Zeca Scapin is part of the Brazilian farming miracle. Farmers such as him have helped to transform Brazil into one of the world’s most important farming countries. In the last 50 years production of soya in Brazil has increased from just 300,000 tonnes a year to more than 80 million tonnes. Corn output has also increased by 800% in that time to 80 million tonnes and sugar production has jumped from just 63 million tonnes 50 years ago to more than 750 million tonnes now. Meat production has increased ten-fold to 26 million tonnes a year and total agricultural exports are worth more than US$80 billion a year.
Agriculture accounts for 6% of Brazil’s annual economic output of US$1.8 trillion and employs 16% of its workforce of 110 million people. The increase in agricultural production has helped cut the levels of undernourishment in young children in the country by more than 60% in the last 20 years.
Mindful of the fact that it is home to some of the world’s most precious natural habitats, including the Amazon Rainforest that is 80% of the size of the whole of the USA, Brazilian farmers have made great efforts to increase output while protecting the environment. A US Department of Agriculture study found that Brazil had the 12th fastest growth in agricultural productivity in the 2000s of 172 countries studied. Meanwhile, precision farming techniques such as no-tillage drilling and targeted fertiliser and pesticide use have been pioneered in the country and then adopted elsewhere.
Although agriculture is such an important part of the Brazilian economy, its farmers receive low levels of government financial support, especially when compared to some in other parts of the world. The support that is given is largely restricted to favourable credit terms, but there is potential for spending more on improving infrastructure and scientific knowledge.
Brazil has a strong agricultural future, but it needs to invest in the sector. This is what the Organisation of Economic Co-operation & Development and UN Food and Agriculture Organization said in 2015:
“The prospects for Brazilian agriculture over the next 10 years are favourable. Both domestic and international markets are expected to grow, with a shift in the composition of demand towards products in which Brazil is a competitive producer. The improvements in agricultural production can be achieved sustainably. While short-term benefits accrue to farmers from price support and credit programmes, in the longer run sector-wide investments can have a higher pay-off to farmers.”
At a time when Brazil’s economy is going through a tough period, the government will be looking to farming as a way of helping the country to bounce back. Farmers like Zeca Scapin will be needed more than ever before.
Sources of information: UN FAO, OECD and CIA World Factbook