Agriculture in Brazil

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Brazil: Agriculture
Brasil celeiro.png
Brazil, "breadbasket of the world"[1]
Flag of Brazil.svg
Area cultivated65,338,804 ha.[2]
Cropland (% of land area)31%
Rural population5,965,000 families
Main productssugarcane, 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 valueR$148.4 billion ($65.56 bil. USD)[2]
Contribution to GDP4.53%[3]
Agribusiness GDP (Rural industry and trade, livestock and agriculture)26.46%[3]
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Brazil: Agriculture
Brasil celeiro.png
Brazil, "breadbasket of the world"[1]
Flag of Brazil.svg
Area cultivated65,338,804 ha.[2]
Cropland (% of land area)31%
Rural population5,965,000 families
Main productssugarcane, 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 valueR$148.4 billion ($65.56 bil. USD)[2]
Contribution to GDP4.53%[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.[2]

That registered production, already the largest in history; happened to increase in relation to the previous year, of 4.8% in area planted, totalling 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 semi temperate 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-favoured 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 labour.[14]

In the first century after the Discovery the captive population already surpassed that of free people. So necessary was the labour 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 centres, violence and poverty.[16]

Brazilian Empire: control of coffee[edit]

Brazilian coffee plantation in the early twentieth century.

In the late colonial era coffee was introduced to the country. But it was only after independence that production consolidated in the Southeast region, mainly in the state of São Paulo. The exports, that in the beginning of 19th century totaled 3,178 sacks of 60 kg, grew to 51,610,000 sacks in the decades of 1880 and 1890 – jumping from nineteen percent to about sixty three percent of the total exports of the country.[13]

That huge economic weight was responsible for the appearance of a new dominant oligarchy in Brazil, the so-called Coffee Barons. It also hastened immigration movements with the end of slavery. The era reached its peak with Café com leite politics, ending with the Campos Sales administration when the 1929's crisis closed this cycle at the end of the 1930s with the industrialization of the country – the capital for this coming from the coffee production surplus.[17]

Bagging for export, at the height of the coffee cycle.

European immigration became more prominent with coffee production west of São Paulo, with the arrival of predominantly Italians to the country. The wealth generated by the produce accentuated the differences between the Brazilian regions, especially in the Northeast.[13]

Besides coffee, other crops had increased still in the 19th century, such as tobacco and cocoa, in Bahia, and rubber in Amazônia: in 1910 rubber represented about forty percent of the exports. Cotton had seen a temporary growth during the Civil War in the United States of America.[13]

International problems[edit]

Brazilian production of coffee already exceeded global demand at the beginning of the 20th century. This resulted in the famous Taubaté Agreement, where the State began acquiring surplus, to be destroyed; new seedlings were forbidden to be planted – with the goal of maintaining a minimum profitable price of the product.[13]

Rubber also suffered from foreign competition: England, in 1870, smuggled rubber tree seedlings and in 1895 began the planting of seedlings in Asia. In the 1910s and 1920s this competition practically made the Brazilian production disappear.[13]

Emergence of Agronomy schools[edit]

Entrance to the Agricultural School in Camboriú, of UFSC.

Even during the Empire era there had been, in Bahia, the first school dedicated to the training of agronomists. In 1875, in São Bento das Lages the first course was founded, in the city of Cruz das Almas. In 1883, in Pelotas, Rio Grande do Sul, a second course was created.[18]

The recognition of the course only happened thirty-five years after the creation of the first school, with the Decree 8.319/1910. The Agronomist profession only came to be recognized in 1933 and currently there are seventy regular Agronomy colleges in the country. 12 October, when the decree was publicized, became the "Day of the Agronomist."[18]

Professional registration is made at the Regional Engineering and Architecture Councils, integrated at the national level by CONFEA;[19] the students of the Agronomy courses, in return, integrated the Federation of Brazilian Agronomy Students.

Agricultural diversification: Years 1960–1990[edit]

The former minister, Luis Fernando Cirne Lima, founder of Embrapa, speaking at the corporation's 35th anniversary conference.

EMBRAPA (Brazilian Enterprise for Agricultural Research) was established during the military regime in 1973 with the objective of diversifying agricultural production. The body was responsible for the development of new crops, adapted to the peculiar conditions of the diverse regions in the country. The expansion of agricultural borders towards the Cerrado had begun, and of monocultural latifundia with the production in semi-industrial scale of soybeans, cotton and beans.[13]

Among the Embrapa researchers who had made possible the implementation of the Green Revolution in Brazilian agriculture, the Czech-Brazilian researcher Johanna Döbereiner stands out, and was nominated in 1997 for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with her studies about the nitrogen-fixing microorganisms for its global amplitude.[20]

In 1960 there were four main agricultural products exported; by the early 1990s there were nineteen. The advance in these thirty years included processing: in the 60's unprocessed goods made up 84% of total exports, a rate that fell to 20% in the early 90's.[13]

Agricultural promotion policies included subsidized credits, bank debts write-offs, and exports subsidies (which, in some cases, reached 50% of product's value).[13]

Mechanization: the 1990s[edit]

Harvester on a Brazilian cotton plantation.

Since 1994, with the passing of Plano Real for monetary stabilization, the Brazilian agricultural model has gone through a radical transformation: the State diminished its subsidization and the market has begun to finance agriculture which, therefore, saw a strengthened agrobusiness chain, from the replacement of manpower with machines (there have been a reduction in Brazilian rural population which fell from 20,700,000 in 1985 to 17,900,000 people in 1995), followed by the liberalization of foreign trade (a decrease in import taxes on inputs), and other measures that have forced the Brazilian producers to adapt to global market practices. The raise of productivity, mechanization (with reduction of costs) and professionalization mark that period.[13]

Land Issues[edit]

From its origins, Brazil has possessed a large concentration of land, and used a system known as sesmarias which continued until 1822, and then gave rise to the current latifundia.[21] In 1850 (the same year of the law that prohibited slave trade) the Law of Lands was promulgated, which kept the systems of land concentration in latifundia and remained until 1964, when dictatorship prepared the Land Statute. The high cost of agricultural production in the Colony and Empire contributed to the latifundia formation and there has never been in the country a great land reform, that only came to make part of the country's official and legal policies after the 1988 Constitution.[22]

Of the around thirty-one million Brazilians who live in poverty, more than half live in rural areas. In the last twenty-five years of the 20th century, about thirty million rural dwellers abandoned or lost their land, creating a deficit of about four million eight hundred thousand landless families. During that time, the vast majority of funding resources was directed to the oligarchies and great landowners, assisting the model of intensive exploitation of the properties, formation of great monocultures and grazing areas, that with the conclusion of the so-called green revolution, ended up unveiling a series of problems such as the extensive use of pesticides, irrigation and uncontrolled deforestation, and assault on native crops, among others.[23]

With redemocratization the country experienced, between 1985 and 1988, almost 9,000 social conflicts in rural areas, and the murders of 1,167 people for agricultural issues. In this period there had been the beginning of the confrontation that generated, on one side, the unions, social movements and the Catholic Church (which at the time directed at the so-called "preferential option for the poor", with pastoral commissions) and, on the other side, the great landowners united in the Democratic Association of Ruralists – the UDR – which had Ronaldo Caiado as the main representative.[24] The most famous victim of those conflicts was the unionist Chico Mendes, in Acre, in 1988.

Members of the Landless Workers' Movement (MST), the main representative group of the landless workers, during the closing of the MST's 5th Congress in Brasília, in 2007.

According to the researcher Bernardo Mançano, from UNESP, rural censuses collected since 1940 has indicated land concentration, which only could be reverted with the end of rural exodus and the annual settlement of 150,000 families. During Itamar Franco's Government, the INCRA (National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform) achieved about 10,000 settlements annually; in that administration a fast-track procedure for expropriation was established, overcoming one of the main obstacles for the measure, a long delay.[25]

The conflicts reached their peak in 1996 with the Eldorado dos Carajás massacre, in Pará, when the governor at the time, Almir Gabriel, ordained the eviction of a road occupied by landless workers. The slaughters that resulted from it – nineteen dead and fifty-one injured – exposed the land problem in the country even more, and the experienced disrespect for human rights.[26]

In an article from 1996, the economist Maria da Conceição Tavares, one of the worst critics of Fernando Henrique Cardoso's Government, alerted that "the importance of a rural reform has increased and the dispute for land, if the relations of "dominance" of rural properties are not regulated quickly, will lead to growing confrontations".[27]

In the land social movement led to about five hundred land occupations of what they considered to be unproductive farms. As a reaction to the invasions, President Cardoso published the Provisional Measure 2.027-38, which contained a prohibition against the earmarking of all occupied land for agrarian reform.[25]


Rice paddy: Where irrigation first occurred in Brazil.

The first irrigation experiments in Brazil occurred in Rio Grande do Sul, to cultivate rice; the first record dates from 1881 with the construction of the Cadro dam which began in 1903. However, the practice has been broadened in the last thirty years of the 20th century.[28]

While irrigation was gradually developed in the South and Southeast regions by private initiative, in the Northeast region irrigation was encouraged by official bodies, such as DNOCS and CODEVASF, since the 1950s. In 1968, the Executive Group on Irrigation and Agrarian Development (GEIDA) was set up, and two years later it went on to institute the Multi-annual Program of Irrigation (PPI). The majority of resources were directed to the Northeast.[28]

These federal bureaucratic initiatives, however, did not achieve success. From 1985 on there was a new guidance and, in 1996, a new direction was sought, with the New Model of Irrigation Project. The Project intended to broaden the use of irrigation in agriculture, and depended on the participation of more than 1,500 national and foreign experts.[28]

The potential for irrigation in Brazil, according to the World Bank is about 29 million hectares. In 1998, however, it was only 2.98 million due to drought.[29]

At the end of the last decade of the 20th century, the country used surface irrigation as for its main method (59%), followed by overhead (35%) and, lastly, targeted irrigation. The South region represented the largest irrigated area (more than 1.1 million ha), followed by the Southeast (800 thousand ha) and Northeast (490 thousand ha).[29]

Currently, a regulatory milestone of irrigation is making its way through the National Congress of Brazil, through bill 6381/2005,[28] which aims at replacing the Law 6662/1979, which regulates the National Irrigation Policy.[30] The National Water Resources Policy is regulated by the Law 9433/1997, and managed by the National Council.[28]

Agricultural infrastructure[edit]

Among the most important infrastructural items in agriculture are transportation, regulatory stocks, storage, minimum price policy, plant-health protection, as well as other issues.

Transportation of production[edit]

Transport of crops by highway: an example of delay in Brazil infrastructure.

The transportation of crops is one of the structural problems agriculture faces in Brazil. Pedro Calmon noted that, since the Empire, "the disposal of the harvest is difficult" and indicated that "the old projects of iron roads or cartable paths, linking the coast to the central mountains (...) are resisted by skeptical statesmen, quoting Thiers, who, in 1841, believed that railways were not convenient to France".[31]

There is no policy of crop storage on-site in Brazil. Most shipping is done on highways, mostly in poor traffic conditions, by trucks. The transportation cost, in general burdening the producer, is high and does not obey logistics principles.[32]

In the harvest of 2008/2009, for example, the Federation of Agriculture and Livestock of Goiás denounced the poor condition of the roads in the Center-West region, some with problems since 2005 and, despite requests to government institutions, nothing had been done.[33]

Because of this, the federal government issued in 2006 a National Plan of Logistics and Transportation, meant to provide a better production flow.[34] The lack of investment in the sector, however, continues to be the main problem of distribution logistics.

Regulatory stocks and minimum price[edit]

A good example of the need of regulatory stocks is in the production of ethanol as a fuel from sugar cane. The elevated price variation during the harvest year, that varies for climatic and plant health reasons, justifies the formation of stocks.[35]

The stocks also aim at assuring stability of farmers' revenues, as well as avoiding price fluctuations between harvests. Until the 1980s, there had been in the country the deployment of the so-called Minimum Prices Ensuring Policy, that has lost relevance in agricultural policy by the 1990s, with globalization. The main effect is price instability of agricultural produce.[36]

The composition of stocks at national level is the responsibility of the National Food Supply Company (Conab).[37]


Trucks transporting soybean crop, revealing a lack of silos. Roosevelt Pinheiro / ABr.

Agricultural storage is one factor of the country's agricultural production that requires greater investment and expansion in order to keep up with the development of the sector. Within production logistics, the Brazilian capacity of storage in 2003 was 75% of grain production,[38] while the ideal would be 120%.[39]

Produce, due to a lack of warehouses and silos, needs to be commercialized quickly. According to data from Conab, only 11% of the warehouses are located on farms (while in Argentina the total is 40%, in the European Union it is 50%, and in Canada it is 80%). This forces farmers to rely on third party services to store produce. Seasonal factors, such as the loss of crops and currency exchange losses, DE capitalize the producer, who cannot invest in the building of silos. With silos he could negotiate his production in more favourable conditions, not only at harvest time. The Brazilian situation has led to calling trucks "silos on wheels".[39]

Territorial Management of Agriculture[edit]

This is a stimulus proposal for the organization of Brazilian agriculture and efficient land use. The larger capacity of management of agriculture, livestock-farming and forestry activities is paramount to reconcile the demands on control and mitigation of the environmental impacts and those of food production, agro fuels and forestry inputs for the industry. The territorialized management of agriculture deals with the establishment of a policy that considers the diverse production capacities and their location in the territory, offering instruments to allow monitoring of the agricultural situation through geospatial tools, considering asymmetries in the use of the soil in terms of productivity, technologies and future demands. By matching these instruments to new proposals in the Harvest Plan in the Low Carbon Agriculture Program and studies by the Strategic Affairs Secretariat of the Presidency, it will be possible for the supply of credit to be driven to intensify the use of certain areas, advising the producer to prioritize sustainable systems.

Family farming in Brazil[edit]

Vegetable plot on a family farm.

Family farms, considered to be a farm which employs only the core of the family (father, mother, children and, eventually, grandparents and uncles) in working the land,[40] while permitting hiring of up to five temporary workers,[41] is directly accountable for the production of a major part of Brazilian produce. It is responsible for production of 84% of manioc, 67% of beans and 49% of corn.[40]

In the 1990s the family farm's productivity experienced growth of 75%, compared to only 40% of employer agriculture. That is largely due to the creation of PRONAF (National Program on Family Agriculture), which opened a special credit line for the funding of the sector. According to the IBGE's 1995/96 Farming and Livestock Census, there were 4,339,859 family-run establishments in the country, with up to 100 ha of area.[41]

Until 2009 six Family Farming and Land Reform National Fairs were held, the first four being held in Brasília and the last two in Rio de Janeiro. Its goal is to spread the importance of the sector to Brazilian economy, since it accounts for 70% of the country's food consumption, and totals 10% of the GDP.[42]

Plant extraction[edit]

People gathering babassu, in Maranhão.

The country's colonization began with the gathering of vegetable resources: the exploitation of brazilwood, known to the natives as ibirapitanga, and which ended up naming the land discovered by the Portuguese.[43]

There are in Brazil forty-nine gathering reservations and sixty-five forests protected by federal law, aiming at preserving the natural environment, in which the practice of gathering vegetable resources is encouraged as a means of interacting with the environment, without degrading it.[44]

Due to the lack of subsidization from the government the gathering reservations have become economically impractical. The case of natural rubber is typical: in Acre about 4,000 families have likely abandoned the activity, as revealed by state politicians in early 2009. After undergoing acclimatization, rubber trees have grown very successfully in the state of São Paulo, where more than 36,000 hectares were planted with the tree – while Acre accounts for little more than a thousand hectares.[45]

Despite this, the researcher Alfredo Homma, who has been studying the Amazonian environment for more than three decades, points out that the practice is economically impracticable in the long run. On this point he emphasizes with an example that to extract latex from four hundred fifty trees a rubber tapper will require at his disposal an area larger than three hundred hectares, while the same plants could be grown in equal number in an area the size of a soccer field. The cultivation of already degraded areas with native trees would be an economically feasible solution, according to the scholar, as it has been done with several cultivations which underwent a rise in demand, such as cupuaçu and jaborandi.[44]

According to IBGE, in the year 2003 the vegetable gathering production performed the following data: the non-wood sector, that accounts for 35% of gathering, produced a value of four hundred forty-nine million Reais, with the following main products: piassaba (27%), babassu (nut – 17%), açai (16%), yerba mate (14%), carnauba (8%) and brazil nut (5%). Whereas the timber sector represents 65% of extraction activity in the country.[46]

Brazilian soils[edit]

Regolithic soil, in granulite.

The program of mapping and classification of the country's soils had begun in 1953, with the elaboration of the Chart of Soils in Brazil, leading to the publication of the first map by IBGE in the year 2003. Knowledge about the soils was one of the factors which allowed the expansion of agricultural production, in the period following 1975. The expansion of the Center-West had been brought into effect thanks to the use of technology; the region is mainly formed by oxisols, which favor mechanization from the preparation of the soil up to the harvest, in face of the quality of the terrain, even though they are poor in nutrients.[47]

The classification of soils in the country, its study and systematization are championed by Embrapa Soils, counting with the participation of several entities, in the past and currently, such as the RADAM Project, the Rural University (now UFRRJ) and many degrees in Agronomy.[48]

Evolution of Brazilian agribusiness[edit]

Machinery in soybean production.

During the last two decades of the 20th century, Brazil witnessed a brutal evolution of its production in farming: in an area practically equal to the beginning of the 80's, the production almost doubled at the end of the century.

In 2010, the WHO points out the country as the third largest exporter of agricultural products in the world, only behind the United States and the European Union.[49][50]

Several factors had led to this result, such as the improvement of inputs (seeds, fertilizers, machinery), the public policies of incentive on exports, the reduction of the tax burden (such as, for instance, the reduction of the circulation tax in 1996), the real exchange rate, which had allowed the prices stability (since 1999), the increase of demand from Asian countries, productivity growth in farming and other components, like governmental intervention before the WTO to bring down the existing trade barriers against Brazilian products in importer countries.[51]

This sector's evolution allowed farming to account for almost a third of the national GDP. This evaluation takes into account not only the production in farms itself, but all the economical chain involved: from the production of inputs up to the industry involved in its final processing, transportation, etc.[51]

While farming itself showed, in the period from 1990 to 2001, a fall in employment, the agribusiness sector practically tripled employment (which jumped from 372 thousand to 1.82 million, in the same interval). The number of companies was, in 1994, eighteen thousand and, in 2001, it leaped to almost 47 thousand. On the other hand the ratio employment/productivity in agriculture presented a significant growth, seen against the fall in the number of workers.[52]

Perspectives and Limitations[edit]

The Brazilian agricultural sector has opportunities to enlarge the existing production. To that effect, the areas in which there can be expansion of farming frontier must be considered, as well as the development of areas underexploited. Factors that limit that expansion range from the appearance of pests due to monocultures, infrastructure issues, environmental problems generated by practices such as deforestation, etc.[51]

Agricultural trade balance[edit]

Among the products of agribusiness soy is the leader. In the period between August 2007 and July 2008, agricultural exports yielded the country 68.1 billion dollars, which made the sector show a surplus (the difference between the value of imports and exports ) of 57.3 billion dollars, in the interval.[53]

Foreign markets[edit]

In the year of 2008 the biggest consumer market of the Brazilian products was the European Union. Individually, however, China had the largest participation as importer, with 13.2%, followed by the Netherlands (with 9.5%) and the United States of America (8.7%).[53]

Agribusiness by regions[edit]

The Regions of Brazil possess a wide diversity of climate and, therefore, their agricultural and industrial activities present very different issues, thus filling up quite distinct shares in agribusiness.

In the year 1995, the Brazilian regions took part, in percentage, of the following shares of the total sector's volume: North – 4.2%; Northeast – 13.6%; Center-West – 10.4%; Southeast – 41.8%; and South – 30.0%, this data reveals the concentration on these two latter regions of more than seventy percent of the whole of Brazilian agribusiness. This situation has been changing, with the small and gradual expansion of the Center-West and North regions.[54]

Southern Region[edit]

Vineyard gaucho

In the southern Brazilian states (Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Paraná) there has been a considerable participation from cooperatives. The products of utmost importance to the country's agricultural GDP are poultry farming and irrigated rice, which leads, along with stable positions in corn and beans, though they have lost their place in the national ranking in products such as soybeans, wheat, onions, potatoes and others.[55] Yet it is the largest producer of tobacco in the country as well as the largest exporter in the world.[56]

Agricultural vocations have built up since the 30's in the South, coinciding with the integration of the industrial sectors of the region. While in the other states the industries tended, currently, to the imports of inputs, Santa Catarina keeps a high level of interdependence between the industrial and agricultural sectors.[57]

In Rio Grande do Sul, above all, the participation of the so-called family-run agribusiness is important, overall derived by the model of colonization which was proven there, with a significant share of the agricultural GDP of that state. Another important factor is that this model facilitates a high degree of men staying on the lands, as well as the interaction between the small producers.[58]

In the year of 2004 the region answered with 14.4% of fruit production, ranking the third place in the country.[59]

Southeast Region[edit]

Cane plantation in Avare, São Paulo.

In 1995, the Southeast (composed by the states of Minas Gerais, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo) was responsible for the largest share in the total sum of the country's agribusiness, but in a downward trend due to the expansion of agricultural frontiers and the installation of industries in other regions.[54]

According the data of 2004, the Southeast is the major national fruit producer, with 49.8% of the national total.[59] The region concentrates 60% of the software companies oriented to agribusiness, according to a survey carried out by Embrapa Livestock and Farming Information Technology (located in Campinas/SP).[60] As for exports, the agribusiness sector is second place in the national ranking, in the period from 2000 to May 2008, staying behind Region South; the Southeast represented 36% of 308 billion dollars of total exports – the products that stood out the most on the external trade of the region were sugar (17.27%), coffee (16.25%), paper and cellulose (14.89%), meats (11.71%) and horticultural and fruit (with an emphasis on orange juice) with 10.27%.[61]

Northeast Region[edit]

Palm plantation in Urandi

In the Brazilian Northeast, a region made up of nine states (Bahia, Sergipa, Pernambuco, Alogoas, Paraiba, Rio Grande do Norte, Ceara, Piaui and Maranhao), 82.9% of the field labor is from family farming.[62]

The region is the largest national producer of bananas, accounting for 34% of the total.[63] It leads, also, the production of cassava, with 34.7% of the total.[64] It is the second largest producer of rice, with a harvest estimated in 2008 of 1.114 million tons, in which Maranhão participates with a majority share (with 668 thousand tons).[65] It also ranks second place in fruit production, with 27% of the national production.[59]

One of the region's big problems is their prolonged dry spells, worse in years when the climatic El Niño phenomenon occurs. This causes rural exodus, the loss of production, having its effects minimized through emergency governmental actions, by means of the building of dams and other palliative works, such as the Transfer of the São Francisco River. The worst droughts in recent years were the ones of 1993, 1998 and 1999, which was considered the worst one in fifty years.[66]

Northern Region[edit]

Horticulture workshop, Manacapuru, Amazonas.

The Northern region (composed of the states of Acre, Amapá, Amazonas, Pará, Rondônia, Roraima and Tocantins) has as a main feature the presence of Amazon biome, in which the tropical forest is striking (and, for its presence in a large part of the state of Maranhão, the latter is included in the governmental actions of this region). The region's great challenge is to combine profitability and productivity with preservation of the forest.[67]

The region had already been responsible, for a short period, for the production of the most important Brazilian export product, between the end of the 19th century and early 20th, during the so-called Rubber Boom, in which the rubber tapping of seringueiras generated the advance of national frontiers (conquer of Acre), until the smuggling of the tree by England and its acclimatization in Asian countries.[68]

It is the second largest national producer of bananas, accounting for 26% of the total.[63] It is also the second in the production of cassava (with 25.9% of the total), lagging behind only of Northeast.[64] In fruit production it ranks penultimate, accounting for 6.1% of the national production, ahead only of the Region Center-West.[59]

Midwest Region[edit]

Irrigated garlic

About thirty years ago, the region was almost unknown in its economic potential. The main biome is the Cerrado, whose exploitation was possible thanks to research in adapting new vegetable crops such as cotton, sunflower, barley, wheat, etc. – allowing it to become, in 2004, responsible for the production of 46% of the soybeans, corn, rice and beans produced in the country.[69]

This is the region where the Brazilian agricultural frontier has expanded the most. In the last three decades of the 20th century, its farming had a growth of about 1.5 million tons of grains per harvest, going from a production of 4.2 million to 49.3 million tons in 2008 – a growth above 1,100%.[70]

The cultivated area in the region, which comprises the states of Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Goiás and Distrito Federal in 2008 was 15.1 million hectares, having moved forward in the first years of the 21st century, above all in the areas previously devoted to livestock-farming. Among the main factors that led to this growth is the opening of roads, which has facilitated the production distribution.[70]

The region's participation in horticulture, according to the 2004 data, shows this region coming in last place in the country, with 2.7% of total production.[59]

Agricultural products in Brazil[edit]

Given its climatic diversity and territorial extension, the country possesses several specialized areas in certain crops – often inside the same state of the federation – such as, for example, in Bahia, where there is the cultivation of soybeans and cotton in its west region, cocoa in the south, fruit in São Francisco, beans in Irecê, etc. Also some produce is found in various areas of the national territory – such as rice, for example, which is planted in Rio Grande do Sul, in the South of Maranhão and Piauí, in Sergipe and in the regions North and Center-West.

Some products, such as wheat, rice and beans,[71] don't have enough production to meet the domestic demand; others, such as soybeans, are almost exclusively produced for export (soy is the main export product by the Brazilian agribusiness[53]). The principal agricultural products of Brazil are:


Heads of cattle[72][73]
Million head of cattle78.54118.08147.10169.87204.51207.15

Brazil in 2005 slaughtered over 28 million head of cattle,[74] producing in the process around 8.7 million tonnes (19.1 billion pounds) of beef.[75] The country also became world leader in beef exports in 2003 after surpassing Australia.[76] 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.[73]

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.[76] In 2003, Brazil exported over 1.4 million tonnes of beef, exports which earned the country around $1.5 billion.[76] Also that year, total exports of the leather complex passed the $1 billion mark.[76]



Cotton planted in the cerrado region of Bahia.

From the 1960s, when farming mechanization started in the country, up to the beginning of the 21st century, the area of cotton cultivation decreased, but production increased substantially.[77]

In the 1990s the production center moved from the South and Southeast regions to the Center-West and to the West of Bahia. Production began to not only meet domestic demand, but the product also began to be exported, beginning in 2001.[77][78]

With the entrance of Brazil in the export market of cotton, soon arose the clash with the United States which, with subsidies and taxes on imports of the product, kept the price of the product artificially low in the international market. The Brazilian plea went to WTO in the year 2002 and, with the appeals filed by the US, sanctions were finally decided in 2009.[79][80] That action marked the history of Brazilian agribusiness, in the words of the ex-Minister of Agriculture Marcus Vinicius Pratini de Moraes: "... (the victory in the WTO was) one of the most important moments of Brazilian agribusiness. We showed the world that, apart from being competitive, we are strong.", in the book published by the Brazilian Association of Cotton Producers, the private entity of the producers who, together with Brazil's Government, petitioned in WTO against the USA subsidies, entitled, "The Cotton Saga: from the first crops to the action in WTO".[81]


Corn Production[82]
Million metric tons8.6714.2120.3726.5732.3241.7835.13
Cornfield, São Paulo.

Brazilian production happens, basically, in two periods of the year: the harvest, strictly speaking, during the raining season, and the so-called "little harvest"- or "dry cultivation" – during the dry season. The first case occurs, in Region South, in late August; in Southeast and Center-West, in October and November; in Northeast, by the beginning of the year. The second harvest is made in the States of Paraná, São Paulo and in the Center-West, being the corn cultivated out of harvest time, in the months February and March.

In the year 2006 the cultivated area with this crop in Brazil was about thirteen million hectares, with a production superior to 41 million tons – a productivity considered below capacity.

The country was, still in 2006, the third largest world producer (behind the United States and China), accounting for 6.1% of the global corn production. The state that produces most is Paraná, with 25.72% of the total.


Rice Production[82]
Million metric tons4.797.559.7711.0411.1313.2713.19
Rice harvest, Rio do Sul, Santa Catarina.

From an exporter of the grain, Brazil began in the 1980s to import the product in small quantities to meet domestic demand. In the following decade, it became one of the main importers, reaching in the period from 1997 to 1998 two million tons, equivalent to 10% of the demand. Uruguay and Argentina are the main suppliers of the cereal to the country.[83]

In 1998, a total area of 3.845 million hectares was planted, with a decrease, estimated in 2008, to 2.847 million hectares; the production, however, leaped from 11.582 million tons to an estimated, 12.177 million tons, in the year 2008.[65]

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.[84]


Soybean Production[82]
Million metric tons0.201.5015.1524.0732.8249.5451.18

Its introduction began in the year 1882, and from the beginning of the 20th century the production was intended for animal fodder. Since 1941, grain production surpassed forage use, until it became the main focus of cultivation, adapted to the country mainly after studies from Agronomy Institute of Campinas.

In 2003 the country had produced 52 million tons, which accounts for 26.8% of world production. For the 2007/2008 harvest production was 60.1 million tons, surpassed only by the United States; the forecast harvest for 2008/2009 is 64 million tons.

The largest Brazilian producers are Mato Grosso, Paraná and Goiás, respectively with fifteen, nine and six million tons of production in 2004–2006.

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.[85] Soybean and soybean derivatives exports in 2005 alone earned over US$9 billion for Brazil.[86]


Wheat Production[82]
Million metric tons0.711.842.705.551.725.814.65

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.[87] Despite the internal production Brazil has to import around US$700 million in wheat every year.[88][89][90][91]


Cane field in São Paulo.

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.[92]

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.[93] Ethanol production in 2008 is predicted to reach at least 26.4 billion litres.[93]

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.[92]

Sugarcane Production[82]
Million metric tons56.9279.75148.65262.67326.12415.20463.00558.50


Brazil is the second largest world producer of tobacco, and the largest exporter of tobacco since 1993, with about 1.7 billion dollars of turnover.[94] The largest producer focused on exports is Rio Grande do Sul, and the Southern Region accounts for 95% of external production, and exports between 60 to 70% of what is produced.[95]


Irrigated beans in Avare, São Paulo.

Brazil is the world's largest producer of beans, accounting for 16.3% of the total produce, which was of 18.7 million tons in the year 2005, according to FAO. Historically the grain is produced by small producers, being that in the last two decades the interest from part of the agribusiness members grew, creating a significant increase on productivity (in some cases exceeding three thousand kilos per hectare).[71]

The area cultivated with beans went through a decrease, in the period from 1984 to 2004, of about 25%. This however, did not result in reduction of the production, which increased by 16% in the period. It is cultivated throughout the country, and given the climatic differences, there are harvests all year round.[71]

Despite its position of leadership among producers, with harvests equivalent to three million tons per year, the production of beans is not enough to meet the domestic demand. Hence, Brazil imports 100 thousand tons of the product per year.[71]

Floriculture and Landscaping[edit]

Example of Brazilian rose, in Brasilia.

An important market is represented by the production of flowers and landscaping in the country, where about three thousand six hundred producers are devoted to the cultivation in an area of 4,800 ha.[96]

The sector possesses a great capacity to expand in domestic market, where the consumption per capita is small. It employs about one hundred twenty thousand people, of which 80% are women, and about 18% of family-run farming.[97]

The producers from fifteen states are represented by the Brazilian Institute of Floriculture (IBRAFLOR), that is supported by the government as an informative and encouraging entity.[98]

Floriculture began already in the 1870s, with the son of Jean Baptiste Binot, who had come to the country to decorate the Imperial Palace, whose orchidarium is internationally acknowledged. In 1893, a company was founded for the production of flowers of another species by the German Dierberger, from where came the Boettcher, pioneers of rose production.[97]

Amateurism has led the production of flowers in Brazil, even when the Dutch immigrants had founded, in 1948, a cooperative in Holambra, a city that champions the sector to this day.[97]

Since 2000 the production makes part of public policies, with the implementation of the Program of Development of Flowers and Ornamental Plants of the Ministry of Agriculture. The largest producer is the state of São Paulo, followed by Santa Catarina, Pernambuco, Alagoas, Ceará, Rio Grande do Sul, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, Paraná, Goiás, Bahia, Espírito Santo, Amazonas and Pará.[97]

Fruits and perennial crops[edit]

Pine plantation with an irrigated system, at the banks of the São Francisco River, Bahia.

The main cultivated fruits grown in Brazil are, in alphabetical order: Abiu, açaí, acerola, alligator-apple, apple, atemoya, bacaba, bacuri, banana, biriba, blueberry, brazil plum, brazil nut, breadfruit, cajá, camu camu, cashew, citrus (orange, lemon, lime, etc.), coconut, cupuaçu, fig, guava, grapes, jambo, jocote, kiwi, mangaba, mango, mangosteen, mulberry, muruci, nectarine, papaya, passionfruit, patawa, peach, pear, pequi, persimmon, physalis, pineapple, pine nuts, plum, rambutan, raspberry, sapodilla, sapote, sorva, soursop, starfruit, tucuma and even cantaloupe, strawberry, walnut, and watermelon.[99]

The fruit sector produced, in 2002, in gross figures, nine billion six hundred million dollars – a total that corresponds to eighteen percent of Brazilian farming and livestock sector. The national production is higher than 38 million tons, cultivated in 3.4 million hectares. The sector exports had a growth, between 1990 and 2004, of 183% in value, 277% in quantity and also in created surplus, the latter of 915%.[100]

The importance of the sector also reflects on the creation of jobs and income: for every ten thousand dollars invested in the production of fruit, three direct jobs and two indirect ones are generated.[100]

Brazil is the third largest fruit producer in the world, lagging behind China (that produces one hundred fifty-seven million tons) and India (with 54 million). Oranges and bananas account, together, for 60% of the total fruit production in the country.[59]

In order to raise the Brazilian share in the global fruit market, a partnership was settled by the Brazilian Agency for the Promotion of Exports and Investments (Apex-Brasil), the IBRAF and Carrefour supermarket, to realize the Brazilian Fruit Festival, with editions in several countries such as Poland and Portugal, held in the years from 2004 to 2007.[59][101]


Banana plantation in irrigation project, Rio S. Francisco, Bahia.

Banana is produced in all the country's territory.[63] In fruit production it scores second among the fruit produced and consumed in Brazil. In the year 2003 the country cultivated 510 thousand hectares with the fruit, which produced 6.5 million tons. In descending order, the largest producers were São Paulo (with one million one hundred seventy-eight thousand tons), Bahia (764 thousand tons) and Pará (697 thousand tons).[102]

In the year 2004 the bananas produced in Brazil reached a total of six and a half million tons, which makes it the second most harvested fruit in the country, only behind oranges.[59]


Cocoa plant in Ilheus, Bahia.

Cocoa had once been one of the main crops exported from Brazil, and it had had a significant economic relevance for Bahia. Its production, however, has gradually diminished. Although being produced in states such as Espírito Santo, Pará e Rondônia, in 2002 Bahia accounted for 84% of the harvested area in the country, according to IBGE. In this year there have been more than 548 thousand hectares planted with the crop.[103]

From being an exporter, Brazil has begun to import cocoa in the year 1992, a raw material for the manufacture of chocolate. According to FAO the country, between 1990 and 2003, fell from ninth to seventeenth position in the main world producers' ranking.[103]

Bahian cocoa is the greater example of how a pest and the lack of plant health care may affect a crop. In this case the incidence of a disease called witch's broom was directly responsible for the fall in production, which started in the year 1989.[104] A severe decline of production had endured until 1999, when resistant varieties were introduced. Despite this, in 2007 the Bahian production has started to decline again, whilst the Paraense raised its share.[105][106]

Orange (citrus)[edit]

Orange field, in S. Paulo

The citrus genus and others alike represent a varied range of species of oranges, limes, tangerines, lemons, etc., from which oranges are the most relevant in agriculture.[107]

In the year 2004 Brazil produced 18.3 million tons of oranges, equivalent to 45% of the total fruit harvested that year, which makes the fruit the main crop in fruit sector.[59]

The state of São Paulo accounts, by itself, for a total of 79% of all orange production in the country, which, in its turn, it the largest producer and exporter of orange juice, responsible for half of the global production, of which 97% are intended for export.[108]

Brazil and the United States of America are the world's largest producers of citrus fruits, with 45% of the total, while South Africa, Spain and Israel stood out for oranges and tangerines.[107]

Brazilian orange juice is equivalent to 80% of the world exports, the biggest portion for a Brazilian agricultural product.[49]

Forestry and wood[edit]

Pine plantation for cellulose production, Bocaina do Sul, Santa Catarina.

Comparative data on forest exploitation in Brazil between the years 2003 and 2002 point at a growth in forestry (afforestation and reforestation) over the participation of forest exploitation by gathering: the forestry sector, that in 2002 represented 52% of production, rose to 65% – whilst gathering decreased from 48% to 35%.[46]

Eucalyptuses are the most used species in reforestation in the country, and its cultivation is aimed above all at the production of plywood and cellulose.[109] In 2001 the country had three million hectares cultivated with this tree; another 1.8 million hectares were reforested with pine,[110] a species better adapted to the cultivation in the South and Southeast due to the climate, and used for the production of cellulose, boards, furniture and sheets.[111]

In the last years, the use of native species has been encouraged as an alternative to eucalyptus and pine, foreign species. In 2007, the National Plan of Forestry with Native Species and Agroforestry Systems (PENSAF) was launched, in an integrated effort between the Ministry of the Environment (MMA) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply (MAPA), among others.[112]

In 2003 the country produced 2.149 million tons of wood for charcoal; 75% of that total was produced in Minas Gerais. On the other hand the charcoal produced from vegetable gathering added up to 2.227 million tons, being the largest part (35%) from Pará. The wood for the production of firewood totaled 47.232 million square meters, being the largest producing state in Bahia.[46]

Brazil is the seventh largest global producer of cellulose of all kinds, and the largest in the case of short fibers. In 2005 the country exported 5.2 million tons and produced 6 million, which generated revenues of 3.4 billion dollars.[113]

In 2006 the Management of Public Forests Law was approved, which subsidizes the production of legalized wood, in order to reduce illegal deforestation, and encouraging the timber sector to pursue the activity sustainably.[114]


Horticulture in Almirante Tamandaré countryside.

The Brazilian production of vegetables in the year 2004 was estimated at 11.696 billion Reais, and the cultivation of which occupies an area of 176 thousand hectares which result in 16.86 million tons of produce. The major producing regions were the South and Southeast, with 75% of total production, leaving the Northeast and Midwest with the remaining 25%. This agribusiness sector employs between eight and ten million workers.[115]

The sector counts on research made by the vegetables' section of Embrapa, with headquarters in Distrito Federal, created in 1978 and in 1981 denominated National Center of Research on Vegetables (CNPH).[116] The Centre has an area of 1,204 acres with laboratories, administrative and support buildings, with 110 acres devoted to experimental production of vegetables, of which 18 directed to call organic production.[117]

In 2007 Brazil exported 366,213 tons of vegetable crops, which yielded a net worth of 240 million dollars. Among these, thirteen thousand tons of potatoes, twenty thousand tons of tomatoes, 37 thousand tons of onions, 204 tons of melons, 33 thousand tons of watermelons. Other export vegetables were strawberry, ginger, peas, cucumbers, capsicum, mustard, carrots, garlic, sweet corn and others.[118]


Tomato plantation, Arandu

The Brazilian tomato production ranks sixth globally and first in South America, in 2000. The production of 1999 reached the record mark of 1.29 million tons of tomatoes for the production of pulp for the food industry.[119]

In the year 2005, the country's production raised to 3.3 million tons, occupying the ninth world position (behind China, US, Turkey, Italy, Egypt, India, Spain and Iran, Brazil with 3% of global production). The largest producing states in 2004 were Goiás (with 871 thousand tons), São Paulo (749 thousand tons), Minas Gerais (622 thousand), Rio de Janeiro (203 thousand) and Bahia (193 thousand).[120]

The advance of the crop in Goiás' and Minas Gerais' Cerrado made the region leap from 31% to 84% of Brazilian national production, between the years 1996 to 2001, with the development of hybrid varieties developed for that environment, raising productivity.[121]


Sample of red onions.

Onion is one of the main products of Brazilian horticulture, not because of profitability, but for being the livelihood and the reason for the establishment of families to the land, since the small farmers, in their own lands or partnering with great landowners, are responsible for more than half of the country's production.[122]

The region with the highest onion productivity comprises the cities of Juazeiro, in Bahia, and Petrolina, in Pernambuco – neighboring towns, separated by São Francisco River, where the cultivation is irrigated, resulting in a productivity of 24 tons per hectare, in contrast with the Brazilian average of seventeen tons.[122] In 2006, the production of the two cities (200 thousand tons) surpassed that of the other states, behind only of Santa Catarina (355 thousand tons).[123]


Brazil is the second largest producer in global ranking, with 12.7% of world supply, although it exports only half a percent of what it produces – this export market consists of Venezuela (the largest imported, with 31.4% of external sales), followed by Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay and US; average exports in 2000 and 2001 was thirteen million, one hundred thousand tons per year, generating revenue above six hundred million dollars.[64]

Its cultivation is found in all regions of the country, used for both human and animal consumption; in the first case production is split between manioc in nature being used for edible species, and for production of flour and starch. That production chain generates about a million direct jobs,[64] and an estimated total of ten million jobs for the production chain.[124]

In 2002 national production of 22.6 million tons of the root was forecast, being cultivated in 1.7 million hectares. The largest producers are Pará (17.9%), Bahia (16.7%), Paraná (14.5%), Rio Grande do Sul (5.6%) and Amazonas (4.3%) – that together account for almost 60% of total production.[64]

Agricultural Issues in Brazil[edit]

Slave and child labor[edit]

Inspectors from the Ministry of Labor and Federal Police officers at the scene of a clandestine charcoal operation, places where most illegal working situations occur.

In Brazil reports of slave and child labor are still confirmed. According to data from the Department of Labor of the United States, the country ranks third in the world in occurrences of illegal working arrangements (tied with India and Bangladesh), where eight of thirteen violations are shown to be prevalent in the agribusiness sector, especially in the sectors of raising livestock and in the cultivation of sisal, sugar cane, rice, tobacco and charcoal. Despite its position, the country's performance in combating this situation has been praised, and from 1995–2009 approximately 35,000 workers were released from degrading working conditions.[125]

For the President of the Superior Labour Court, Minister Lélio Bentes, the International Labour Organization – ILO – recognizes the Brazilian effort to fight the criminal labour practices, which are subject to the imposition of fines. Among the causes of illegal working arrangements he points to poverty and misinformation, emphasizing that for the definitive solution there is the need for constant inspection of properties and also the possible approval of a Constitutional Amendment Proposal (PEC), which foresees the loss of property to the landowners caught in abnormal situations.[126]

Agriculture and environmental impact[edit]

Gully in the state of São Paulo.

In Brazil the agricultural sector and deforestation account for 75% of gas emissions responsible for climate change.[127] For this reason, some initiatives have been adopted with the goal of minimizing this impact, mostly by reducing the deforestation for agricultural and livestock farming: the so-called "Soybean Moratorium", the Agroecological Zoning for Sugar Cane, and the use of fertigation on the latter, are examples of these actions.[128]

Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture have increased 41 percent between 1990 and 2005.[129] 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.[130] 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.[127]

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.[131] As of 2007, about 74 million cattle, or 40 percent of Brazil's herd, were living in what is known as the "Legal Amazon."[132] 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.[133] 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."[134] At least one quarter of Brazil's grain is grown in the Cerrado region.

Soil erosion[edit]

One of the problems confronting Brazilian agriculture is the lack of care regarding the use of soil and erosion control. A large part in the Southeast and Northeast region of the country is made up of granitic and gneiss rock formations, over which settled a layer of regolith, very susceptible to soil erosion and the formation of gullies. Authors such as Bertoni and Lombardi Neto point out this condition as one of the highest environmental dangers in the country, and a large part of them result from human activities.[135]

Soil erosion imposes the reposition of soil nutrients, as a consequence of their losses, and in addition it causes the loss of structure, texture and the decrease of infiltration rates and water retention.[136]

The procedures commonly used for planting preparation, such as plowing and the use of herbicides to control undesirable weeds end up leaving the soil exposed and susceptible to erosion – either by the washing away of the topsoil (which is richer in nutrients), or by the formation of gullies. The soil washed away causes the silting up of rivers and reservoirs, in this way broadening the negative impact on the environment. One solution is no-till farming, a practice still little known in the country.[137]

Pesticides in Brazil[edit]

There are four thousand kinds of agrochemicals, that result in about 15,000 different formulations, of which 8,000 are licensed in Brazil. These are products such as insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, vermifuges, and also solvents and products to sanitize rural facilities, among others. Its indiscriminate use causes the accumulation of those substances in the soil, water (springs, groundwater, reservoirs) and air – and they are widely used to maintain the cultivated fields free of pests, diseases, invading species, therefore rendering production more profitable.[138]

Brazil uses an average of 3.2 kg of agrochemicals per hectare – ranking tenth globally, in some studies, and fifth, in others. São Paulo State is the largest consumer in the country, and also the largest producer (with about 80% of the national production). For the control of damaging effects on the environment due to the use of these substances, it is necessary to educate the farmer on the practice of direct planting, and also the effort of technological organizations such as EMBRAPA, who are working on the development of resistant species, of techniques which minimize the dependency on the products, and biological control of pests, among others.[138]

In the year 2007, the products which showed the highest rates of contamination by agrochemicals were tomatoes, lettuce and strawberries, the farmer being the most affected. This occurs because the awareness of producers is low and there are few of them who comply with the legal determinations on the use of these substances, such as Individual Protection Equipment (EPI).[139]

According to information from Anvisa based on data based in data from the UN and the Ministry of Development, Industry and Trade, Brazilian farming uses at least ten types of agrochemicals prohibited in other markets, such as the European Union and the United States.[140]

GMO in Brazil[edit]

Brasilia, 2007: Protesters call for liberation from transgenic maize.

The country is the third largest user in the world in using modified seeds. The main cultures using this biotechnology are soya bean, cotton and, from 2008, maize.[141]

Several national and international NGOs, such as Greenpeace, MST or Contag, are opposed to the cultivation of genetically modified plants in the country, bringing forth arguments such as market devaluation, the possibility of negative environmental impact, the economical dominance by large businesses, among others. Entities linked to agribusiness, however, present the results of studies carried out by the Brazilian Association of Seeds and Saplings (Abrasem) in the years 2007 and 2008, having as a result "social-environmental advantages observed in the other countries which have adopted agricultural biotechnology far longer".[141]

In the country the Federal Justice decided that foods contained more than 1 percent of modified genes in their composition must be mentioned in the label to inform the consumer.[142]

Organic Farming[edit]

Organic cultivation of eggplant.

Organic farming aims to produce food without the use of fertilizers, pesticides, agrochemicals, etc. The IBGE's 2006 Agricultural Census reported the existence of ninety thousand facilities of this kind in Brazil, which make up 2% of the total; of these, however, only 5106 possess the organic production certificate.[143]

Organics are present mostly in small and medium properties, and the majority of producers are organized in associations or cooperatives. The state with the largest number of producers is Bahia (223), followed by Minas Gerais (192), São Paulo (86), Rio Grande do Sul (83), Paraná (79), Espírito Santo (64) and others.[143]

The Brazil Organics program, constituted in 2005, aims to promote the sector's export.[143]


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