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Anderson Lins Machado

Dexco Forestry Director


People in focus: the future of forestry

By the end of 2022, the price of wood reached record levels, driven by high competition for land and uncertainty regarding the self-sufficiency of the existing forest massif. For the period up to 2030, growth of 33% in cellulose production and 11% in paper production is projected, based on 2020 levels. With this scenario, significant investments were announced, totaling 54.2 billion reais between 2023 and 2028, for the forestry sector.

Currently, Brazil has 9.93 million hectares of effective plantation and the forest production chain represents 1.2% of the value added to the economy in 2021. These planted forests extend across more than a thousand municipalities, employing around 2, 9 million people, with 600 thousand workers in direct activities, which is equivalent to 7.2% of the primary agribusiness base (8.3 million people).

Most agricultural workers have the countryside as their origin. Therefore, it is important to look at the declining trend of the Brazilian rural population, which will be further impacted by the positive increase in the educational level of this group. According to data from the Center for Advanced Studies in Applied Economics, between 2012 and 2022, the agribusiness workforce fortunately increased its level of education, although it still faces salary challenges, receiving, on average, 30% less than the Brazilian average salary.

Furthermore, today Brazil benefits from the demographic bonus, with the unemployment rate being reduced in recent years, expected to fall to 8% in the next two years. Some Brazilian states experience full employment, with rates between 3% and 4.8%, such as the State of Mato Grosso, with a rate of 3%, and Santa Catarina, with 3.8%. In the same sense, there are studies that indicate that, soon, for every five vacancies open in the field, there will be only one qualified professional available.

The impacts of this situation are already observed in day-to-day operations, where finding candidates for vacancies and maintaining the team is challenging. Given this, it is essential to ask: How advanced is mechanization in the sector? Do developing technologies meet production needs? Will the evolution of mechanization be able to keep up with the reduction in labor in the field?

Mechanization in Brazilian agribusiness was and continues to be promising, with significant advances in several productive activities. Agricultural industrialization expanded rapidly and began to require a restructuring of the countryside. In forestry harvesting, since the 1980s, we have had numerous advances, providing cost reduction, increased productivity and greater safety. However, when analyzing forestry, slower progress can be seen.

Among the challenges of forestry implementation, the inability of seedlings to remain hydrated after planting is the main cause of mortality. When analyzed individually, irrigation and planting operations stand out as the activities that have evolved least with mechanization. The complexity of the renovation areas, the technical and skill requirements for carrying out these operations and the high investment in machinery tend to require labor. Some alternatives already exist on the market, such as automated planters and optical sensors for mechanized irrigation, but they still require continuous development to guarantee reasonable levels of productivity and quality.

The alternative that the sector found to improve the performance of activities already carried out with tractors was to develop equipment and implements that guarantee better performance, such as, for example, increasing the capacity of reservoir tanks, combined operations, more resistant implements, associated with technologies such as automatic pilot for soil preparation, electronic input controllers, machine telemetry and real-time monitoring.

These strategies have served to increase our productivity and so that, in the last 10 years, the hours used to produce one hectare have reduced by 20%.

Although there is progress on this point, the proportion between manual and mechanized activities was maintained during the period, in which 60% or 70% of activities still continue to be manual. The scenario shows the high dependence of rural workers. Therefore, it is important to know this audience in depth and think about what the profile of rural workers will be in the coming years.

With an average of 35 years old and predominantly incomplete primary education, this population is getting older and the field work conditions offered by forestry make the sector unattractive. Some studies state that the expectations of rural young people are, in most cases, associated with the search for better living conditions, which directs them to cities. They also seek to build an identity without stigmas, associated with common sense and understood as “normal”. As a sector, the high turnover and difficulty in retention are mainly justified by the work environment far from cities, quality of life and remuneration.

Therefore, it is essential to outline retention and attractiveness policies for this workforce, such as variable remuneration depending on production, improvement of working conditions and a training program aimed at people's internal growth.

The future of planted forests in Brazil is related to intelligence, connection and maximum mechanization. To this end, it is crucial that forestry companies, equipment manufacturers and educational institutions unite in support of this objective, encouraging research and development to boost productivity, reduce dependence on manual operations and ensure greater operational efficiency.

We may not yet have concrete answers to all the questions asked, but the fact is: the Brazilian forestry sector faces the challenge of modernizing forestry through mechanization. With the cooperation and innovation of everyone involved, we can achieve significant advances that will boost the productivity and sustainability of the planted forest industry in the country. In parallel, we need to invest more in our people, preparing our teams to live through this moment that has been transformative.