Hope For The Starving Millions
In less than 30 years Brazil has turned itself from a food importer into one of the world’s great breadbaskets...The increase in Brazil’s farm production has been stunning. Between 1996 and 2006 the total value of the country’s crops rose from 23 billion reais ($23 billion) to 108 billion reais, or 365%. Brazil increased its beef exports tenfold in a decade, overtaking Australia as the world’s largest exporter. It has the world’s largest cattle herd after India’s. It is also the world’s largest exporter of poultry, sugar cane and ethanol. Since 1990 its soyabean output has risen from barely 15m tonnes to over 60m. Brazil accounts for about a third of world soyabean exports, second only to America. In 1994 Brazil’s soyabean exports were one-seventh of America’s; now they are six-sevenths. Moreover, Brazil supplies a quarter of the world’s soyabean trade on just 6% of the country’s arable land.
No less astonishingly, Brazil has done all this without much government subsidy.
Brazil has more spare farmland than any other country. The FAO puts its total potential arable land at over 400m hectares; only 50m is being used. Brazilian official figures put the available land somewhat lower, at 300m hectares. Either way, it is a vast amount. On the FAO’s figures, Brazil has as much spare farmland as the next two countries together (Russia and America). It is often accused of levelling the rainforest to create its farms, but hardly any of this new land lies in Amazonia; most is cerrado.
Brazil also has more water. According to the UN’s World Water Assessment Report of 2009, Brazil has more than 8,000 billion cubic kilometres of renewable water each year, easily more than any other country. Brazil alone (population: 190m) has as much renewable water as the whole of Asia (population: 4 billion).
Like almost every large farming country, Brazil is divided between productive giant operations and inefficient hobby farms.
From the point of view of the rest of the world, however, these faults in Brazilian agriculture do not matter much. The bigger question for them is: can the miracle of the cerrado be exported, especially to Africa, where the good intentions of outsiders have so often shrivelled and died?
There are several reasons to think it can....
And we must hope it does, the reasons it may not are probably Government and Greens...