Jason Barton

Professional Information and Energy News

Brazil’s Agricultural Miracle?

without comments

There’s no doubt that Brazil has flourished in the agricultural realm in the last several decades, and that its abundance of natural resources are only going to amplify its global importance in the years to come, as the world becomes increasingly resource constrained. The two articles below are typical of The Economist: well researched, well written, and optimistic about the abilities of technology and trade liberalization to continue aiding in Brazil’s, and the world’s, prosperity.

There is much truth to these assertions. Brazil is the world’s largest producer or exporter of beef, coffee, sugar, and oranges, and second only to the U.S. in soy. These are important staple products. Sugarcane ethanol seems to becoming only more attractive to foreign importers such as the U.S. and Europe. If either of these further opens its markets to importation of ethanol, it will have profound impacts on Brazil’s agricultural sector and economy as a whole.

With all of this in mind, there are two downsides that are not discussed in these articles, though they must be considered, both for Brazil’s sake and for others if, as the second article suggests, Brazil’s agricultural model is to be exported to places like Africa.

1. Disparity in wealth and lack of jobs, education, and training for lower-skilled workers. During this agricultural boom, Brazil has continued to suffer from vast disparities in wealth. Mechanization has driven millions of rural poor into the cities as jobs are replaced with tractors.

It is inefficient and simply infeasible to consider reversing this technological progression, but measures must be taken, not necessarily for reasons of altruism, but basic economic realities. Those farm laborers who move to cities like Sao Paulo and Salvador put a strain on public services, crime rates rise, and money spent on police and corrections in the cities can sop up the gains from agricultural exports as that sector innovates. Measures are being taken in Brazil to create more jobs in cities and the countryside, as well as education and training for people who have had far too little of these or the jobs that require them.

2. Biodiversity needs to be protected, and not just in the Amazon. Only about 8% of the Atlantic Rainforest remains, much of its destruction due to expansion of monoculture in states like Sao Paulo, which produces 60% of Brazil’s cane and ethanol. Protection of biodiversity in the cerrado in central Brazil, as well as closer to the coasts, is not a matter of liking flowers and birds, it is essential to the land’s continued productive ability.

Health of soil and water depends on functioning ecosystems, which are difficult to maintain in monocultural systems. Some of the larger cane and ethanol firms, such as Cosan, have done much to re-vegetate stream banks, providing much-needed buffer zones between water resources and agricultural activities. This must continue on all agricultural land as these areas provide continuous threads rather than isolated forests that do not provide the expanse needed for migrating animals essential to healthy soil and water.

It may sound like a stretch, but my doctoral research has shown the interdependency of ecology and economies. The health of each is indeed necessary to continue Brazil’s ability to feed itself and much of the rest of the world.

Please feel free to let me know what you think.

How to feed the world

The emerging conventional wisdom about world farming is gloomy. There is an alternative

Aug 26th 2010

THE world is planting a vigorous new crop: “agro-pessimism”, or fear that mankind will not be able to feed itself except by wrecking the environment. The current harvest of this variety of whine will be a bumper one. Natural disasters—fire in Russia and flood in Pakistan, which are the world’s fifth- and eighth-largest wheat producers respectively—have added a Biblical colouring to an unfolding fear of famine. By 2050 world grain output will have to rise by half and meat production must double to meet demand. And that cannot easily happen because growth in grain yields is flattening out, there is little extra farmland and renewable water is running short.

Read the entire article here.

Brazilian agriculture

The miracle of the cerrado

Brazil has revolutionised its own farms. Can it do the same for others?

Aug 26th 2010 | CREMAQ, PIAUÍ

IN A remote corner of Bahia state, in north-eastern Brazil, a vast new farm is springing out of the dry bush. Thirty years ago eucalyptus and pine were planted in this part of the cerrado (Brazil’s savannah). Native shrubs later reclaimed some of it. Now every field tells the story of a transformation. Some have been cut to a litter of tree stumps and scrub; on others, charcoal-makers have moved in to reduce the rootballs to fuel; next, other fields have been levelled and prepared with lime and fertiliser; and some have already been turned into white oceans of cotton. Next season this farm at Jatobá will plant and harvest cotton, soyabeans and maize on 24,000 hectares, 200 times the size of an average farm in Iowa. It will transform a poverty-stricken part of Brazil’s backlands.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

August 27th, 2010 at 10:23 am