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Brazil is endowed with vast agricultural resources. 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.
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 forced labour (trabalho escravo) has remained commonplace in agriculture.
During the dictatorship period, agriculture was neglected and exploited as a means of resources for the industry sector and cheap food for the urban population. Until late 1980s, export and prices were controlled, with quotas on exports. This has changed since the early 1990s.
Brazilian agriculture is well diversified, and the country is largely self-sufficient in food. Agriculture accounts for 8% of the country's GDP, and employs about one-quarter of the labour force in more than 6 million agricultural enterprises. Brazil is the world's largest producer of sugarcane and coffee, and a net exporter of cocoa, soybeans, orange juice, tobacco, forest products, and other tropical fruits and nuts. Livestock production is important in many parts of the country, with rapid growth in the poultry, pork, and milk industries reflecting changes in consumer tastes. On a value basis, production is 60% field crops and 40% livestock. Brazil is a net exporter of agricultural and food products, which account for about 35% of the country's exports.
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.
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.
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.
Until crops began to be exported, the supply of Brazilian wood was the main reason for Portugal to try to gain the new territory.
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.
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 millenia, 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.
|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, producing in the process around 8.7 million tonnes (19.1 billion pounds) of beef. The country also became world leader in beef exports in 2003 after surpassing Australia. 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 head.
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. In 2003, Brazil exported over 1.4 million tonnes of beef, exports which earned the country around $1.5 billion. Also that year, total exports of the leather complex passed the $1 billion mark.
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|Million metric tons||8.67||14.21||20.37||26.57||32.32||41.78||35.13|
Brazilian corn production is concentrated in the state of Paraná, which has since 2000 produced on average 26.75% of corn in Brazil. The state of Minas Gerais comes in a distant second, with an average participation on production of 13.18% since 2000.
|Million metric tons||4.79||7.55||9.77||11.04||11.13||13.27||13.19|
|Million metric tons||0.20||1.50||15.15||24.07||32.82||49.54||51.18|
Brazil is the world's second-largest producer of soybeans. Brazilian soybean production has increased more than 3000% in the last 35 years. The states of Mato Grosso and Paraná together grow on average since 2000 over 49% of all soybeans in Brazil. Per hectare productivity has increased 37.8% since 1990. Soybean and soybean derivatives exports in 2005 alone earned over US$ 9 billion for Brazil.
|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. Despite the internal production Brazil has to import around US$700 million in wheat every year.
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.
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. Ethanol production in 2008 is predicted to reach at least 26.4 billion litres.
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.
|Million metric tons||56.92||79.75||148.65||262.67||326.12||415.20||463.00||558.50|
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. Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture have increased 41 percent between 1990 and 2005. 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. 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.
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. As of 2007, about 74 million cattle, or 40 percent of Brazil's herd, were living in what is known as the "Legal Amazon." 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. 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." At least one quarter of Brazil's grain is grown in the Cerrado region.