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The Importance of Agriculture

Face to face with a big objective

Agriculture has a big objective: feeding and clothing the 9.7 billion people that the UN predicts will inhabit the planet by 2050. For this, there will be the need to increase agricultural production by 70%, according to the FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture), despite the limited availability of arable land and water, as well as growing environmental pressure.

Besides this, there are fewer and fewer people willing to stay and live in rural areas. For the first time in history, most of the world’s population today already lives in urban areas. According to the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) the global middle class population will more than double from 2 billion people today to 4.9 billion in 2030.

Population growth associated with increased income, especially in developing countries, is increasing global consumption of food, clothing and energy. The projected increase in income in developing countries will cause an increase in protein consumption, which is directly related to the consumption of soybeans and corn. The consumption difference between developed and developing countries is expected to decline.

We live in a fast phase of technological paradigm shifts, and the intensive use of technology will be increasingly essential to agriculture. Some recent scientific events were crucial for agricultural development to reach their present levels, such as the further enhancement in the processes of cross breeding plant species of the late nineteenth century, the “green revolution” in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, and the advent of biotechnology in the 1980s.

The new revolution in technology-based agriculture should be based on sustainability, focusing on environmental preservation, including becoming part of the solution of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases through the use of renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel.

Brazil is (a large) part of the solution

Advantages of the Brazilian agricultural sector

The Brazilian agricultural sector has grown rapidly over recent decades with increased productivity, as well as the expansion and consolidation of new agricultural frontiers.

Investments in agricultural research and technology for tropical agriculture were major differences that made the incorporation of the Brazilian Cerrado into productive use possible. According to Embrapa (Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation), one of the main reasons for the success of agriculture in the Cerrado region was the development of a technological package for success with emphasis on new varieties adapted to the conditions in low latitudes. There is plenty of rainfall and the topography is highly favorable for mechanization.

  • Stable and high temperatures throughout the year (especially in the Cerrado region)
  • Technology developed by research centers
  • Technology developed by research centers
  • Abundance of land for cultivation
  • Good soil quality
  • Flat topography
  • Abundance of rain and sun

Brazil currently occupies a prominent place in global agribusiness and is among the largest producers and exporters of agricultural products and derivatives, accounting for 15% of global grain exports, according to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) in 2014. The country has perfect conditions to occupy even more space in the international arena of food production and biofuels, it has competitive advantages over other agricultural producing countries in the world, besides being the country with the largest stock of arable land. Such competitiveness is due to favorable climatic factors for production and the abundance of arable land. A recent OECD report in conjunction with FAO points to Brazil as the main exporter of food in the world in the next decade.
Agribusiness in 2014 represented 22% of the Brazilian GDP, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and agricultural exports have been largely responsible for the surplus in the trade balance of the country.

Product Yield Export
Sugar 1 1
Coffee 1 1
Soybean 1 1
Beef 2 1
Ethanol 2 2
Poultry 3 1
Corn 3 2
Pork 4 3
Cotton 4 2

Source: USDA, Foreign Agricultural Service, 2019.

The History of Agriculture in Brazil

Indigenous Agriculture

Agriculture was already a practice known by Brazilian natives who mainly cultivated some tubers in addition to performing plant extraction of several other varieties of local flora - either for food or for by-products such as straw or wood - and also native fruits.

Colonial Brazil

Soon after the discovery of Brazil, the country's natural riches had not appeared to be promising until the introduction of the production of sugarcane in the Northeast. The Brazilian economy then became dependent on the export of sugar, which did not have much access to the markets, which started to decline from the second half of the seventeenth century.

Brazilian Empire

Coffee was introduced into the country at the end of the colonial period. However, it was only after its independence that production was consolidated in the Southeast, especially in São Paulo. The immigration of Europeans was accentuated by the coffee production in Western São Paulo, mainly with the arrival of Italians in the country.

Agricultural Diversification

Due to the delays observed in the farmlands they could not fulfill the demands of large urban centers, and cities like São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Recife suffered from shortages of basic items such as sugar, wheat, beans and others.

During the military regime, Embrapa (Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation) was created, in order to boost and diversify the agricultural matrix of the country. The agency was responsible for the development of new cultivars adapted to the peculiar conditions of the various regions of the country.

The expansion of the agricultural frontier to Cerrado was a major milestone in Brazilian agriculture history, and as a result large producers with systems on a semi-industrial scale for soybean, cotton, corn and beans started to emerge.

In 1960 there were four major agricultural products exported. By the early 1990s they had increased to nineteen. The progress over these last thirty years also includes processing: in the 1960s, non-processed products were 84% of total exports, a figure that fell to 20% in the early 1990s.


CALMON, Pedro: História do Brasil, São Paulo, 1939, vol.

ARRUDA, José Jobson. História Integrada: da Idade Média ao nascimento do mundo moderno. 2nd. ed. São Paulo: [s.n.], 1996. 

BAER, Werner: A Economia Brasileira, Nobel, São Paulo, 2ª ed, 2003

ARRUDA, José Jobson de A.: História Moderna e Contemporânea. Ática, São Paulo, 13ª ed., 1981

Antonio César Ortega e Emanoel Márcio Nunes (2001). Agricultura Familiar: por um projeto alternativo de desenvolvimento local. Viewed on Jul 5, 2010.

Embrapa/Agrobiologia. 49 Anos Dedicados à Pesquisa em Microbiologia do Solo (in Portuguese). Viewed on Dec 13, 2009.

Maria Yedda Linhares (Apr 12, 1999). Pesquisas em história da agricultura brasileira no Rio de Janeiro. Viewed on Dec 22, 2009.