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COVID-19: Brazilian truck drivers keep supply chain afloat

Trucking along the long roads from Brazil’s Mato Grosso to the country’s Atlantic ports, truck drivers have long been the unsung heroes that keep local and global supply chains afloat.

But the pandemic has made their strenuous journeys much harder. Restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 have closed cafés, rest stops, and repair services all along their routes. Additional procedures for safety and hygiene cause additional delays.

“The drivers are the beating heart of Brazil’s supply chain,” says Carolina Hernandez, Commercial Director for Grains and Oilseeds in Brazil.
“They play a central role in society, ensuring the supply of foods, medicines, fuel and other essential products for Brazil and abroad. Without them the supply chain would collapse.”

To do their jobs as the pandemic restricts their work, the truck drivers need a supply of food, sanitary facilities and protective materials - gloves, masks and alcohol gels – all along their routes.

According to COFCO Brazil’s head of operations Amauri Ficanha, the main challenge is to ensure the wellbeing, safety and health of the drivers while they are traveling. “Some drivers travel 500, 1000 or even 2000 km and of course they need to be able to eat, rest and stay safe at every stage of their journey,” he says.  

To help the truckers, COFCO has teamed up with the truckers unions to get the commodities from field and farm to Brazil’s ports and other hubs.  

Every day, at the points where trucks are loading and unloading, some 600 food kits are handed out. Each month, around 20,000 face masks from China will be given to the drivers, protecting them whenever they need to leave their vehicles.

COFCO Brazil has also adopted mandatory temperature checks and awareness campaigns, as well as disinfections and social distancing, to prevent the virus from spreading across the country.

Health and food

This COFCO crushing plant in Rondonópolis, located in Brazil’s central-western State of Mato Grosso, is an important distribution point for soy-based biodiesel, an essential part of Brazil’s energy mix.

For Paulo Henrique Ribeiro who makes the 2,500 km journey from Rondonópolis in Mato Grasso all the way to Belém, near the Amazon River delta at the Atlantic Ocean, these steps make a big difference.

Transporting biodiesel, an essential part of Brazil’s energy supply, can keep him on the road for up to six days at a time.

“This help is vital for our work, to keep us going,” he says. “Normally, my main concern is to get the goods safely from one place to another and to focus on my driving,” he adds. “Now I also think about my health, the health of others, where and what I will eat.”

Brazil is one of the world’s largest producers of food and a top exporter of soy, beef, coffee, and sugar. Any disruptions in its supply chains would have major consequences across the world.

To avoid disruption and protect some essential activities linked to the supply chains, the federal government has adapted some restrictions.

“This makes it even more important for us to strictly apply protection measures and step in to help protect vital workers including truck drivers,” COFCO logistics manager, Rafael Esteves.

“The truck drivers have made it possible to keep the supply chain going to the benefit of Brazil and the rest of the world.”

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