Agriculture in Brazil

Agriculture in Brazil

Agriculture in Brazil

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

The history of agriculture in Brazil in the colonial period and beyond is intertwined with the history of slavery in Brazil. Since the abolition of slavery in 1888 by the Lei Áurea (“Golden Law”), the practice of forced labour (trabalho escravo) has remained commonplace in agriculture.[1][2]

During the dictatorship period, agriculture was neglected and exploited as a means of resources for the industry sector and cheap food for the urban population. Until late 1980s, export and prices were controlled, with quotas on exports. This has changed since the early 1990s.[citation needed]

Brazilian agriculture is well diversified, and the country is largely self-sufficient in food. Agriculture accounts for 8% of the country’s GDP, and employs about one-quarter of the labour force in more than 6 million agricultural enterprises. Brazil is the world’s largest producer of sugarcane and coffee, and a net exporter of cocoa, soybeans, orange juice, tobacco, forest products, and other tropical fruits and nuts. Livestock production is important in many parts of the country, with rapid growth in the poultry, pork, and milk industries reflecting changes in consumer tastes. On a value basis, production is 60% field crops and 40% livestock. Brazil is a net exporter of agricultural and food products, which account for about 35% of the country’s exports.[citation needed]

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


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

Primitive farming [edit]

Brazilian fruits in a painting by Albert Eckhout.

The natives of Brazil farmed cassavapeanutstobaccosweet potatoes and maize, in addition to extracting the essence from other local plants such as the pequi and thebabassu. Some were for food and others for different products such as straw or madeira. They also cultivated local fruits such as jabuticabacashewsSpondias mombinGoiabasand 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.[4]

Until crops began to be exported, the supply of Brazilian wood was the main reason for Portugal to try to gain the new territory.[5]

Fires [edit]

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.[6]

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