Everything you need to know about the San Francisco Valley

  • 24/10/2023
  • 21 minutes

The São Francisco Valley is a region that gets its name thanks to its geographical position. It comprises the entire area bordering the São Francisco River — the most important watercourse in the Brazilian Northeast —, passing through the states of Bahia, Minas Gerais, Pernambuco, Alagoas and Sergipe.

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The São Francisco basin covers an area of approximately 640,000 square kilometres and is considered essential for the economic development and quality of life throughout the region.

In this article, you will better understand the concepts related to the São Francisco Valley. We will explain what the valley is and its importance, the main economic activities of the region, what is the transposition of the São Francisco River, how tourism works in the locality, among other relevant aspects.


The São Francisco Valley comprises the entire region drained by the São Francisco River and affluents. Mostly located in the north-eastern states, it stands out for its agricultural and tourist potential. From the source, in Minas Gerais, to the mouth, between Alagoas and Sergipe, the river totals 2,800 kilometres in length.

It is known as the River of National Integration and has an important historical and cultural relevance for the region. Since the beginning of the colonization process, the São Francisco River was one of the first occupied and navigated.

It is no coincidence that in the early days of the colonization process, livestock production began to be carried out on its banks, since the coast was occupied especially by the production of sugarcane.

Today, the Valley stands out for being a wine producing area, in addition to being a centre for the technological development of irrigated fruit growing.


The logistical infrastructure of a region, in general, includes the services and means available for the movement of people and for the distribution of goods.

A place with good infrastructure receives more investments and expands the growth possibilities of a given area. In the São Francisco Valley region, the available physical and logistical infrastructure includes:

  • Road connections with the main capitals of the Northeast region of Brazil;
  • Air access through Petrolina International Airport;
  • São Francisco Waterway and Sobradinho Lake (largest artificial lake on the planet);
  • Thermoelectric plant with the capacity to generate 138 megawatts of energy;
  • Sluices strategically positioned in the Sobradinho Dam.


The main economic activities of the São Francisco Valley are linked to agriculture and tourism.


As it is a fertile area that has benefited from investments in irrigation, including in the federal public sphere, the valley has become a major national producer of vegetables and fruits.

Currently, the sub-region that has stood out the most for agricultural development includes the cities of Petrolina (Pernambuco) and Juazeiro (Bahia), the largest urban conglomerate in the semi-arid region and which has been growing significantly in recent years.

Much of the agricultural production of the São Francisco Valley is exported using the Port of Suape (Pernambuco), the Port of Aratu (Salvador), the Petrolina International Airport and the Producer Market (Juazeiro).

In fact, it is important to highlight that the Producer Market is the largest commercial warehouse in the North Northeast region, so it has great relevance in the national economy.

When it comes to agricultural production, we cannot fail to mention the viticulture. The São Francisco Valley has become the second largest wine-producing area in the country:

  • Annual production of 7 million litters of wine;
  • 15% of national wine production comes from the Valley;
  • 30% of the wines produced in the region are categorized as “fine wines” with national and international awards;
  • The wineries are installed mainly in the municipalities of Lagoa Grande and Santa Maria da Boa Vista in Pernambuco, and Casa Nova, in Bahia.


According to information from Embrapa, the region has been favoured by the excellent climate for the production of grapes:

“The area of vineyards of Vitis vinifera varieties destined for the elaboration of fine wines in the São Francisco Valley region totals around 500 ha. The production of fine wines from the states of Bahia and Pernambuco is concentrated in the Petrolina-Juazeiro axis, in particular in the municipalities of Casa Nova, Lagoa Grande and Santa Maria da Boa Vista, in the so-called lower middle São Francisco.


This region, with a semi-arid tropical climate, unique in Brazil, has temperatures throughout the year that make it possible for vineyards irrigated with water from the São Francisco River to produce grapes every month of the year. The region produces the so-called tropical wines, with originality and identity of the tropical region, distinct from the wine world. The region produces fine and sparkling wines, liqueur wine and brandy.”


Known for its beautiful landscapes, the valley is also a very popular destination among tourists, not only Brazilians, but also foreigners.

Filled with rivers, rapids, waterfalls, archaeological sites, caves and stone walls, combined with the vegetation that unites cerrado and caatinga, the destination is perfect for those who want to explore Brazil in a different way.

As it is a region that does not “live from tourism”, it is interesting to note that the folklore, the cuisine and the handicrafts denote great authenticity and dialogue with the reality of the people who live by the river.

There were no adaptations in cultural aspects in the region intended to meet the “needs” of tourists. On the contrary: all the experience that the tourist lives in the valley brings a great load of reality, consistent with the life and habits of those who live there.

Before traveling to the region, it is important to plan, as some riverside cities in the São Francisco basin do not offer lodging. On the other hand, there are options such as Bom Jesus da Lapa and Paulo Afonso, for example, which offer hotel infrastructure for tourists.

Although not yet fully developed, it is possible that the agricultural growth of the region, as a result of the transposition of the São Francisco River, contributes to the expansion of tourist activities in the place.


Geographically speaking, the river basin is immense, with its 640,000 square kilometres, it is equivalent to the size of France. As a result, a considerably large region depends on its waters to survive.

Like the Amazon, the Valley also stands out for contemplating a significant variety of natural environments, with tropical forests, the caatinga biome and the cerrado.

The volume of water allowed the strengthening of fruit cultivation. The area is the production cradle of irrigated fruit culture. Fruits such as mango and grape are highlighted, according to Abrafrutas (Brazilian Association of Producers and Exporters of Fruits and Derivatives), with production concentrated mainly in the regions of Petrolina (PE) and Juazeiro (BA).

The São Francisco River is a source of life and maintenance of basic needs for people living in the surroundings. It is also responsible for the economic development of the area.

Because it is located in the north-eastern semi-arid region, the river is one of the few sources of abundant fresh water, meeting the needs of thousands of people.


The transposition of the São Francisco River — also called the integration of the São Francisco River — is an old project that has been developed throughout different federal administrations.

The project consists of displacing part of the waters of the São Francisco River, creating channels that will take water to regions of the interior of the Northeast that are not close to the river and, therefore, do not have access to fresh water.

The transposition benefits residents of the states of Pernambuco, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraíba and Ceará, who will now have the possibility to enjoy the water from the river. According to the Federal Government:

“The São Francisco River Integration project is the largest water infrastructure project in the country, within the National Water Resources Policy. With 477 kilometres in extension in two axes (East and North), the project will guarantee the water security of 12 million people in 390 municipalities in the states of Pernambuco, Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte and Paraíba, where drought is frequent”.

Completed after 15 years and four presidential terms, the transposition is synonymous with water guarantee for regions that have suffered from drought for many years. The Ministry of Regional Development provides updated information on the official website.


Much has been said about the completion of the works and the benefits it will bring to people’s lives.

In February 2022, the transposition work that contemplated the region of Rio Grande do Norte was completed. According to estimates of the Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries of RN (Sape), irrigated agriculture and farmers should benefit from the changes. It is estimated an increase from 5,000 hectares (current production) to 10,000 or 15,000 hectares.

The towns of Rio Grande do Norte that use transposition water are: Apodi, Caraúbas, Felipe Guerra and Governador Dix-Sept Rosado. In these towns, fruit and vegetables are produced, mainly pumpkin, melon and watermelon.

With a stronger agriculture, the entire population benefits, as towns can thrive. From the point of view of rural producers, the integration of São Francisco is synonymous with:

  • Increased possibilities in relation to the planting of new crops that can guarantee greater profitability to farmers;
  • Water guarantee;
  • Streamlining the offer, which makes the environment more conducive to receiving new investments;
  • Transformation of the entire population living in areas benefited by the interposition;
  • Creation of a favourable environment for new alternatives to obtain income;
  • Increase in credit offers to rural producers;
  • Creation of jobs in the fruit growing area in general.


Waterways are a mode of transporting goods. Characterized by being waterways, they are used for the transport of products and goods in general. Waterways focus on the movement of goods for commercial purposes.

Therefore, we can say that they are conceptualized as a means of waterway transport carried out on lakes and rivers. According to the Federal Government, the São Francisco waterway is an important mode of transport for the national economy:

“The São Francisco waterway is the most economical connection between the Centre-South and the Northeast of the country. With a length of 2,354 km, the waterway extends along the São Francisco, Paracatu, Grande and Corrente rivers. The São Francisco River Basin, with an area of 641,000 km², represents about 7.5% of the national territory, and is distributed throughout Minas Gerais, Bahia, Pernambuco, Alagoas, Goiás, and the Federal District”.

Unsurprisingly, the São Francisco River stands out when it comes to Brazilian waterway transport. The main rivers of this waterway include:

  • São Francisco River;
  • Abaeté River;
  • Paraopeba River;
  • Carinhanha River;
  • Indaiá River;
  • Rio das Velhas;
  • Pará River;
  • Jequitaí River;
  • Paracatu River;
  • Verde Grande river.


Exported agricultural products are largely transported via the São Francisco waterway system. The transport logistics chain is initiated by road transport, connecting to inland waterway and then going to seaports, which distribute the products worldwide.

“The waterway can serve the transportation of grain and cotton products in the cerrado west of Bahia and south of Piauí, and also the cultivation of fruits and irrigated sugarcane in the region of the São Francisco Valley. As well as other important activities, such as: poultry farming concentrated around Feira de Santana/BA, Recife, Caruaru/PE and Fortaleza, as well as mining centres: gypsum in Araripina/PI, which feeds the gypsum industry and supplies gypsum to agricultural crops; and agricultural limestone, near Ibotirama”.

As you can see, the São Francisco Valley is of immeasurable importance for the economic development and quality of life of people living in the North and Northeast region of the country.

Knowing and valuing economic development actions helps to understand how the country can grow from the appreciation of natural resources and work, without them being seen as antagonistic paths.

Now that you know what the São Francisco Valley is and its relevance, how about taking the opportunity to check out other Wilson Sons content? Find out what are the expectations about the future of maritime transport in Brazil in this special article on the subject.