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Football's World Cup threatens agriculture with demotion

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Is football's World Cup a danger to the world's ability to feed itself?

It could certainly be a big hindrance. Brazil, the host country, faces a huge task to get infrastructure plans, such as several stadia nine airport redevelopments, ready in time for the event's 2014 kick-off.

FIFA, the sport's governing body, has voiced its concerns over projects such as Rio de Janeiro's Maracana stadium, which is supposed to host the final, but is running well behind schedule.

The contract to build an arena in Natal was only signed in April, more than three years after Brazil won the competition to stage the World Cup.

And the country hardly bolstered confidence on Wednesday when Orlando Silva resigned as sports minister, after making sexist remarks about colleagues.

Hours later, Pele, the Brazilian football legend, admitted that the country is "not ready" for the event, terming organisation a "big problem".

Soybeans vs sport

The fear among farmers is that, urban-focused, World Cup projects will suck up all resources for infrastructure development in Brazil at least until 2014, and perhaps until 2016, when the country will stage the Olympic Games.

And this when producers are desperate for rail, and even road, networks to connect Brazil's interior to the ports needed to link its large, and growing, agricultural production with large, and growing, import demand from the likes of China.

"Many fear that as more money goes into the sporting venues, funds will be stripped away from projects that could help agriculture," crop analyst, and Brazil expert, Michael Cordonnier said.

'Back of the queue'

These concerns have only been enhanced by Brazil's decision to put on ice the so-called "Fico" east-west rail line supposed to link Mato Grosso, the main soybean producing state, Goias and Rondonia with the existing network.

The R$6.4bn, 1,600km-long project was put on hold following allegations of corruption which led to the resignation of Brazil's transport minister. (The administration of President Dilma Rousseff has lost six ministers in all in 10 months, five amid corruption concerns.)

"The fear is that this railroad will now get put at the back of the queue, and that the money which had been allocated to it will be appropriated for World Cup or Olympic needs, seen as much more urgent causes," Dr Cordonnier, at Soybean and Corn Advisor, told Agrimoney.com.

"There is a history of this." A north-south railway also being built in Mato Grosso "was supposed to have been built 30 years ago".

Demotion

Farmers' concerns are hardly ill-founded. According to a survey by the World Economic Forum, Brazil fell 20 places to 104 out of 142 countries ranked for their infrastructure.

The country's ports, infamous for hold-ups on loading sugar cargoes, were ranked in 130th position.

But the prize is huge. Take soybeans, of which Brazil is the second-ranked importer, and currently provides some 18% of China's annual needs of about 56m tonnes.

"Over the next decade, Chinese soybean imports could hit 100m tonnes, and Brazil could double its soybean exports to China - if it has an adequate infrastructure to handle the increased volume," Dr Cordonnier said.

As it is, transport costs are driving down Brazil's competitiveness, leaving Mato Grosso a more expensive place to grow corn than Argentina and even the US.

"People came to Mato Grosso because the land was cheap, thinking the railroad would follow. But it has been very slow. In the meantime, they are facing high costs," Dr Cordonnier said.

By Mike Verdin

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