Cash Crop: Brazil's Biofuel Leadership

By Han, Yuna | Harvard International Review, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Cash Crop: Brazil's Biofuel Leadership


Han, Yuna, Harvard International Review


Brazil is making splashes across the world as the emerging leader of the biofuel industry. The significance of this nascent industry is rapidly growing as oil prices rise and awareness of environmental concerns increase. But the Brazilian dominance of the biofuel market may have significance beyond the environmental ramifications of ethanol. Brazil's leadership in this industry has brought about positive shifts in developmental patterns, facilitating the diversification of Latin American industries and the South-South exchange of technology between Africa and South America. Though both Brazil and the bioenergy industry face numerous basic challenges, Brazil's approach to economic leadership is sending messages across the developing world.

The 1973 oil crisis led Brazil to launch a biofuel production program that succeeded in mass producing ethanol-based fuel for transportation by the 1980s. Since then, Brazil has become a leader in the industry, producing nearly 90 percent of the world's biofuel, according to the World Bank's World Development Report 2008. Brazil has been able to utilize its massive agricultural capacities through its production of ethanol-based fuels from sugar canes and other traditional cash crops. The immediate, and perhaps primary, beneficiary of Brazil's biofuel production has been the domestic agricultural sector, because it allows producers of traditional cash crops to expand into a more diverse market. Because the production of biofuels requires a high concentration of both technology and raw materials, the production of ethanol from sugar canes has become a strong stimulant for both the modernization of agriculture and the promotion of research and development. With Brazil's large share in the biofuel market, the demand for highly educated workers in the country has risen exponentially. This has brought positive developments to both the public and private sectors.

The Brazilian success story has generated interest in the industry among nations across Latin America and the Caribbean. Though no other country has yet reached Brazil's level of production, the abundance of arable land and the excess production of feedstock make the production of biofuels highly feasible across the region. This development could be an auspicious sign for the region's economies, as it will attract foreign investment and bring modernization to the agricultural sector. In addition, it will facilitate research and development, while contributing to the diversification of multiple industries. Although these advantages do not indicate that the development of biofuels is a panacea for the developmental impasse experienced by most countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, they do provide important stimulants for growth. Brazil's clever use of its agricultural resources is spreading to neighboring countries, as countries like Colombia and Costa Rica are now attempting to implement the Brazilian model of the biofuel industry. …

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