History 107 Long Paper
Ghita Chraibi During the late 20th century and the beginning of the 21th century, the Brazilian agricultural sector has achieved several astonishing improvements. In North-Eastern Brazil, vast new farms were created out of the dry bushes that the Cerrado’s (Brazil’s Savannah) were known to be. The Jatóba farm is an example of this miraculous national transformation, since it has recently planted and harvested cotton, soya beans and maize on 24000 hectares, while about three decades ago, only eucalyptus and pine were planted in this part of the Cerrado.1 Hence this remote and poor area was transformed into a productive one thanks to this agricultural miracle. Furthermore, in less than thirty years, Brazil has moved from being a food importer to one of the world’s greatest exporters, thus catching up with the “big five” grain exporters for instance, namely America, Canada, Australia, Argentina, and the European Union. In addition, the achievements of Brazil in terms of farm production have also been very significant as between 1996 and 2006, the total value of Brazil’s crops rose from 23 to 108 billion Reais, which is the equivalent of a 365% increase.2 The rapid growth of Agriculture in Brazil has helped the country gain more recognition and presence globally especially in the context of the climate change and the resulting food challenges that today’s world faces and that several countries try to tackle.3
In order to understand this agricultural miracle, which transformed the Post World War II backward Brazilian agrarian sector into a valuable economic asset at the turn of the century, it is necessary to look at what context prevailed and favored the growth of this sector, especially as import substitution industrialization was reaching its peak in the early 1960s4. Moreover, it is essential to comprehend what factors led to this growth; the main one being adopting liberal and market-oriented policies by the late 1980s, which combined with other reasons, acted as catalysts in significantly impacting its performance in the agriculture and food –agrifood- sector. 5 Not only did these factors strengthen the Brazilian economy by helping the agrifood sector become one of its most dynamic sectors but also led to its modernization and globalization.
However, Brazil’s agricultural sector still faces several external and internal challenges that hinder it from reaching its full potential. Indeed, it seems like some of the factors that led to the success of the agricultural sector in Brazil have side effects that end up creating challenges. Furthermore, the land reform programs in Brazil have been highly fraught with inefficiencies even though it is crucial to acknowledge all what they have enabled the country to achieve in terms of combatting inequality through redistribution of land.6 In this context, the question is what are the most salient challenges Brazil should pay particular attention to as it strives to make the success of the agricultural sector a sustainable one.
This paper discusses the historic conditions leading to the successful performance of Brazilian commercial agriculture after World War II, using the historic phases identified by Werner Baer, an American economist whose research focuses on Brazil’s economic development. On the one hand, phase one goes from the end of the war to the early 1970s, and was reckoned to be a phase of horizontal agricultural expansion. On the other hand, phase 2 stretched from the early 1970s to the late 1980s, and was said to be a period of officially induced conservative modernization.7 Furthermore, according to Charles Mueller and Bernardo Mueller, researchers specialized in Agricultural Economics, a third phase should be considered, that goes from the early 1990s to the present and that is one where a ‘free market’ emerges and with it a remarkable performance in