Agriculture in Brazil

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Brazil: Agriculture
Brasil celeiro.png
Brazil, "breadbasket of the world"[1]
Flag of Brazil.svg
Area cultivated 65,338,804 ha.[2]
Cropland (% of land area) 31%
Rural population 5,965,000 families
Main products sugarcane, coffee, soybeans, corn.
Grains (2008) 145.4 million tons [2]
Major products
Cane and derivatives (2007/08) 493.4 million tons
Soy (2008) 59.2 million tons [2]
Corn (2008) 58.9 million tons [2]
Participation in the economy - 2008
Crop value R$ 148.4 billion ($65.56 bil. USD) [2]
Contribution to GDP 4,53%[3]
Agribusiness GDP (Rural industry and trade, livestock and agriculture) 26,46%[3]

The agriculture of Brazil is historically one of the principal bases of the country's economy, since the beginning of colonization until the 21st century, evolving from extensive monocultures to diversified production. Initially producing sugar cane, and expanding to coffee, the Brazilian agriculture has emerged as one of the major exporters of the world in diverse crops of cereals, fruits, grains, among others.

It is from the Estado Novo (New State), with Getulio Vargas, that the expression, "Brazil, breadbasket of the world" was coined - accentuating the agricultural vocation of the country.[4] Norman Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize winner of 1970, said in a visit to Brazil in 2004 that the country has become the major highlight in agriculture. While the United States already exploits all their agricultural area, Brazil still has about 106 million hectares of fertile area to spread to - a territory larger than the combined area of France and Spain.[5]

According to the results of a study done be IBGE in the year 2008, despite the world financial crisis, Brazil had record agricultural production, with growth in the order of 9.1% in relation to the previous year, principally motivated by favorable climatic conditions. The production of grains in the year reached an unprecedented 145,400,000 tons. The production of grains in the year reached an unprecedented 145,400,000 tons.[2]

That registered production, already the largest in history; happened to increase in relation to the previous year, of 4.8% in area planted, totaling 65,338,000 hectares The record crop paid off $148 billion Reais, with the principal products being corn (with a growth of 13.1%) and soy (a growth of 2.4%)[2]

There are two distinct agricultural areas. The first, composed of the southern one-half to two-thirds of the country, has a semitemperate climate, higher rainfall, more fertile soil, more advanced technology and input use, adequate infrastructure, and more experienced farmers. This region produces most of Brazil's grains and oilseeds and export crops. The other, located in the drought-ridden northeast region and in the Amazon basin, lacks well-distributed rainfall, good soil, adequate infrastructure, and sufficient development capital. Although mostly occupied by subsistence farmers, both regions are increasingly important as exporters of forest products, cocoa, and tropical fruits. Central Brazil contains substantial areas of grassland with only scattered trees. The Brazilian grasslands are far less fertile than those of North America, and are generally more suited for grazing.

Brazil is the biggest exporter of coffee, soybeans, beef, sugar cane, ethanol and frozen chickens.[6]

Despite this, agriculture in Brazil presents problems and challenges, from agrarian reform to fire; rural exodus to financing of production; and the draining the economic viability of the family farming network. All involve political, social, environmental, technological and economic issues.

The history of agriculture in Brazil in the colonial period and beyond is intertwined with the history of slavery in Brazil. Since the abolition of slavery in 1888 by the Lei Áurea ("Golden Law"), the practice of slave labour has remained commonplace in agriculture.[7][8]

Half of Brazil is covered by forests, with the largest rain forest in the world located in the Amazon Basin. Recent migrations into the Amazon and large-scale burning of forest areas have placed the international spotlight on the country and damaged Brazil's image. The government has reduced incentives for such activity and is beginning to implement an ambitious environmental plan - and has just adopted an Environmental Crimes Law that requires serious penalties for infractions.[citation needed]


However, the air of the country is very healthful, fresh, and as temperate as that of Entre Douro e Minho, we have found the two climates alike at this season. There is great plenty, an infinitude of waters. The country is so well-favored that if it were rightly cultivated it would yield everything, because of its waters.[9]

Pero Vaz de Caminha, Carta de Pêro Vaz de Caminha, Full text on Wikisource - in Portuguese

Since the indigenous people with their primitive farming, there has been a gradual increase in the process of agriculture and exporting. Brazil has been expanding its agricultural role to the point where agriculture is one of the highlights of the economy, with potential to expand further by improving the quality of production.

Primitive farming[edit]

Brazilian fruits in a painting by Albert Eckhout.

The natives of Brazil farmed cassava, peanuts, tobacco, sweet potatoes and maize, in addition to extracting the essence from other local plants such as the pequi and the babassu. Some were for food and others for different products such as straw or madeira. They also cultivated local fruits such as jabuticaba, cashews, Spondias mombin, Goiabas and many others.

With the arrival of the Europeans, the Indians did not just receive a stronger and more dominant culture. They also influenced the incomers. The Portuguese nourished themselves with wood-flour, slaughtered the big game to eat, packed their nets and imitated the rough, free life in the words of Pedro Calmon.[10]

Until crops began to be exported, the supply of Brazilwood was the main reason for Portugal to try to gain the new territory.[11]


Fires are one of the problems still present in Brazilian agriculture.

One of the practices used by the indigenous people was to open clearing for cultivation by the use of fire. In addition to rapid land clearance, this provided ashes for use as fertilizer and a covering for the soil.

Scholars such as Monteiro Lobato have considered this practice to be a harmful legacy of the Indians. However, burning had been part of agriculture in Brazil for 12,000 years before the Europeans arrived without disturbing the balance of nature. It only became a problem when the Europeans adopted the practice aggressively around 1500, and also introduce the division of land into farms, the crop monoculture etc., and together these new farming methods decimated the native flora.[12]

The land management of the Indians wasn't based solely on fire. They also created garden areas in locations carefully selected to allow interaction with the surrounding nature. They conserved the environment in exchange for hunting the animals and protecting themselves against pests. This has been lost, as Darcy Ribeiro says: Thus they passed millennia, until they came up against the armed agents of our civilisation, with their capacity to attack and mortally wound the miraculous balance achieved by those complex lifeforms.[12]

Colonial Brazil: The monoculture of sugarcane[edit]

Sugar attracted the colonizer who brought slaves from Africa, and it led to invasion of the territory.
The picture depicts a Dutch sugar mill in the work Historia Naturalis Brasiliae, 1648.

Soon after the discovery, the natural wealth of the land if not revealed was promising, until the introduction of the production of sugarcane in the Northeast region. This caused the Portuguese to introduce slave labor, who were able to carry out the hard tasks of the cultivation of monoculture, commonly called the system of plantation. That source of wealth however, did not serve to promote the system of technical or social progress.[13]

The concentration of wealth generated the formation of a quasi-feudal social system - in contrast to what occurred, for example, in North America where the land was divided into small properties. The Brazilian economy was in a large part dependent on the exportation of sugar, but despite it being thirty percent more cheap than production in other parts of the world, producers did not have access to markets, leading to a decline in the second half of the 17th century. Many producer regions, then, spread the diversity of production, moving to the planting of cotton or, in Reconcavo Baiano, tobacco or cocoa - although the negative legacy of that period has remained: an archaic social structure and obsolete agricultural technology.[13]

Slave Labor[edit]

In the illustration of "O Fazendeiro do Brasil" (The Farmer in Brazil), 1806, José Mariano da Conceição Veloso describes the steps and tools used in the cultivation of indigo in Brazil.

The work by the indigenous people, initially tried by colonists, did not reveal itself to be productive. Laws prohibited their enslavement, although in most areas it was not respected. However even these forced workers rebelled, ran away, or simply died. The settlers then passed the increasing demand to African slave labor.[14]

In the first century after the Discovery the captive population already surpassed that of free people. So necessary was the labor force in agriculture that Antonil stated: "the slaves are the hands and feet of the mill, because without them in Brazil, it is not possible to make, maintain or expand the farm or have a running mill."[15]

The slaves were also responsible for the clearing of new agricultural frontiers, in the west for São Paulo coffee plantations. At the end of the Second Reign, Brazil already accounted for more than half the world's production of this bean thus replacing the part previously represented by sugar cane in agriculture.[14]

The Lei Áurea ("Golden Law"), according to João Ribeiro, "more than anything humane and christian, (Lei Áurea) menaced the work and gravely injured the interests of the farmers; there still had been in Brazil more than seven hundred thousand slaves (...) Many of the farmers turned to the republican party or became indifferent to the attack of the institutions..." Made law without an accompanying land distribution to the ex-captives, the abolition ended up leading to rural exodus, both from the workers and from the bankrupt landlords, on the one hand. And on the other, it was at the root of future problems such as slums in urban centers, violence and poverty.[16]

Agricultural products in Brazil[edit]


Heads of cattle[17][18]
Year 1960 1980 1990 2000 2004 2005
Million head of cattle 78.54 118.08 147.10 169.87 204.51 207.15

Brazil in 2005 slaughtered over 28 million head of cattle,[19] producing in the process around 8.7 million tonnes (19.1 billion pounds) of beef.[20] The country also became world leader in beef exports in 2003 after surpassing Australia.[21] The cattle herds are concentrated in the states of Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Goiás and Minas Gerais; together they account to over 46% of Brazilian cattle with more than 87 million heads of cattle.[18]

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Brazilian beef production grew on average 6.1% a year from 1990 to 2003, and reached 7.6 million tonnes.[21] In 2003, Brazil exported over 1.4 million tonnes of beef, exports which earned the country around $1.5 billion.[21] Also that year, total exports of the leather complex passed the $1 billion mark.[21]



Corn Production[22]
Year 1960 1970 1980 1989 2000 2004 2005
Million metric tons 8.67 14.21 20.37 26.57 32.32 41.78 35.13


Rice Production[22]
Year 1960 1970 1980 1989 2000 2004 2005
Million metric tons 4.79 7.55 9.77 11.04 11.13 13.27 13.19

Productivity per hectare has surged 61% since 1990, but production remains highly concentrated on the state of Rio Grande do Sul, which grows on average 48% of all rice in Brazil.[23]


Soybean Production[22]
Year 1960 1970 1980 1989 2000 2004 2005
Million metric tons 0.20 1.50 15.15 24.07 32.82 49.54 51.18

Brazil is the world's second-largest producer of soybeans. Brazilian soybean production has increased more than 3000% in the last 35 years. The states of Mato Grosso and Paraná together grow on average since 2000 over 49% of all soybeans in Brazil. Per hectare productivity has increased 37.8% since 1990.[24] Soybean and soybean derivatives exports in 2005 alone earned over US$9 billion for Brazil.[25]


Wheat Production[22]
Year 1960 1970 1980 1989 2000 2004 2005
Million metric tons 0.71 1.84 2.70 5.55 1.72 5.81 4.65

Brazil's tropical climate is not very suitable for growing wheat, so two of Brazil's coldest states, Paraná and Rio Grande do Sul, account for over 90% of wheat production.[26] Despite the internal production Brazil has to import around US$700 million in wheat every year.[27][28][29][30]


Brazil during its early colonial time depended heavily on sugarcane for its economic well-being. Today, Brazil leads the world in sugarcane production.

Sugarcane production is concentrated in eight Brazilian states: São Paulo, Alagoas, Pernambuco, Minas Gerais, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Goiás and Paraná. These states are responsible for 90% of the total production.[31]

Brazil harvested 558 million tonnes of sugarcane in 2007, representing a growth of 17.62% over 2006. For 2008, Brazil harvested 648,921,280 tonnes, of which total 89% or 540 million tonnes was used for sugar and ethanol production, the other 11% was used for cachaça and rapadura production, as animal feed and as seeds.[32] Ethanol production in 2008 is predicted to reach at least 26.4 billion litres.[32]

Companhia Nacional de Abastecimento (CONAB)said that in 2007, sugarcane cultivated land increased by 12.3%, to 69,000 square kilometres. In 2006, 62,000 km² of land was devoted for sugarcane in Brazil.[31]

Sugarcane Production[22]
Year 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2004 2006 2007
Million metric tons 56.92 79.75 148.65 262.67 326.12 415.20 463.00 558.50

Problems with Agriculture[edit]

Seventy-five percent of Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions are the result of deforestation and changes in land use to pave the way for production of livestock and crops.[33] Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture have increased 41 percent between 1990 and 2005.[34] Cattle are a major factor for these emissions. An estimate carried out by Friends of the Earth-Amazonia (Amigos da Terra - Amazônia Brasileira), the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE), and the University of Brasília concluded fully half of Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions between 2003 and 2008 came from the cattle sector.[35] If all parts of the "cattle chain" had been included, the researchers add, the proportion of greenhouse gases attributable to Brazil's cattle would have been even larger.[33]

Brazil's cattle and soy production are concentrated in the Legal Amazon and Cerrado grasslands regions, and have resulted in considerable biodiversity loss, deforestation, and water pollution.[36] As of 2007, about 74 million cattle, or 40 percent of Brazil's herd, were living in what is known as the "Legal Amazon."[37] Almost a million square km (386,000 sq mi), or nearly half of the Cerrado, have been burned and are now cattle pasture, or are cultivated for soybeans, corn (both primary ingredients in livestock feed), and sugarcane, for ethanol production.[38] According to Brazilian journalist Washington Novaes, "if we consider the viable fragments of the Cerrado, those with at least two continuous hectares (5 acres), only 5 percent of it is left. It's a very severe level of habitat loss."[39] At least one quarter of Brazil's grain is grown in the Cerrado region.


  1. ^ Expression coined during the Vargas Era
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Thais Leitão (ABr) (17 October 2009). "Produção agrícola brasileira registra recorde em 2008 com alta de 9,1%." - in Portuguese. Paged visited on 30 March 2014.
  3. ^ a b CEPEA/USP/CNA Data download, - in Portuguese. Searched 18 October 2009.
  4. ^ "O novo salto do agronegócio". Exame (in Portuguese). 14 June 2007. Retrieved 5 March 2009. 
  5. ^ "O tamanho do Brasil que põe a mesa". Veja (in Portuguese) (Abril) (1843): 78. 3 March 2004. Retrieved 18 October 2009. Template:Citar jornal
  6. ^ Brazil Surges Ahead with Commodities Wealth | Newsweek International Edition |
  7. ^ Combating Forced Labour, ILO Programme (United Nations) - in Portuguese
  8. ^ Le Breton, B. (2003). Trapped: modern-day slavery in the Brazilian Amazon. Kumarian Press. ISBN 1-56549-155-6
  9. ^ The Letter of Pero Vaz de Caminha. Temple University. p. 10. 
  10. ^ CALMON, Pedro: História do Brasil, São Paulo, 1939, vol. 1
  11. ^ ARRUDA, José Jobson (1996). "Cap. 21 - Os primeiros tempos: a exploração do pau-brasil". História Integrada: da Idade Média ao nascimento do mundo moderno (2ª ed.). São Paulo: Ática. pp. 126 and 129. ISBN 85-08-05399-1. "Foi com o objetivo de explorar o comércio dessa madeira que os portugueses fundaram uma série de benfeitorias(...) Os europeus dependiam dos índios para a extração das madeiras(...) A partir de 1530 a crise do comércio de especiarias... forçaram Portugal a ocupar definitivamente(...)" 
  12. ^ a b LEONEL, Mauro (Sep./Dec. 2000). "O uso do fogo: o manejo indígena e a piromania da monocultura". Estudos Avançados, vol.14, nº 40, São Paulo (publicada em Scielo Brasil). Retrieved 5 March 2009. 
  13. ^ a b BAER, Werner: A Economia Brasileira, Nobel, São Paulo, 2ª ed, 2003, ISBN 8521311974, ISBN 9788521311973
  14. ^ a b SILVA, Joaquim, PENNA, J. B. Damasco: História Geral, Cia. Editora Nacional, São Paulo, 1972
  15. ^ Cultura e Opulência do Brasil por suas Drogas e Minas, SILVA e PENNA, op cit.
  16. ^ "Um velho desafio brasileiro - A importância da reforma agrária para o futuro do país". Revista Veja. Retrieved 14 April 2014. 
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  32. ^ a b Folha Online - Dinheiro - Produção de álcool e de açúcar baterá recorde em 2008, prevê Conab - 29 April 2008
  33. ^ a b Mia MacDonald and Justine Simon (2010) Cattle, Soyanization, and Climate Change: Brazil's Agricultural Revolution. Brighter Green, 2.
  34. ^ "Brazil Throws Out Another Climate Challenge Updating Greenhouse Gas Inventory," World Wildlife Fund, 27 November 2009.
  35. ^ Bustamante, Mercedes, C. Nobre, and R. Smeraldi. "Estimating Recent Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Cattle Raising in Brazil," São Paulo: Amigos da Terra - Amazônia Brasileira, National Institute for Space Research,Universidade de Brasília, 2009, 1.
  36. ^ Mia MacDonald and Justine Simon (2010) Cattle, Soyanization, and Climate Change: Brazil's Agricultural Revolution. Brighter Green, 1.
  37. ^ Smeraldi, Roberto and Peter H. May. "The Cattle Realm: A New Phase in the Livestock Colonization of Brazilian Amazonia," Highlights in English. São Paulo: Amigos da Terra - Amazônia Brasileira, 2008, 4.
  38. ^ Simone de Lima and Justine Simon (2010) Brazil: Cattle, Soyanization, and Climate Change. Brighter Green, 1.
  39. ^ Mia MacDonald and Justine Simon (2010) "Cattle, Soyanization, and Climate Change: Brazil's Agricultural Revolution". Brighter Green, 10.