure is not as robust as it is in North America.
We also had a lot of discussions about how avian influenza (AI) is affecting Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. Brazilians are very proud of their AI-free status and are working hard to maintain it.
Understanding Brazilian culture is key to developing the relationships needed to make business opportunities happen. Business relationships are valued and are important to starting a new business or introducing new products. While we in Canada would make the same statement, it really is emphasized in Brazil. Brazilians perceive Canadians as different from Americans; we are believed to be honest, sensitive to cultural differences, cooperative and punctual. We can definitely use this image as a competitive advantage.
Here are a few fun (and even sad) statistics I learned about Brazil, not just related to business:
- Traffic is crazy and motocyclists are even crazier
- Brazilians love bureaucracy at all levels, and while this makes doing business more difficult, they are proud of it!
- Brazilians are super friendly; however, their personal space bubble is much smaller than North Americans are used to
- Soccer (football) is the most popular sport in Brazil. The Brazilian national soccer team has won the FIFA World cup a record 5 times (I actually knew this one before, as my youngest son is a soccer nut!)
- Family time is valued and businesses make many allowances for this
- There are a lot of shoe stores in Sao Paulo – insert smiley face here!
- Benefits make up approximately ½ of an employee’s wages
- Average per capita egg consumption in Brazil is 182 eggs, compared to the world average of 210 eggs and the Canadian average of 256 eggs
- The wait list for organ donations is quite short, primarily due to point #1
- The national cocktail of Brazil is the Caipirinha, made from sugar cane hard liquor and lime, and it is both delicious and dangerous!
Of course, trade missions are not just about the meet and greets and business opportunities. They are about having fun while making memories and friendships. Our minister and the business women I met are smart, articulate and amazing! In addition to managing businesses and organizations in the health, telecommunication, research and technology fields, many are involved in mentoring young women and promoting entrepreneurship for women.
One afternoon we were able to have a quick tour and learn about the Butantan Institute, a biomedical research facility where they produce vaccines, serums and anti-venoms. In their production facility, they utilize the eggs from 200,000 hens to manufacture influenza vaccine for the entire Brazilian population. They also have a great snake and spider collection, which provided us with an opportunity for some hands-on learning. By the way, I’m good with snakes, spiders, bats and bugs – just not rodents! Hon. Kellie Leitch overcame her fear of snakes on this trip, though.
Leaving Brazil, I was overwhelmed by the hospitality and friendliness of the people. I definitely want to plan a trip where I can tour around the entire country and indulge my desire to see different types of farming production, like coffee, citrus and mango (my favorite fruit). Thank you Minister Leitch for this great opportunity!