As Brazil's soy farmers begin harvesting, problems on a road connecting the country's agricultural heartland to northern ports provide new evidence the world's largest exporter of the oilseeds is far from solving its logistical bottlenecks.
Over the last few days, soy truckers posted numerous videos, including footage shot from drones, on social media showing they were unable to move on an unpaved stretch of the BR-163 federal highway in Pará state.
The most affected area was around the district of Moraes Almeida, north of the town of Novo Progresso, where traffic was backed up for an estimated 60 kilometers (37 miles), Gelson Dill, vice-mayor, told Reuters. The line started to form eight days ago but has since been reduced to 25 km, he said.
Dnit, Brazil's transport infrastructure agency, said traffic was gradually returning to normal on Tuesday morning between Moraes Almeida and nearby Riozinho, and there were no waiting lines. However, at Novo Progresso, traffic headed north remained partially blocked, Dnit said.
"If the weather stays dry, trucks waiting in Novo Progresso may be able to resume their journey north in two days," Dill said.
Dnit estimated 36 hours.
The Mato Grosso grain growers' association Aprosoja said "thousands" of trucks were stranded around Moraes Almeida after army blockades stopped traffic to clear the road for maintenance and construction.
An army spokesperson could not immediately comment.
Sergio Mendes, director-general of the national cereal exporters association Anec, said problems on the BR-163 road "damage Brazil's image as a reliable soy exporter." Anec data show 6.3 million tonnes, or 9 percent of Brazil's exported soy, was shipped via the northern ports of Santarém and Barcarena in 2017.
The BR-163 is the main link between Mato Grosso's soy fields and northern river ports. Last year, the government hired the army to pave a 65-km stretch, but the work is unlikely to be completed soon, Dill said.
A local TV report quoted Colonel Alessandro da Silva as saying a convoy from Teresina, in Piauí, was headed to Moraes Almeida to conduct paving work. Silva said rains in January had prevented nearly 4,000 trucks from moving along the unpaved stretches of BR-163.
Some 220 personnel, including federal highway patrol and Army officers, were deployed along the BR-163 highway in December to organize the traffic on certain unpaved stretches, Dnit said.
(Reporting by Ana Mano and José Roberto Gomes; Editing by Susan Thomas)