Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Wealth of a Nation

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Wealth of a Nation

Article excerpt

The wealth of a nation Rural development Agriculture. Despite rapid industrial expansion in the last few years, agriculture still plays a vital role in the Brazilian economy, corresponding to around 14 per cent of Gross National Product (GNP), 47 per cent of exports (including semi-manufactured goods), and employing 44 per cent of the total workforce. Two-thirds of agricultural production comes from crops, one-quarter from cattle, and the remainder from forestry.

In spite of extensive modernization in recentyears, agriculture still provides only a low level of revenue in relation to capital investment. Increased production is the result of an increase in the amount of land under cultivation, rather than higher productivity through the use of machinery, or better quality seed or fertilizer. Low productivity has always been due to an excess of labour combined with outmoded technology, and to restrictive systems of land ownership, where the ground is worked by primitive, often destructive, methods.

However, Brazil has considerable agriculturalpotential: in addition to vast regions suited to agriculture, there are the advantages of a varied climate in a country which extends from the tropics to the temperate zone. However, only a third of this land is currently exploited, and of this only a small part is cultivated.

Agriculture provides for the vast majority(95 per cent) of the country's food requirements. In this respect Brazil is practically self-sufficient, except in the case of wheat.

Besides providing Brazilians with theirbasic foodstuffs, agriculture produces an important share of the country's export revenues. Sugar, the first foodstuff to be used as an international currency, is still a valuable commodity. The main crops in Brazil today are coffee, maize, soya, cotton, sugar cane, manioc, rice, citrus and tropical fruits, cocoa and potatoes. The major exports from the agricultural sector, other than coffee, are soya, sugar, maize, tobacco, cotton and fruits, including fruit juice.

In 1974 Brazil dethroned Cuba as the chiefworld producer of sugar, with an output of 6.9 million tonnes. Almost 40 per cent of this was produced in the Northeast, and 60 per cent in the Southeast. In 1978, exports amounted to 1.9 million tonnes, valued at $352 million. In the same year, the export of sugar by-products stood at 850,000 tonnes of treacle.

Although coffee is no longer the mainstrength of the Brazilian export trade, it is still one of the pillars of the economy and Brazil remains a major world producer, with a crop of 2,589,343 tonnes in 1979. In that year coffee exports amounted to 11.2 million sacks (each sack weighs 60 kg) of green and soluble coffee.

Just over twenty-five years ago, Brazil didnot produce soya on a commercial scale, and even in 1965 total production was no more than 500,000 metric tonnes. In 1975, soya became the country's most valuable export and, with an output of 12.6 million tonnes in 1977, Brazil caught up with China, the second world producer, and is today competing seriously with the United States (which produces nearly four times as much soya) on international markets.

Stockbreeding. Stockbreeding, and especiallycattle-rearing, is an important factor affecting land distribution in Brazil. With 100 million head in 1978, the country ranks fourth among the world's cattle-producing countries, after India, the United States and the Soviet Union.

Land distribution. More than half of Brazilianfarms are minifundia (holdings of less than 10 hectares), and less than 1 per cent are latifundia (estates of over 1,000 hectares). Generally speaking, minifundia are more common in the Northeast and in the southern colonial zones, which latifundia are found throughout Amazonia and in the Centre West. In terms of area, the latifundia are by far the most significant. The minifundia only occupy 3.1 per cent of all arable land, while the latifundia, although representing less than 1 per cent of all holdings, occupy 37 per cent of the land. …

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