Agriculture in Brazil

Agriculture in Brazil

Brazil, "breadbasket of the world"[1]
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)yugfvb 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 Brazil's economy. Its initial focus was sugarcane. Brazil eventually became the world's largest exporter of coffee, soybeans, beef, sugarcane, ethanol.[4]

The success of agriculture during the Estado Novo (New State), with Getúlio Vargas, led to the expression, "Brazil, breadbasket of the world".[5]

As of 2009 Brazil had about 106,000,000 hectares (260,000,000 acres) of undeveloped fertile land – a territory larger than the combined area of France and Spain.[6]

According to a 2008 IBGE study, despite the world financial crisis, Brazil had record agricultural production, with growth of 9.1%, principally motivated by favorable weather. The production of grains in the year reached an unprecedented 145,400,000 tons.[2] That record output employed an additional 4.8% in planted area, totalling 65,338,000 hectares and producing $148 billion Reals. The principal products were corn (13.1% growth) and soy (2.4% growth).[2]

The southern one-half to two-thirds of Brazil 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, oilseeds (and exports).

The drought-ridden northeast region and Amazon basin lack well-distributed rainfall, good soil, adequate infrastructure and 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. Brazilian grasslands are far less fertile than those of North America, and are generally suited only for grazing.

Agriculture in Brazil presents challenges, including the ongoing practice of slave labour,[7][8] agrarian reform, fire, production financing, and a rural exodus fueled by economic stress on family farming.

Half of Brazil is covered by forests. The world's largest rain forest is in the Amazon Basin. Migrations into the Amazon and large-scale forest burning have challenged the government's management capabilities. The government has reduced incentives for such activity and is implementing a broader environmental plan. It also adopted an Environmental Crimes Law that established serious penalties for infractions.


Main article: History of Brazil
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]

Early farming

Brazilian fruits in a painting by Albert Eckhout.

Brazilians ("Indians") began farming some 12,000 years ago. They 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. Production was for food, straw or madeira. They cultivated local fruits such as jabuticaba, cashews, Spondias mombin and Goiabas.

The Indians both influenced and were influenced by the Europeans who arrived in the fifteenth century. 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 other crops began to be exported, brazilwood was the main reason Portugal wanted control in Brazil.[11]


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

One practice of indigenous Brazilians was to clear land for cultivation by burning it. This provided arable land and ashes for use as fertilizer and soil cover.

Scholars such as Monteiro Lobato considered this practice to be harmful. However, burning only became a problem when the Europeans adopted the practice aggressively around 1500, divided land into farms, began monocropping, etc. The combination of burning with these new farming methods decimated native flora.[12]

Indian land management included garden areas in locations selected to allow interaction with their surroundings. Indians conserved the environment in exchange for hunting the animals and protecting themselves against pests. This approach was lost, as Darcy Ribeiro stated, "Thus they passed millennia, until they came up against the armed agents of our civilization, with their capacity to attack and mortally wound the miraculous balance achieved by those complex lifeforms."[12]

Colonial Brazil: sugarcane

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.

The discovery of sugarcane in the Northeast region transformed Brazil. plantation monoculture enriched the Europeans, but brought little benefit to Brazilians.[13]

Sugarcane wealth was concentrated under the colonizers, generating a quasi-feudal social system organized around large landholdings. Brazilian sugar was thirty percent less expensive than sugar from elsewhere, creating major export opportunities.

A decline in the second half of the 17th century led many producer regions to diversify production, expanding cotton or, in Reconcavo Baiano, tobacco or cocoa. The archaic social structure and obsolete technology outlasted cane production in those regions.[13]

Slave labor

Main article: Slavery in Brazil
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.

Initially plantation owners attempted to use local labor in their fields. While laws prohibited their enslavement, in many areas the law was not respected. Locals responded by rebelling, flight or simply dying. European diseases took a heavy toll on indigenous peoples.

The settlers then switched to enslaving and importing Africans to do the work.[14] The Portuguese and others imported 4 million Africans to carry out cultivation, using what came to be called the plantation system.

In the first century after European arrival the slave population had already surpassed that of the locals, decimated by disease. 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."[14]

The slaves cleared the agricultural frontiers, such as in the west for coffee plantations. By the end of the Second Reign, Brazil accounted for more than half the world's coffee production.[14]

On May 13, 1888 Brazil adopted the Lei Áurea ('Golden Law'), which abolished slavery in Brazil. In the preceding years, 75% of the Africans and mulattoes had been freed by manumission.[15] According to João Ribeiro, "more than anything humane and Christian, Lei Áurea ('Golden Law') 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..."

The law did not provide an accompanying land distribution to the ex-captives. It led to a rural exodus, both from the workers and from the now-bankrupt landlords. Slavery and its end formed the root of future problems such as slums, violence and poverty in urban centres.[16]

Brazilian Empire: coffee

In the late colonial era coffee was introduced to the country. After independence production consolidated in the Southeast region, mainly in the state of São Paulo. At the beginning of the 19th century, exports totaled 19.6 tons, growing to 3,063,660 tons in the 1880–1890 period, growing to about sixty three percent of Brazil's total exports.[13]

Brazilian coffee plantation in the early twentieth century.

Coffee was responsible for the appearance of a new dominant oligarchy in Brazil, the so-called Coffee Barons. It hastened immigration following the end of slavery. The era reached its peak with Café com leite politics, ending with the Campos Sales administration. The Great Depression closed this cycle at the end of the 1930s with industrialization, capitalized by profits from coffee production.[17]

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

Coffee drew many Italian immigrants to the west of São Paulo. Coffee wealth accentuated the differences between the Brazilian regions, especially vs the Northeast.[13]

Besides coffee, other crops increased in the 19th century, such as tobacco and cocoa, in Bahia, and rubber in Amazônia. In 1910 rubber represented about forty percent of exports.[13]

International problems

Brazilian coffee production exceeded global demand at the beginning of the 20th century. This resulted in the Taubaté Agreement, where the State began acquiring surplus for destruction and planting seedlings was forbiddenwith the goal of maintaining a minimum profitable price.[13]

Rubber suffered from foreign competition. In 1870, English smugglers smuggled rubber tree seedlings out of Brazil and in 1895 began production in Asia. In the 1910s and 1920s this competition practically eliminated Brazilian production.[13]

Agronomy schools

Entrance to the Agricultural School in Camboriú, of UFSC.

In 1887 during the Empire era, the first school dedicated to the training of agronomists opened in the city of Cruz das Almas. In 1883, in Pelotas, Rio Grande do Sul, a second school opened.[18]

The first school was officially recognized thirty-five years after its creation, with Decree 8.319/1910. The agronomist profession only came to be recognized in 1933. Seventy regular agronomy colleges operate in Brazil. The day the decree was publicized, 12 October, became the "Day of the Agronomist."[18]

Professional registration is managed by Regional Engineering and Architecture Councils, integrated at the national level by CONFEA.[19] Educational activity is supported by the Federation of Brazilian Agronomy Students.

Diversification: 1960–1990

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

The Brazilian Enterprise for Agricultural Research (EMBRAPA) was established during the military regime in 1973 with the objective of diversifying production. The body was responsible for the support of new crops, adapted to the country's diverse regions. The expansion of agricultural borders towards the Cerrado had begun, and of monocultural latifundia with production at a semi-industrial scale of soybeans, cotton and beans.[13] Czech-Brazilian researcher Johanna Döbereiner helped lead Brazil's Green Revolution, winning her the UNESCO Science Prize for her work on nitrogen-fixing microorganisms.[20]

In 1960 four main agricultural products were exported, growing by the early 1990s to nineteen. Brazil also moved "downstream" to expand post-harvest processing. In the 60's unprocessed goods made up 84% of total exports, falling to 20% by 1990.[13]

Agricultural promotion policies included subsidized credits, bank debt write-offs and exports subsidies (in some cases, reaching 50% of the product value).[13]

Mechanization: 1990s

Harvester on a Brazilian cotton plantation.

Beginning with the 1994 creation of Plano Real for monetary stabilization, Brazilian agriculture went through a radical transformation: the State cut subsidies and the market began to finance agriculture, leading to the replacement of manpower with machines. Brazil's rural population fell from 20,700,000 in 1985 to 17,900,000 in 1995, followed by a decrease in import taxes on inputs and other measures that forced Brazilian producers to adapt to global practices. The raise of productivity, mechanization (with reduction of costs) and professionalization marked that period.[13]

Land issues

Brazil initially used a land management system known as sesmarias featured by large holdings with a small number of landowners. In 1822 sesmarias gave way to the current latifundia (system of large estates).[21] In 1850 the Law of Lands was promulgated, which kept the latifundia system and remained in effect until 1964, when the dictatorship prepared the Land Statute. The high cost of agricultural production contributed to latifundia formation and the country never experienced substantial land reform. That only became part of the country's official and legal policies after the 1988 Constitution.[22]

Of the around thirty-one million Brazilians who lived in poverty in 2014, more than half lived in rural areas. In the last twenty-five years of the 20th century, about thirty million rural dwellers abandoned or lost their land, creating some 4.8 million landless families. During that time, the majority of funding resources was directed to the oligarchs and great landowners, supporting the model of intensive monoculture agriculture.[23]

Between 1985 and 1988 the country's redemocratization triggered almost 9,000 social conflicts in rural areas and the murders of 1,167 people over agricultural issues. In this period a confrontation pitted unions, social movements and the Catholic Church against the landowners united in the Democratic Association of Ruralists (UDR) which had Ronaldo Caiado as its 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 Mançano rural censuses collected since 1940 indicated ongoing concentration of land ownership, accompanied by an exodus of farmers to urban areas. Reversing the trend would have required 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. A fast-track procedure for expropriation of large landholdings was established, ending long delays, one of the measure's main obstacles.[25]

The conflicts reached their peak in 1996 with the Eldorado dos Carajás massacre, in Pará, when the governor, Almir Gabriel, ordained the clearing of a road occupied by the landless. Casualties amounted to nineteen dead and fifty-one injured, underlining the land problem and accompanying disrespect for human rights.[26]

In a 1996 article economist Maria da Conceição Tavares, one of the most prominent critics of Fernando Henrique Cardoso's Government, claimed, "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]

The land reform movement included about five hundred land occupations of what protesters considered to be unproductive farms. As a reaction to the invasions, President Cardoso published Provisional Measure 2.027-38, which prohibited earmarking 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, for cultivating rice. The first record dates to 1881 with the construction of the Cadro dam which began in 1903. However, the practice broadened in the last thirty years of the 20th century.[28]

Private initiative developed Irrigation in the South and Southeast regions.

In the Northeast official bodies, such as DNOCS and CODEVASF, led the way beginning in the 1950s. In 1968, the Executive Group on Irrigation and Agrarian Development (GEIDA) was set up, and two years later it instituted the Multi-annual Program of Irrigation (PPI). The majority of resources were directed to the Northeast.[28] These federal initiatives, however, did not achieve success. In 1985 a new guidance and in 1996 a new direction produced the New Model of Irrigation Project. The Project intended to broaden the use of irrigation in agriculture and drew on more than 1,500 national and foreign experts.[28]

According to the World Bank, Brazil's irrigation potential is about 29,000,000 hectares (110,000 sq mi). In 1998, however, drought reduced capacity to only 2.98 million ha.[29]

At the end of the 20th century, the country primarily used surface irrigation (59%), followed by overhead (35%) and then targeted irrigation. The South 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 irrigation policy.[30]

Water resources policy is regulated by Law 9433/1997, and managed by the National Council.[28]



Trucks transporting soybean crop

Crop storage facilities require expansion in order to keep up with increasing production. Brazilian storage capacity in 2003 was 75% of grain production,[31] well short of the ideal of 120%.[32]

Farm-based crop storage (e.g., using silos) is not common in Brazil. Lack of storage forces produce to be commercialized quickly. According to Conab data, only 11% of warehouses are located on farms (by comparison Argentina has 40%, the European Union has 50% and Canada has 80%). Farmers rely on third party storage services.

Lack of access to capital, exacerbated by financial instability from factors such as exchange rate volatility, prevents most producers from building significant storage.[32]


Transport of crops by highway

Crop transport is a longstanding structural problem for Brazilian agriculture. 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".[33]

Crops are immediately trucked to market via highways, mostly in poor traffic conditions at high cost.[34]

For the 2008/2009 harvest, for example, the Federation of Agriculture and Livestock of Goiás denounced poor road conditions in the Center-West region, despite repeated requests for federal assistance over several years.[35]

In 2006 the federal government issued a National Plan of Logistics and Transportation, meant to better production flow.[36] Lack of investment, however, continues to be the main obstacle to distribution logistics.

Regulatory stocks and minimum price

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.[37] Stocks also aim to stabilize farmers' revenues, and avoid price fluctuations between harvests.

Until the 1980s, Brazil employed the Minimum Prices Policy. That policy had lost relevance by the 1990s, due to globalization.[38]

The composition of stocks at the national level is the responsibility of the National Food Supply Company (Conab).[39]

Family farming

Vegetable plot on a family farm.

Official definitions of a family farmer differ from country to country in Latin America. There are 3 general categories: subsistence farming, intermediate family farmers and consolidated farms.[40] In Brazil, the Family Farming Law (Law 11,326) defines family farmers through four criteria related to land tenure, farm size, dependence on farm income, and the use of predominantly family labor.[40] In Brazil, the large majority of family farms are in the northeastern, southern and southeast Brazil. Family farmers in Brazil produce more than 70%of food consumed domestically.

During the 1990s, the Lula administration implemented a set of policies that addressed food security on federal, state and municipal levels, the aim of which was to increase federal government support to family farmers. In 1999, the Ministry of Agrarian Development (MDA) was created to support family farmers and promote land reform and sustainable land development.[41] A host of government policies and government-supported programs in the interest of family farmers then emerged, where the family farmer is recognized as a pillar of national development. Since then, the MDA along with other institutions were created with the family farmers and other traditional communities' interests in mind,[42] where policies targeting family farmers were designed to introduce market incentives, promote adequate food distribution and provide technical assistance.[43]

In general, family farms are establishments that employ mostly family members[44] with up to five temporary workers.[45] Family farms provide the majority of Brazilian staples, including 84% of manioc, 67% of beans and 49% of corn.[44] Family farms also have a large role in the livestock and dairy industry, producing 58% of milk, 59% of pork, 50% of poultry and 31% of cattle.[42]

% of total crop production by family farmers (2010 statistics, Ministry of Agrarian Development, Brazil)
Crop Percentage (%) produced by family farmers
Manioc 84%
Beans 67%
Corn 49%
Rice 34%
Milk 58%
Cattle 31%
Pork 59%
Poultry 50%
Wheat 21%
Soybeans 16%

According to the IBGE's 1995/96 Farming and Livestock Census, there were 4,339,859 family-run establishments in the country, the largest farm being 100 ha in area.[45] In 2009, Brazil's Ministry of Agrarian Development (MDA) reported that 84.4% of all rural properties are in fact family farms.[42] In the 1990s family farms experienced productivity growth of 75%, compared to only 40% for larger-scale producers. The difference is largely due to the creation of PRONAF (National Program on Family Agriculture), which opened a special family farm credit line.

Up to 2009 six Family Farming and Land Reform National Fairs were held, the first four in Brasília and the last two in Rio de Janeiro. They highlight the importance of family farming to Brazilian economy, accounting for 70% of the country's food consumption and 10% of Brazilian GDP.[46]

Food Security in Brazil

International monitoring organizations assert that a third of Brazil's population is food insecure.[47] Despite increased food production since the industrialization, a large proportion of Brazilians, especially the urban and rural poor, have difficulty meeting their nutrition needs.[48] Small farmer, landless worker and indigenous movements that had consolidated during or after the military dictatorship mobilized nationwide, pressuring the authorities to prioritize food and nutrition security rose in the 1980s, and were able to strongly shape the direction of developmental policy.[49]

The notion of access to food and proper nutrition was first recorded official terminology in 1986 as segurança alimentar (food security).[50] The right to food and nutrition was established on 25 August 2010, when Brazil adopted the Policy on Food Security and Nutrition (Decree 7.272).[51] Food security refers to being able to meet dietary needs through an adequate, secure supply of nutritious food.[47] The term rose into Brazilian popular consciousness in 1993 after campaigns by the a national movement called Citizens' Action Against Hunger and Poverty and for Life. In that same period, Consea (National Food and Nutritional Security Council) was established. the 1st National Conference on Food Security was organized by a combination of policy and grassroots mobilizations. Consea ran from 1993 to 1994, with little success in shaping public policies, was halted until after the establishment of the Fome Zero Program.[50] The 2010 Policy names Consea as an instrument in proposing programs that promote food security on a federal level.[51]

PRONAF (National Program for the Strengthening of Family Farming)

Due to financial limitations, small farmers generally have difficulties securing the capital necessary to stay in rural areas and maintain production on a small scale. PRONAF was the first policy in 1994 to be created to meet the specific credit needs of family farmers. In order to stimulate agricultural production, the instrument provides incentives in the form of reduced-interest loans from national funds for rural development, targeting low-income farmers and agrarian reform farmers.[52] Set against a backdrop of policies opening Brazil to Neoliberal economic forces and intense competition through Mercosul, PRONAF marked the institutionalization of a differentiated policy approach to family farming in Brazil.[50] The economic and social importance of family farmers and their specific needs were recognized through PRONAF, at least on paper. The creation of PRONAF has been credited to favorable political circumstances, beginning with Brazil's re-democratization in the 1980s and a receptive Cardoso administration to the mobilizations of a number of agrarian civil groups.[50] Loans written out to family farmers through PRONAF rose from US$1 billion in 2000 to an estimated US$5.8 billion in 2008.[52] Other credit programs targeted at family farmers that came after PRONAF include PROGER and PROCERA.[52]

The Fome Zero Programe (The Zero Hunger Program)

The Fome Zero Program is a federal program aimed increasing food and nutrition security in rural and urban poor communities. Its main strategy was to connect local food producers with local markets, especially in rural areas, through inter-setorrialidade (inter-agency cooperation).[53] It was instituted in 2001 against the backdrop of increasing recognition for family farmers in Brazilian agrarian policies, and a consequence of 20 years of mobilizing by actors at different levels of society for policy change. The Program is built on four axes: food access, strengthening family farming, income generation and articulation, mobilization and social control. Family farmers play a large role in the Program's food security goals: the Family Farming Food Acquisition Program (PAA), the National School Meal Program (Pnae) and the Bolsa Família Program (Family Grant Cash Transfer ) were implementations that aimed to encourage family farm production of staple foods through cash and program incentives, facilitate distribution of food to families and schools, and also provide conditional health care and social assistance to 42 million vulnerable Brazilians.[50] Despite praise for the Zero Hunger Program, federal evaluation of the impact of measures such as the National School Meal Program on family farmer production and nutrition of schoolchildren have been limited, given the challenges of assessing decentralized implementation of the policy even at municipal levels.[53] Furthermore, the Brazilian government has been cautious and controlled public and international access to the assessment reports of a number of programs, including the report for the Bolsa Família' program.[53]


People gathering babassu, in Maranhão.

The country's colonization began with harvesting native plants where they grew. Cultivation followed much later. The exploitation of brazilwood, known to the natives as ibirapitanga, and which ended up naming the land was begun by the Portuguese.[54]

Brazil operates forty-nine gathering reservations and sixty-five forests protected by federal law. The gathering of plant resources is encouraged as a means of interacting with, but not degrading, the environment.[55]

Lack of government funding has destabilized this use of forest resources. The case of natural rubber is typical: in Acre about 4,000 families have apparently abandoned the activity, as revealed in early 2009. After undergoing acclimatization, rubber trees were grown successfully in São Paulo state, where more than 36,000 hectares were planted – while Acre accounts for little more than a thousand hectares.[56]

Homma claims that gathering rubber is economically impracticable. For example, in native forests, rubber trees are found at a density of some 1.5 trees per ha, versus hundreds of trees per ha on rubber plantations. Cultivating degraded areas with native trees has been successful with trees such as cupuaçu and jaborandi.[55]

According to IBGE, in 2003 the gathering sector's output was divided into timber (65%) and non-wood (35%), at a value of four hundred forty-nine million Reals, with the following main products: piassaba (27%), babassu (nut – 17%), açai (16%), yerba mate (14%), carnauba (8%) and Brazil nut (5%).[57]


Regolithic soil, in granulite.

The program of mapping and classifying the country's soils began in 1953, with the Chart of Soils in Brazil. IBGE published the first map in 2003. Soil knowledge helped allow the expansion of agricultural production from 1975. The expansion of the Center-West required new technology because the region is mainly formed by oxisols, which favor mechanization from soil preparation to harvest, partly because they are nutrient-poor.[58]

Soil classification, study and systematization are championed by Embrapa Soils, with participation from groups such as the RADAM Project, the Rural University (now UFRRJ) and other agronomists.[59]


Machinery in soybean production.

In 2010 Brazil was the third largest exporter of agricultural products in the world, behind only the United States and the European Union.[60][61]

During the last two decades of the 20th century, Brazil witnessed a doubling of yield per acre. This resulted from input improvements (seeds, fertilizers, machinery), public policies that encouraged exports, reduced tax burden (such as the 1996 reduction of the circulation tax), more favorable real exchange rate, which had allowed price stability (in 1999), increased Asian demand, productivity growth and reduced trade barriers.[62]

Farming accounted for almost a third of GDP, once everything from agricultural inputs to food processing and distribution are included.[62]

From 1990 to 2001, farming employment fell, although overall agribusiness employment jumped from 372 thousand to 1.82 million. The number of companies grew from 18 thousand in 1994 to almost 47 thousand in 2001.[63]

Factors that limit further expansion range from pests evolving to target monocultures, infrastructure issues and environmental problems generated by practices such as deforestation, etc.[62]

Trade balance

The 2007 harvest enabled gross agriculture exports yielding 68.1 billion dollars, and net exports of 57.3 billion dollars.[64]

In 2008 Brazil's biggest export market was the European Union, while China was the largest single importing country with a 13.2% share, followed by the Netherlands with 9.5% and the US at 8.7%.[64]


Brazil's regions offer a wide diversity of climate. Agriculture reflects this diversity. In 1995, the North produced 4.2%, the Northeast – 13.6%, the Center-West – 10.4%, the Southeast – 41.8% and the South – 30.0%. The Center-West and North regions have recently expanded their share to the total.[65]


Vineyard gaucho

The southern Brazilian states are Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Paraná. Cooperatives are a common feature of agriculture there. Irrigated rice and poultry are the two largest crops. Corn and beans are also prominent.[66] The region is Brazil's largest tobacco producer and the world's largest exporter.[67]

Santa Catarina has a high level of interdependence between the industrial and agricultural sectors.[68]

In Rio Grande do Sul, family-run agribusiness is important and is descended from the colonial plantation model. Early farms survived and their families stayed on the land.[69]

In 2004 the region produced 14.4% of Brazil's fruit.[70]


Cane plantation in Avare, São Paulo.

The Southeast region includes Minas Gerais, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo. In 1995 it was responsible for the largest share of Brazilian agriculture, but other regions were growing more rapidly.[65]

In 2004 the Southeast produced 49.8% of the nation's fruit.[70] The region hosts 60% of agribusiness software companies, according to a survey carried out by Embrapa Livestock and Farming Information Technology (located in Campinas/SP).[71] Its agribusiness sector was second in the national ranking, in the period from 2000 to May 2008, representing 36% of 308 billion dollars of total exports. The biggest exports were sugar (17.27%), coffee (16.25%), paper and cellulose (14.89%), meats (11.71%) and horticultural and fruit (especially orange juice) with 10.27%.[72]


Palm plantation in Urandi

The Northeast includes Bahia, Sergipa, Pernambuco, Alogoas, Paraiba, Rio Grande do Norte, Ceara, Piaui and Maranhao. Farms are primarily family-owned; 82.9% of field labor is on family farms.[73]

The region is the largest national producer of bananas, (34% of the total)[74] and cassava (34.7%).[75] It is the second largest producer of rice, with a harvest estimated in 2008 of 1.114 million tons. Maranhão produces the majority (668 thousand tons).[76] It ranks second in fruit production, with 27% share.[70]

The region is subject to prolonged dry spells that are worse in El Niño years. This causes a periodic rural exodus. Government responses include dams and the transfer of the São Francisco River. The worst recent droughts were in 1993, 1998 and 1999. The latter was the worst in fifty years.[77]


Horticulture workshop, Manacapuru, Amazonas.

The Northern region includes Acre, Amapá, Amazonas, Pará, Rondônia, Roraima and Tocantins. The Amazon rainforest occupies a significant part of the region. The region's great challenge is to combine farming with forest preservation.[78]

Between the end of the 19th century and early 20th century, during the so-called Rubber Boom, the region produced rubber, Brazil's most important export, until Asian production underpriced Brazil and shut down the industry.[79]

It is the second largest Brazilian banana producer (26% share)[74] and of cassava (25.9% share), lagging behind only the Northeast.[75] It produces 6.1% of the nation's fruit crop.[70]


Irrigated garlic

The Midwest region includes Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Goiás and Distrito Federal. This region's agriculture developed much later than the rest of the country. The main biome is the Cerrado. By 2004, it was responsible for 46% of Brazilian soybeans, corn, rice and beans.[80]

Over three decades its harvest grew from 4.2 million to 49.3 million tons in 2008.[81]

Its cultivated area in 2008 was 15.1 million hectares. A big growth area was livestock. The opening of roads facilitated this growth.[81]

As of 2004 this region produced only 2.7% of the nation's horticulture.[70]


The principal agricultural products of Brazil are cattle, coffee, cotton, corn, rice, soy, wheat, sugarcane, tobacco, beans, floriculture and fruit. forestry, vegetables and cassava.


Year 1960 1980 1990 2000 2005
Million head 78.54 118.08 147.10 169.87 207.15

Brazil in 2005 produced around 8.7 million tonnes of beef,[84] becoming world export leader in 2003 after surpassing Australia.[85] Cattle herds are concentrated in Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Goiás and Minas Gerais. Together they account for over 46% of Brazilian cattle with more than 87 million head.[83]

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, earning around $1.5 billion. Leather exports that year passed the $1 billion mark.[85]


Coffee is produced in states like São Paulo and Minas


Cotton planted in the cerrado region of Bahia.

Yield increases were sufficient to substantially increase output between the 1960s and the twenty-first century, despite reduced acreage.[86] In the 1990s production moved from the South and Southeast regions to the Center-West and to the West of Bahia. Exports began in 2001.[86][87]

Brazil's entry in the cotton market led them to charge the US with illegal subsidies and tariffs. The Brazilian plea went to the World Trade Organization in 2002. WTO approved sanctions in 2009.[88][89][90]


Year 1960 1970 1980 1989 2000 2005
Million metric tons 8.67 14.21 20.37 26.57 32.32 35.13
Cornfield, São Paulo.

Brazilian corn has two harvests per year. The main harvest is during the rainy season and a second, "dry cultivation" harvest follows during the dry season. In the South the main harvest is in late August; while in the Southeast and Center-West, it happens in October and November and in the Northeast, by year end. The second harvest is in Paraná, São Paulo and in the Center-West, in February and March.

In 2006 corn was planted on about thirteen million hectares, producing 41 million tons. Brazil was the third largest world producer, accounting for 6.1% of global production. Paraná was Brazil's biggest producer, totaling 25.72%.


Year 1960 1970 1980 1989 2000 2005
Million metric tons 4.79 7.55 9.77 11.04 11.13 13.19
Rice harvest, Rio do Sul, Santa Catarina.

In the 1980s Brazil evolved from exporting to importing rice in small quantities to meet domestic demand. In the following decade, it became one of the main importers, reaching two million tons, equivalent to 10% of domestic demand by 1997-8. Uruguay and Argentina are the main suppliers of the cereal to the country.[92]

In 1998, farmers planted 3.845 million ha, decreasing by 2008, to 2.847 million. Production grew from 11.582 million tons to an estimated 12.177 million tons.[76]

Productivity per hectare has grown 61% since 1990. Production is concentrated in Rio Grande do Sul, producing on average 48%.[93]


Soybean Production[91]
Year 1960 1970 1980 1989 2000 2005
Million metric tons 0.20 1.50 15.15 24.07 32.82 51.18

Soybean production began in 1882. From the beginning of the 20th century soy was used for animal fodder. In 1941, grain production surpassed forage use, becoming the main focus. Brazilian soybean production increased more than 3000% between 1970 and 2005. Yield increased 37.8% from 1990 to 2005.[94] Soybean and soybean derivatives exports in 2005 alone earned over US$9 billion for Brazil.[95]

The 2007/2008 harvest produced 60.1 million tons, surpassed only by the United States.

Brazil's largest producers are Mato Grosso, Paraná and Goiás, with fifteen, nine and six million tons, respectively, in 2004–2006. Mato Grosso and Paraná together grow on average over 49% of the crop.


Wheat Production[91]
Year 1960 1970 1980 1989 2000 2005
Million metric tons 0.71 1.84 2.70 5.55 1.72 4.65

Two of Brazil's coldest states, Paraná and Rio Grande do Sul, account for over 90% of wheat production.[96] Brazil imports around US$700 million in wheat every year.[97][98][99][100]


Cane field in São Paulo.

During the colonial period, Brazil depended heavily on sugarcane and continued to lead world sugarcane production into the twenty-first century.

Production is concentrated (90%) in São Paulo, Alagoas, Pernambuco, Minas Gerais, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Goiás and Paraná.[101]

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% was used for sugar and ethanol production. The other 11% was used for cachaça and rapadura production, as animal feed and as seeds.[102] Ethanol production in 2008 was predicted to reach 26.4 billion litres.[102]

Companhia Nacional de Abastecimento (CONAB)said that in 2007, sugarcane cultivated land increased by 12.3%, to 69,000 square kilometres.[101]

Sugarcane Production[91]
Year 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2007
Million metric tons 56.92 79.75 148.65 262.67 326.12 558.50


Brazil is the world's second largest tobacco producer, and the largest exporter since 1993, with about 1.7 billion dollars of turnover.[103] The largest export region is Rio Grande do Sul. The Southern region accounts for 95% of external production. It exports 60 to 70% of output.[104]


Irrigated beans in Avare, São Paulo.

Brazil is the world's largest producer of beans, accounting for 16.3% of the total, 18.7 million tons in 2005, according to FAO. Historically most beans came from small producers. Yield in some cases exceeded three thousand kilos per ha.[105]

Bean acreage decreased from 1984 to 2004 by 25%, while output increased by 16%. It is cultivated throughout the country and harvests come year round.[105]

Brazil imports 100 thousand tons of beans per year.[105]

Floriculture and ornamentals

Example of Brazilian rose, in Brasilia.

Some three thousand six hundred producers cultivate flowers and ornamental plants in an area of 4,800 ha.[106]

It employs about one hundred twenty thousand people, of which 80% are women, and about 18% are family farms.[107]

The producers from fifteen states are represented by the Brazilian Institute of Floriculture (IBRAFLOR), with government support.[108]

Floriculture began in the 1870s, led by the son of Jean Baptiste Binot, who had come to the country to decorate the Imperial Palace, and whose orchidarium was internationally acknowledged. In 1893, Reggie Dierberger founded a flower company, which later became the Boettcher, pioneers of rose production.[107]

In 1948 Dutch immigrants founded a cooperative in Holambra, a city that still hosts flower production.[107]

Since 2000 the Program of Development of Flowers and Ornamental Plants of the Ministry of Agriculture began. The largest producer is São Paulo state, followed by Santa Catarina, Pernambuco, Alagoas, Ceará, Rio Grande do Sul, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, Paraná, Goiás, Bahia, Espírito Santo, Amazonas and Pará.[107]

Fruits and perennials

Sugar-apple plantation with an irrigated system, at the banks of the São Francisco River, Bahia.

The main 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, cantaloupe, 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, strawberry, tucuma, walnut, and watermelon.[109]

In 2002 the fruit sector grossed 9.6 billion dollars – 18% of Brazil's total. National production is higher than 38 million tons, cultivated on 3.4 million hectares. Between 1990 and 2004 exports grew 183% in value, 277% in quantity and 915% net.[110]

Every ten thousand dollars invested in fruit production generates three direct jobs and two indirect jobs.[110]

Brazil is the world's third largest fruit producer, behind China (157 million tons) and India (with 54 million). Oranges and bananas account for 60% of Brazilian output.[70]

The Brazilian Agency for the Promotion of Exports and Investments (Apex-Brasil), the IBRAF and Carrefour supermarket partnered to develop the Brazilian Fruit Festival, with editions in countries such as Poland and Portugal, from 2004 to 2007.[70][111]


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

Banana is produced across the country.[74] It is the second-largest fruit crop. In 2003, 510 thousand hectares were planted, yielding 6.5 million tons, repeated in 2004.[70] 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).[112]


Cocoa plant in Ilheus, Bahia.

Cocoa was once one of Brazil's main export crops, particularly for Bahia. Production gradually diminished. In 2002 Bahia accounted for 84% of Brazil's cocoa, according to IBGE, planting more than 548 thousand hectares planted with the crop.[113]

Brazil changed from exporting to importing cocoa in 1992. According to FAO the country, between 1990 and 2003, fell from ninth to seventeenth in the main world producers' ranking.[113]

Bahian cocoa shows how a pest and the lack of plant health care may affect a crop. In this case a disease called witch's broom was directly responsible for falling production, which started in the year 1989.[114] A severe decline endured until 1999, when resistant varieties were introduced. Despite this, in 2007 Bahian production started to decline again, whilst the Paraense raised its share.[115][116]


Orange field, in S. Paulo

Citrus includes oranges, limes, tangerines, lemons, etc. Oranges are the most relevant in agriculture.[117]

In 2004 Brazil produced 18.3 million tons of oranges, 45% of the fruit harvest.[70]

São Paulo state accounts for 79% of orange production and is the largest producer and exporter of orange juice, responsible for half of global production. 97% is exported.[118]

Brazil and the US are the world's largest citrus producers, with 45% of the total, while South Africa, Spain and Israel compete in oranges and tangerines.[117]

Brazilian orange juice is equivalent to 80% of world exports, the largest market share for any Brazilian agricultural product.[60]

Forestry and wood

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

Commercial forestry produced 65% of Brazilian wood products in 2003, up from 52% the year earlier as it gradually replaced traditional gathering.[57]

Eucalyptus is the most popular species for reforestation. It is harvested for plywood and cellulose production.[119] In 2001 the country cultivated three million hectares with this tree; another 1.8 million hectares were planted with pine,[120] a species better adapted to the climate of the South and Southeast.[121]

Native species have received increasing attention as an alternative to eucalyptus and pine. 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.[122]

In 2003 the country produced 2.149 million tons of wood for charcoal; 75% from Minas Gerais. Charcoal from vegetable gathering added 2.227 million tons, the largest part (35%) from Pará. Firewood production occupied 47.232 million square meters, with Bahia the biggest producer.[57]

Brazil is the seventh largest global producer of cellulose of all kinds, and the largest of short fiber cellulose. In 2005 the country exported 5.2 million tons and produced 6 million, generating revenues of 3.4 billion dollars.[123]

In 2006 the Management of Public Forests Law was enacted. It subsidizes legal wood production to reduce illegal deforestation, and encouraging the timber sector to adopt sustainable practices.[124]


Horticulture in Almirante Tamandaré countryside.

Brazilian vegetable production in 2004 was estimated at 11.696 billion Reais. It occupied 176 thousand hectares, yielding 16.86 million tons. The major producing regions were the South and Southeast, with 75% of the total. This sector employs between eight and ten million workers.[125]

The vegetable section of Embrapa, with headquarters in Distrito Federal, was created in 1978 and in 1981 renamed the National Center of Research on Vegetables (CNPH).[126] It occupies 487 ha with laboratories, administrative and support buildings, with 45 ha devoted to experimental vegetable production, of which 7 support organic production.[127]

In 2007 Brazil exported 366,213 tons of vegetable crops, which yielded 240 million dollars. Among these, thirteen thousand tons of potatoes, twenty thousand tons of tomatoes, 37 thousand tons of onions. Other export vegetables included ginger, peas, cucumbers, capsicum, mustard, carrots and garlic.[128]


Tomato plantation, Arandu

Brazilian tomato production ranked sixth globally and first in South America in 2000. 1999 output reached a record of 1.29 million tons for tomato pulp.[129]

In 2005, production increased to 3.3 million tons, ranking ninth globally behind China, US, Turkey, Italy, Egypt, India, Spain and Iran. The largest states in 2004 were Goiás (871 thousand tons), São Paulo (749 thousand tons), Minas Gerais (622 thousand), Rio de Janeiro (203 thousand) and Bahia (193 thousand).[130]

Success in Goiás' and Minas Gerais' Cerrado allowed the region to expand from 31% to 84% of production, from 1996 to 2001. The development of localized hybrid varieties raised productivity.[131]


Sample of red onions.

Small farmers are responsible for more than half of the country's production.[132]

Juazeiro, in Bahia, and Petrolina, in Pernambuco are neighboring towns, separated by São Francisco River. They have the highest yield, using irrigation to achieve 24 tons per hectare, versus the Brazilian average of seventeen.[132] In 2006, the two cities 200 thousand tons surpassed that of the other states, behind only Santa Catarina (355 thousand tons).[133]


Brazil is the world's second largest cassava producer, at 12.7%. Exports comprise only .5%. Average exports in 2000 and 2001 were thirteen million, one hundred thousand tons, generating revenue above six hundred million dollars.[75]

It is cultivated in all regions and is used for both human and animal consumption. Manioc is farmed for human consumption, including flour and starch. That production chain generates about a million direct jobs,[75] and some ten million jobs overall.[134]

Forecasts for 2002 were for 22.6 million tons on 1.7 million hectares. The largest producers were Pará (17.9%), Bahia (16.7%), Paraná (14.5%), Rio Grande do Sul (5.6%) and Amazonas (4.3%) .[75]


Slave and child labor

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.

According to data from the Department of Labor of the United States, twenty-first century Brazil ranks third in occurrences of illegal working arrangements (tied with India and Bangladesh). Eight of thirteen violations were prevalent in agribusiness, especially in livestock, sisal, sugar cane, rice, tobacco and charcoal. Despite its position, the country's performance was praised, and between 1995 and 2009 approximately 35,000 workers were freed from degrading conditions.[135]

The International Labour Organization (ILO) recognized the Brazilian effort to fight such practices, which focus on preventing/correcting misbehavior via a system of fines.

Among the causes of illegal working arrangements were poverty and misinformation.

A Constitutional Amendment Proposal (PEC), would compensate landowners for losses resulting from ending such practices.[136]

In 2014 however, the Bureau of International Labor Affairs issued a List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor[137] where Brazil was classified as one of the 74 countries involved in child labor and forced labor practices. The report lists 16 products including cotton, cashews, pineapples, rice and sugarcane the production of which still employs children.

Environmental impacts

Gully in the state of São Paulo.

Brazil's agricultural sector and deforestation account for 75% of its gas emissions responsible for climate change.[138] For this reason, initiatives were adopted to reduce emissions, mostly by reducing deforestation. The so-called "Soybean Moratorium", the Agroecological Zoning for Sugar Cane, and the use of fertigation are examples.[139]

Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture increased 41 percent between 1990 and 2005.[140] Cattle are a major factor. 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 that fully half came from cattle.[141] If all parts of the "cattle chain" had been included, the researchers add, an even higher proportion of greenhouse gases would have been attributed to cattle.[138]

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.[142] As of 2007, about 74 million cattle, or 40 percent of Brazil's herd, were living in what is known as the "Legal Amazon."[143] Almost one million square km (386,000 sq mi), or nearly half of the Cerrado, has been burned and is now cattle pasture, or is cultivated for soybeans, corn (both primary ingredients in livestock feed), and sugarcane.[144] According to 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."[145] At least one quarter of Brazilian grain is grown in Cerrado.

Soil erosion

A large part of the Southeast and Northeast region of the country is made up of granitic and gneiss rock formations, covered by a layer of regolith, very susceptible to soil erosion and gully formation. Bertoni and Neto point out this condition as one of Brazil's highest environmental dangers, and a large part of them result from human activities.[146]

Soil erosion removes nutrients and causes the loss of structure, texture and the decrease of infiltration rates and water retention.[147]

Plowing and herbicides to control undesirable weeds leave the soil exposed and susceptible to erosion – either by loss of topsoil (which is richer in nutrients), or from gullies. The lost soil fills rivers and reservoirs with silt. One solution is no-till farming, a practice not in wide use.[148]


The world's four thousand agrochemicals are produced in about 15,000 different formulations, 8,000 of which are licensed in Brazil. They include insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, vermifuges, and also solvents and sanitizers. They are widely used to protect crops from pests, disease and invading species. Indiscriminate use causes unnecessary accumulation of those substances in the soil, water (springs, groundwater, reservoirs) and air.[149]

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 Brazil's largest user, and the largest producer, comprising 80% of the total. Mitigation techniques include farmer education, and the development of resistant species, better farming techniques, biological pest control, among others.[149]

In 2007 tomatoes, lettuce and strawberries showed the highest rates of contamination by agrochemicals. Farmer awareness is low and few comply with rules on the use of these substances, such as Individual Protection Equipment (EPI).[150]

According to information from Anvisa, Brazilian farming uses at least ten types of agrochemicals prohibited in other markets, such as the European Union and the US.[151]

Genetically modified crops

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

The country is the third largest user in the world in growing genetically modified crops. The main commodities using this biotechnology are soy, cotton and, since 2008, maize.[152]

Several national and international NGOs, such as Greenpeace, MST or Contag, are opposed to the practice. Criticisms include market loss, negative environmental impacts and dominance by large businesses. Entities linked to agribusiness, however, counter with the results of studies carried out by the Brazilian Association of Seeds and Saplings (Abrasem) in 2007 and 2008, affirming "social-environmental advantages observed in the other countries which have adopted agricultural biotechnology far longer".[152]

Federal Justice decided that foods containing more than 1 percent of modified genes must be labeled to inform consumers.[153]

Organic Farming

Organic cultivation of eggplant.

Organic farming aims to produce food without the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or other agrochemicals.[154] The IBGE's 2006 Agricultural Census reported the existence of ninety thousand organic farms in Brazil, comprising 2% of the total; however, only 5,106 are certified.[155]

Organics are present mostly in small and medium properties. 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.[155]

The Brazil Organics program, constituted in 2005, promotes the sector.[155]


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