Brazil country overview

The economy of Brazil

Geography, People, Culture, and Economic Profile

Brazil information index

Agriculture, fishing, and forestry of Brazil

Despite the fact that agriculture and livestock production only engage approximately 20% of the workforce, their impact on the economy is quite substantial as they contribute nearly 8% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). These sectors not only provide employment opportunities for a significant portion of the population but also play a crucial role in ensuring food security for the country. The fishing and forestry sectors, on the other hand, while also important industries, have a comparatively minor impact on the economy. This is not to say that they are not valuable contributors, as they provide important resources and contribute to the overall sustainability of the environment. However, in terms of their economic impact, they do not hold as much weight as the agriculture and livestock production sectors. Overall, it is clear that agriculture and livestock production are key drivers of economic growth and development in the country. Their significance goes beyond just providing food for the population – they also serve as major contributors to the GDP, creating jobs and driving innovation in the agricultural sector. The fishing and forestry sectors may not have as large of an economic impact, but they still play important roles in the overall sustainability and well-being of the country.

Agriculture of Brazil

Brazil stands as a nation largely self-reliant in essential food commodities and distinguishes itself as a prominent exporter of a diverse array of agricultural products. These include oranges, soybeans, coffee, and cassava, predominantly cultivated in the southern and southeastern regions. In contrast to many Latin American nations, Brazil has augmented its agricultural output since World War II by significantly expanding its arable land. However, it is important to acknowledge that such growth has incurred considerable ecological repercussions, particularly in areas of new frontier development.

As the foremost global producer of coffee, Brazil has seen this crop serve as a pivotal export, especially during the early to mid-20th century. The states of Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo lead in coffee production, with São Paulo and Paraná also contributing substantially. In the 1990s, soybeans and their processed derivatives, notably animal feed, surpassed coffee as a more lucrative export. The cultivation of soybeans is primarily concentrated in the states of Paraná and Rio Grande do Sul, with Mato Grosso do Sul emerging as a significant producer due to the adoption of modern agricultural techniques involving machinery and fertilizers to cultivate the savanna soils.

Brazil is responsible for producing approximately one-third of the world’s oranges, a figure that more than doubles that of the United States, the second major global supplier. Furthermore, Brazil holds the position of the world’s principal producer of cassava and is a key cultivator of beans, corn (maize), cacao, bananas, and rice. While the majority of these crops are consumed within the country, a selection is exported, including jute and black pepper from the Amazon region; palm oils from the Northeastern coast; garlic from Minas Gerais; peanuts (groundnuts), oranges, and tea from São Paulo; and tobacco from the states of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul. The economic significance of Brazil nuts is confined to specific areas in the North.

With a livestock population exceeding 200 million, Brazil boasts one of the largest in the world, surpassing the United States in annual cattle slaughter rates. The most extensive grazing territories are found in the South and Southeast, with a growing presence in the northern states and frontier zones like Amazonia. The meatpacking industry is predominantly situated in Rio Grande do Sul, which is strategically located near the beef-producing plains of Uruguay and Argentina. Additionally, Brazil is a substantial producer of poultry, with both poultry and beef constituting important export commodities.

In Brazil, the adoption of mechanized agriculture remains relatively limited. The utilization of tractors and other substantial agricultural equipment is predominantly observed in the Southern and Southeastern regions, as well as the Western border states, including Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Acre, and Rondônia. Contrastingly, in the Northeast, the availability of such machinery is scarce, with many sugar plantations continuing to depend on human labor. This area accounts for approximately half of the country’s farming operations, yet the majority of these farms are small, often less than 12 acres (5 hectares) in size. Despite the government’s investment in large-scale irrigation projects in the Northeast, the impact on smallholder family farms has been minimal. The region is characterized by numerous impoverished families subsisting on small, overcultivated plots of land, while some of the more extensive rural properties remain underutilized or completely unused.

The issue of land distribution has prompted significant action, with tens of thousands of Brazilians engaging in the Landless Movement (Movimento dos Sem Terra), advocating for land reform through protests and property occupations, occasionally leading to violent clashes. In response, the government initiated a land redistribution program in the 1990s, which, despite its ambitious scope, faced challenges due to budgetary limitations and bureaucratic delays.

On a more positive note, Brazil’s agricultural sector has seen advancements due to technological innovation and scientific research. A notable achievement was the identification of the genetic sequence of Xylella fastidiosa in the mid-2000s, a bacterium that affects orange trees. Furthermore, a government-led initiative in the 1970s sought to reduce reliance on expensive imported gasoline by promoting the use of ethanol, derived primarily from sugarcane, as well as rice and wood shavings. This initiative led to Brazil’s gasoline substitution program becoming the most successful of its kind globally. The program spurred the expansion of sugarcane cultivation, particularly in São Paulo state and along the Northeast coast, the construction of modern distilleries, and a period during which nearly all new cars in Brazil were designed to operate on ethanol. Currently, many Brazilian vehicles run on fuel blends containing 20-25% ethanol, with some engines using even higher ethanol-to-gasoline ratios. Brazil has established itself as one of the foremost ethanol producers worldwide.


Despite its extensive Atlantic coastline, where the majority of its population resides, Brazil’s fish harvest is considerably lower than that of Argentina or Mexico. The Brazilian commercial fishing industry, which is responsible for approximately two-thirds of the country’s saltwater catch, predominantly operates out of ports in the Southern and Southeastern regions. This is not only due to their closeness to consumer markets but also because the Brazil Current, which flows southward and warms the coastal waters, supports a less abundant fish population compared to the colder southern waters. In the Northeast, the focus of ocean fishing is on crustaceans such as lobsters and shrimps, with the majority being destined for export.

Freshwater fish constitute about one-fourth of Brazil’s total fish catch, with a significant contribution coming from the Amazon River basin. The Northeast contributes another considerable portion, largely from reservoirs that have been populated with tilapia—a species introduced from Africa—by the government. In Fortaleza, there is an innovative use of fish byproducts; manufacturers are utilizing tilapia and cambulu (a marine fish) skins to craft stylish footwear, garments, and accessories. These products have emerged as alternatives to those traditionally made from alligator hides, which are no longer used due to the alligators’ endangered status.

Forestry of Brazil

The regions of Southern and Southeastern Brazil are the principal contributors to the country’s timber output, with approximately 50% originating from cultivated eucalyptus tree plantations, a species initially indigenous to Australia. Additionally, timber from Honduras pine and a variety of other non-native species is cultivated and harvested in these areas. The primary application of this plantation-derived timber is in the production of cellulose and paper-based goods.

Annually, significant portions of Brazil’s rainforest and the wooded highland areas are cleared through burning to create space for agricultural activities, livestock grazing, and the expansion of human settlements. It is noteworthy that the majority of trees lost during this deforestation process are not utilized for fuel or wood-based products. In contrast, the modest timber production from the Northeast region is predominantly employed as fuelwood.

In terms of charcoal production, the forests situated in the eastern part of Minas Gerais state are the most prolific, contributing the greatest proportion to Brazil’s overall charcoal supply. This is followed by contributions from the forests in the western zone of Maranhão, the southern region of Bahia, and the state of Tocantins.

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