Country Pasture/Forage Resource Profiles
Brazil is a very young country. It was discovered in 1500 by the Portuguese navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral and was Portuguese until 1822, when it became independent. Abolition of slavery came in the same century, in 1888, and the first Republic was established two years later. The large majority of slaves brought to Brazil came from African ethnic groups including Bantu from Southern Africa (the Congo, Angola and Mozambique), as well as Samba, Moxicongo and Anjico, and ethnic groups from the north-western coast of Africa such as Nago, Jeje, Fanti, Achanti Haussa, Mandinga, Tapa and Fulla, originating from regions from Senegal to Nigeria.
With the Portuguese being the first, there have been many immigrations from Europe, principally in the 19th century (Italy, Spain, Germany, Poland and Ukraine), as well as from Japan, Syria and the Lebanon. From 1875 until 1960, about 5,000,000 Europeans emigrated to Brazil. All these immigrations were added to an indigenous population estimated at 5,000,000 when European colonists first arrived (at present reduced to thousands), which conferred on Brazil a uniquely rich ethnic and cultural diversity.
The census carried out by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics-IBGE (2000) indicated that the Brazilian population was some 169,590,693 inhabitants, which corresponds to a geometric medium annual growth rate of 1.93 percent. This last census indicates a strong tendency to a changing population age pyramid with an increasing age span. Life expectancy at birth of the total population is 66.7 years for men and 74.1 years for women. According to the World Factbook the July 2006 estimate was 188,078,227 with a growth rate of 1.04%.
Brazil is the fifth most populous country in the world with 2.8% of the world’s population. Despite having less than 11% of the total territory, the South-east region contains 42% of the Brazilian people. On average the population density is not very high (19.92 hab/km2) but it varies strongly between different communities (0.13 to 12,897.8 hab/km2). In the last five decades there has been an enormous reversal in the ratio of rural/urban population. At present, only 18.8% live in the countryside.
In terms of political organization, Brazil is a Federation, composed of a Federal Union, 26 states, 1 Federal District and 5,507 municipalities. The government system is presidential, organised on Federal, State and Municipal levels.
Brazil is located in the Western Hemisphere, between the meridians 34o47'30" and 73o59'32" to west of Greenwich. Located between the parallel of 5o16'20" of north latitude and 33o44'42" of south, it is cut to the north by the Equator and, to the south, by the Tropic of Capricorn, therefore, about 90 percent of its territory in the Southern Hemisphere. Part of the American continent, Brazil is the only Portuguese-speaking nation in the Americas (see Figure 1).
Brazil is in the centre-oriental portion of South America and has a border with nine countries: Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana and Suriname, and with the French Department of Guiana; exceptions are Ecuador and Chile (Figure 2).
Its dimensions characterize it as a continental country, its territory occupying 1.6% of the surface of the terrestrial globe, with 5.7% of the dry land of the planet and 20.8% of the surface of the American continent, as well as 12.7% of the world's river water (5,190 km3 a year). The Brazilian territorial area is 8,514,876,599 km2 and its perimeter embraces 23,086 km, being bounded over 7,367 km, by the Atlantic Ocean, that is to say 31.9% of its borders. It is the third largest country in area and the largest in South America, occupying 66% of the South American territorial area. This area comprises arable land (5%), permanent crops (1%), permanent pastures (22%), forests and woodland (58%) and others (14%) (1993 est.).
Brazilian Global Economy
Brazil has a highly diversified economy with wide variations in levels of development, having the most advanced industrial sectors in Latin America. Industries range from automobiles, steel, and petrochemicals, to computers, aircraft, and consumer durables. The leading manufacturing industries produce textiles, shoes, food products, steel, motor vehicles, ships, and machinery. Most large industry is concentrated in the south and southeast. The northeast is traditionally the poorest part of Brazil, but is now beginning to attract new investment.
Brazil has vast mineral wealth, including iron ore (it is the world's largest producer), quartz, chrome ore, manganese, industrial diamonds, gem stones, gold, nickel, tin, bauxite, uranium, and platinum. Natural resources also include petroleum and hydropower. Most of Brazil's electricity comes from waterpower and it possesses extensive untapped hydroelectric potential, particularly in the Amazon basin.
In addition to coffee, Brazil's exports include iron, concentrated orange juice, soybeans, and footwear. In 1999 exports totalled US$ 48 billions. Crude oil, manufactured goods, and chemical products head the imports (US$ 49.2 billion) leading to a trade balance which has been negative since 1995. Most trade is with the European Union nations, the United States of America, Argentina, and Japan. Recently, Brazil’s exports increased as a consequence of policies specifically oriented towards export which reached U$ 118.309 billions in 2005.
The Agricultural Sector
Other important crops are sugar cane (330 million tons), citrus fruits (32 million tons) and coffee (30 million bags). Cocoa, tobacco, and banana are also important. Forestry accounts for 4 percent of the GDP.
In 2005, a decrease in cultivated area of about 4.68% lead to a production of 112.715 million ton, 5.51% lower than 2004.
The largest agricultural exports (in value) in 1998 were coffee, soybeans, soybean cake, orange juice and sugar. Soybean is the major agricultural commodity when all of its products (raw soybean, meal, oil, etc) are added. The total value of agricultural exports in 1998 was US$15.3 billion, while the total value of agricultural imports in 1998 was US$ 6,306.4 million. Wheat and dairy products are the main agricultural imports. Brazilian agribusiness and policies are strongly oriented towards international markets due to the need to achieve a positive commercial balance and because agriculture is one of the main sources of income.
The Farming Sector
Average farm size is not very informative in so vast a country. Two thirds of the farms in Brazil are under 100 ha. In Southern Brazil the average is 92 ha while in "Centro-Oeste" it is 897 ha. Land concentration has been a trend since the middle of the last century. In 1996, 4,800,000 farms occupied 350,000,000 hectares and of these 80.6% were under 50 ha, but shared only 12.2% of the total agricultural land. On the other hand, 1% of farms were larger than 1,000 hectares, occupying 45.1% of all land used in agriculture.
The distance between farm and the nearest urban centre is 23 km on average, but again there are many contrasts (in "Centro-Oeste" it is 350 km). The tendency to migration is variable, being 33 for each 100 farms in the South compared with 66 for each 100 farms in the Southeast region.
In Southern Brazil, 46% of farmers earn less than US$ 100/year/farm (liquid revenue), the gross revenue being US$ 318/ha (all activities comprised, but this is only US$ 150/ha in "Pernambuco" state, to illustrate the variability). To understand how farmers can survive with such a low income it should be mentioned that 64% of commercial farmers have other off- farm sources of revenue.
Government finances only 16% of rural commercial activities. Consequently, 34% of farmers believe that the major limitation to their activity is credit. Only 0.3% believe that technology is a primary limiting factor. This probably reflects the average low level of education. For example, in the most intensive ruminant sector, the dairy cattle sector, only 5% of farmers own milking machines and 5.9% use artificial insemination. Of these farmers, 0.2% percent believe that extension is the major limitation even if only 34% of them received some type of agricultural assistance at least once a year, but 71% intend to increase it. Less than 1% of Brazilian farmers carry out any kind of natural resource protection, despite the great increase in soil conservation by direct drilling, mainly concentrated in Southern Brazil in recent years.
The Ruminant Sector
The predominant production system is based on grazing and relying on native and cultivated pastures, which are grazed at continuous stocking all year round. Forage conservation is only utilized in intensive dairy production systems and some rare feed-lot systems. Of the 164,621,040 cattle (in 1999; by 2004 numbers were 192 million), 74.5% are beef cattle and 21.5% dairy cattle. In addition there are 14,399,960 sheep (14.2M in 2004), 1,068,059 buffaloes (1.2M in 2004) and 8,622,935 goats (9.1M in 2004), the latter showing a considerable increase recently. To complete the domestic herbivore population (and those requiring forage) there are 5,831,341 horses (5.9M in 2004) and 2,572,172 other equidea. While stock numbers have been more or less the same since 1994 (for cattle), the number slaughtered have increased almost two fold. About 31,600,000 head were slaughtered in 1999, with only 3,200,000 receiving any kind of intensification during the production process (conserved forage, supplements, feed-lot, etc.). For details of livestock numbers, meat and milk production and some imports and exports see Table 2.
It is estimated that 38.0 kg/year of beef are consumed per capita (in the mainly metropolitan regions). To give an idea of its market value, in 1999 the farmer received on average US$ 0.6/kg of liveweight. His product has different destinations; on average 65% of the beef goes to supermarkets, restaurants, hotels and industrial catering, 30% to butcher’s and 5% to special meat shops. In 1993, the beef sector provided 6,834,000 jobs, involving 1,793,324 farm units and occupying 221,982,144 ha. In 1999 it produced 6,500,000 tons of carcass-equivalent (7,774,000 in 2004). Other meat products include 5,526,000 tons of chicken (8,668,000 in 2004) and 2,400,000 tons of pork (3,110,000 in 2004).
In 2000 twenty billion litres of milk were produced (23 billion litres by 2004), which represent a production of 4.9 l/cow/day. Milk consumption per capita is around 246 ml (daily intake recommendation is 400 ml/day) and 75% of national consumption goes to 20% of the population. Dairy products, apart from wheat, were until recently the most important agricultural import, accounting for US$ US$443M in 1999 (US$114.4M in 2003), however from the 1999 importation figure of 2,41 billion litres of milk, this fell to only 0,73 billion litres in 2001 and 0.55 billion litres in 2003. In 2004 the dairy sector trade presented a positive commercial balance of US$11.5M and Brazil started to become a dairy exporter. The dairy sector has been deregulated during the last decade and at present 60% of the Brazilian market is controlled by transnational companies. Imports pass to private industry. European milk enters Brazil at half of its actual cost.
Exports of meat was valued at some US$ 443,835,000 in 1997: by 1999 there were exports of 150,000 Mt of meat, mainly to Europe (50.6%) and USA (37.44%). Exports increased to 620,117 Mt of carcass-equivalent in 2003 worth US$ 1,154,508,000.
Table 2. Brazil statistics for livestock numbers, beef
Source: FAOSTAT 2006
Geology of Brazil
The Guyana shield extends to the north of the basin of "Amazonas". The Brazil-central, or Guaporé shield extends to the interior of Brazil and south of that basin, while the Atlantic shield is exposed in the eastern portion reaching the Atlantic. These shields are exposed in more than 50 percent of the area of Brazil.
On that platform were developed in Brazil, in stable conditions of ortho-platform, starting from Ordovician-Silurian, the sedimentary and volcanic coverings that spatially filled three extensive basins with sineclisis character: "Amazonas", "Paraíba" and "Paraná". Besides those basins, several other smaller basins, including coastal basins and other sedimentary areas, are exposed on the platform.
It should be noted that the Brazilian relief does not present formations of very high mountainous chains and prevailing altitudes are below 500 m, since it was developed on an old geologic base, without recent tectonic movements.
Ferralsols are poor chemically, with a low ion exchange capacity, and nutrient reserves that are easily depleted by agricultural practices, while fixation of phosphorus is a major problem. The content of available aluminium may reach toxic levels (84% have acidity constraints), as may manganese also. On the other hand, the physical characteristics of these soils are quite favourable; because of their high permeability and stable micro-structure they are less prone to erosion. Ferralsols are easy to work but the surface is liable to compaction and crusting if heavy machinery is used to clear forest or if they are overgrazed.
The chemical constraints of these soils may be overcome in part by careful fertilization, including both phosphate and lime, but attention must be paid to mode and timing of application. Ferralsols are used to grow a variety of annual and perennial tropical crops, either by sedentary or shifting cultivators. According to the FAO classification there are still Acrisols and Leptosols. In a lesser extent, Lixisols, Plinthosols, Arenosols and others.
According to the Soil Aptitude Chart of Brazil, 35% of the territory is not recommended for agriculture due to low fertility and steep slopes. Salinity is not a significant factor, accounting for 2% of the land surface. 7% of soils are shallow. Only 9% of the surface has no constraints for agricultural use, with little nutrient limitation, good drainage as well as physical soil properties, and sufficient precipitation.
The climate of a given area is conditioned by several factors, among them are: temperature, rains, atmospheric humidity, winds and atmospheric pressure - which, in turn, are conditioned by factors such as altitude, latitude, relief characteristics, vegetation and continentality.
Brazil, due to its continental dimensions, possesses a very wide climatic diversity, influenced by its geographical configuration, its significant coastal extension, its relief and the dynamics of the masses of air on its territory. This last factor assumes great importance, because it acts directly on the temperatures and the pluviometric indices in the different areas of the country.
The air masses, especially those that occur more directly in Brazil, are, according to the Statistical Annual of Brazil (IBGE): the Equatorial air mass, which is divided into Continental Equatorial and Atlantic Equatorial; the Tropical air mass, also divided into Continental Tropical and Atlantic Tropical; and the Polar Atlantic air mass. All these air masses provide the climatic differentiation in Brazil (Figure 4).
Thus climates vary from very humid and hot climates, coming from the Equatorial air masses, as is the case for the great part of the Amazon area; to very strong semi-arid climates, such as those in the hinterlands of north-eastern Brazil.
The Northern Area and part of the interior of the North-east region experience annual medium temperatures above 25o C, while in the South of the country and part of the Southeast annual medium temperatures are below 20o C. Absolute maxima above 40o C are observed in the interior lowlands of the Northeast Area with little variability during the year, which characterises the hot climate of these regions. In mid-latitudes, temperature variation throughout the year is very important for climate definition in the depressions, valleys and lowlands of the Southeast; in the "Pantanal" and lower areas of the Middle-West; and in the central depressions and in the valley of the river Uruguay, in the Southern Area. Absolute minima, with frequent negative values, are observed in the mountainous summits of the South-east and in a large part of the South, where they are accompanied by frosts and snow. During winter, there is a greater penetration of high-latitude cold air masses, which contributes to the predominance of low temperatures.
Because of its great territorial extension, Brazil presents varied precipitation and temperature regimes. All over the country, a great variety of climates with distinct regional characteristics can be found. In the North of the country, a rainy equatorial climate is found, with practically no dry season. In the Northeast, the rainy season, with low rainfall indexes, is restricted to a few months, characterising a semi-arid climate. The Southeast and West-Central regions are influenced not only by tropical systems but also by mid-latitudes, with a dry season well defined in the winter and a rainy summer season with convective rain. The South of Brazil, due to its latitude, is affected mostly by mid-latitude systems, in which the frontal systems cause most of the rain during the year.
Therefore three rainfall regimes can be identified in the northern region of Brazil:
Different rainfall regimes are identified in the NE. In the north of the region, the main rainy season is from March to May, in the south and Southeast rain occurs mainly during the period from December to February, and in the east the rainy season occurs from May to July. The main rainy season in the NE, including the north and east of the region, which accounts for 60% of the annual rainfall, occurs from April to July and the dry season, for the greatest part of the region, takes place from September to December.
Southeast and West-Central Regions
"Amazônia" (Amazon Forest)
This area possesses a great variety of vegetation physiognomies, from dense forests to floodplain open mixed forests. Dense forests are represented by forests of the Lowland ("terra firme"), the "várzea" forests which are periodically flooded, and the "igapó" forests, which are permanently flooded as happens in almost the entire central region of the Amazon.
The savannahs and savannah woodlands of "Roraima" are on poor soils in the northern end of the basin of "Rio Branco". The "Campinaranas" or "Caatinga amazônica" are white sand forest, being spread in "stains" along Rio Negro's basin. These last two formations consist of the "Cerrado" type of vegetation, thus being areas of "Cerrado" isolated from the main "Cerrado" ecosystem of the Brazilian central plateau. Mixed forest with palms, semi-deciduous forests, lianes, bamboo forests and tidal zones are also important vegetation types.
The Semi-arid "Caatinga" (see Plate 1)
The "Cerrado" biome, which has suffered from the enormous advance of the agricultural frontier in recent decades, has already lost over 40% of its native vegetation through the expansion of crops, cattle ranching, and dramatic increases in human population. More than 50% of the remaining natural ecosystems have been degraded. Burning, both for the maintenance and creation of cattle pasture and for plantations is a common practice, and results in soil erosion as well as serious loss of biological diversity. Economic activities of some sort are present throughout the majority of the remaining area.
The Atlantic Forest
There is great climatic variability throughout its distribution, going from temperate, super-humid climates in the extreme south, to tropical humid and semi-arid in the northeast. The uneven relief of the coastal zone adds still more variability to this ecosystem, which includes montane, restingas (coastal forests and scrub on sandy soils), mangroves and the "Araucária" forests and grasslands of the Campos zone in the south. In the valleys trees are generally well developed, forming a dense forest. On slopes the forest is less dense, due to frequent fall of trees. It is one of the most important repositories of biodiversity in the country and in the world.
The "Pantanal Mato-Grossense"
The Fields of the South (Campos zone or Pampas)
The Forest of "Araucárias" (see Plate 5)
Coastal and Insular Ecosystems
The dimensions and complexity of Brazil's biodiversity, both marine and terrestrial, may mean that it will never be completely described. Officially five great biomes are recognised. The Amazonian biome comprises 40% of the world's tropical forest, being the largest remaining rain forest of the world. "Cerrado" is the largest extent of savannah in a single country. Atlantic forest extends from south to northeast covering an area of 1 million km2. This biome at present includes the Campos zone, covering 13,608,000 ha of natural pastures in Southern Brazil with more than 400 grass and 150 legume forage species, which is not officially recognised as a biome. "Caatinga" is a vast semi-arid area of about 1,000,000 km2, contrasting with the "Pantanal" and its 140,000 km2 of wetlands. Coastal and marine biomes add up to 3,500,000 km2 under Brazilian jurisdiction. There are numerous subsystems and ecosystems within these biomes, each with unique characteristics, and the conservation of ecotones between them is vital for the conservation of their biodiversity.
Recently, Brazil has made strong efforts towards the preservation of its biodiversity. Nowadays, 130,550,000 ha, or 15.37% of Brazil’s area have been legally declared as protected areas. Moreover, 200,000 records of plant germplasm are being conserved throughout the country (24% are native species).
For all information on livestock numbers the reader is referred to Table 2 in section 1. Concerning pastures, the last official census in 1996 indicated 177,700,472 ha as the total area comprised by natural and cultivated pastures. In 1970, only 25 million ha were cultivated pastures, increasing to 100 million ha in 1996. By contrast, natural pastures decreased from 100 to 75 million ha. Recent data indicate that cultivated pastures in Brazil attained more than 130 million ha and natural pastures account for less than 70 million ha,
The main important cultivated pastures are grasses of African origin, which in general, show great adaptation to the Brazilian climate and soils. Some species have become naturalised, since they were first introduced through slave trading in the eighteenth century. Grass was used as bedding for slaves during the trip to the new country.
Until 1985, government policy provided substantial incentives for expansion of agricultural and cattle-ranching frontiers. Between 1970 and 1985, financial incentives and subsidized credits totalled US$ 700,000,000, mostly involving deforestation for cattle ranching. This changed some regions in a remarkable and quick way, the "Cerrado" being the best example. Up until 1960 the "Cerrado" was exploited extensively, with a few farmers using natural pastures for cow-calf operations and many small farmers cultivating cassava and beans, mainly along river margins for subsistence. This changed drastically with government investments in highways and railways or direct agricultural incentives. Monocultures of cash crops or cultivated grasses spread to 40% of this system, and the population quadrupled. Export products, such as soybean, have increased notably. Commercial, large-scale, mechanised and capital-intensive farming has replaced small farmers, who have decreased by 1,000,000 in the last decade (all regions concerned). Socially, the development of modern agriculture in the "Cerrado" has not improved its already uneven social inequality, and also it has brought ecological costs such as landscape fragmentation, loss of biodiversity, biological invasion, soil erosion, water pollution, changes in burning regimes, land degradation and heavy use of chemicals.
Savannahs are responsible for almost 55% of the country's beef and pioneer cattle ranching; they provide good examples of a production system. Natural vegetation is removed and soil fertility is sometimes improved by fertilizers. All these operations can cost around US$ 600/ha or more. Roads and transport are still constraints in many situations. Alternative ways of land exploitation include partial removal of vegetation, followed by burning, disking and direct seeding of pastures. Depending on financial possibilities and local market needs, first operations can be crop production such as upland rice to reduce land clearance and preparation costs and use the residual "natural fertility" incorporated in the soil.
Farming systems in Brazil may be composed of cow-calf operations, store and finishing, with farmers doing all phases or specialising. Beef and dairy enterprises in tropical pasture-based systems are notoriously of low productivity. The low soil fertility, the over-exploitation of native grasslands, the low genetic potential of the animals and the poor management of soil, pasture and animal components are all arguments used to explain these "low-productivity systems". Productivity indexes for cattle enterprises show a lack of productivity (Table 3).
The long payback time on cattle production systems compared to other agricultural enterprises also restrains technology diffusion and adoption. As a result, the financial policy is focusing investment on crops other than pastures to allow farmers to have their investment back as soon as possible. Recently, the beef cattle sector has experienced great positive changes. There has been a reduction of herd age to slaughter from 4 to 3 years on average in the last ten years. But the birth rate is still 60% and calving interval 21 months.
The average beef production in Brazil is 30 kg/ha/year, which can easily be increased by the adoption of already available "conventional" technologies such as:
Regarding national markets there are signs of a growing potential for beef consumption in Brazil, even with a per capita consumption of 38 kg/year it is important to stress that at least 50% of the population have limited access to meat due to poverty. In terms of international markets, a vast potential for expansion can be foreseen with great competitiveness due to the possibility of increasing grazing production at substantially lower costs than Europe and USA.
For milk production, while the EU, USA and Argentina have 805, 105 and 22 thousand farms, respectively, involved in dairy production, Brazil has 1.2M farms involved in this activity, with 40% having less than 50 ha, which is basically a family production system (Cordeiro, 2000).
In the late nineteen-eighties a survey indicated that, to collect 46,000 tons of milk (the amount to feed 42% of "São Paulo" city for a month) it was necessary to travel 3,400,000 km monthly (Corsi et al., 2001). This corresponds to a trip 85 times around the Earth monthly, and implies that only 13.5 kg of milk was collected for each km travelled. These data reflected the overall low milk productivity as well as the inefficient milk storage and collection system in the country, obliging the dairy industry to collect milk on daily schedules. Extension support associated with logistical approaches in milk storage and collection reduced the travelled distance by eleven times in "Minas Gerais" State, and nowadays, 1.96 tons of milk are collected in 40,066 km or 49 kg of milk/km travelled. It is possible to conclude that the higher milk yield played a vital role in this process since the number of Brazilian dairy farmers decreased in this period. Farmers assisted by trained professionals demonstrated significant improvements in productivity levels and also reductions in production costs and consequently the system of milk collection experienced significant improvements.
The increase in milk yield was a consequence of new approaches to several components of the systems including improved techniques on animal feeding, reproduction, and health. Attention paid to better data collection and on progress towards better farm management also played an important role in the intensification process. The other side of this search for competitiveness and the "intensification" process is the elimination of farmers who can't attain the proposed scale and those who live in remote areas. About 95% of livestock farmers are land owners. Fewer than 10% of farms hold two thirds of the flock reflecting land concentration described earlier and the scale dependency of this kind of activity (Table 4).
Beef production is developed in farms over 100 ha, which involve 82% of livestock. Milk production, by contrast, has a large number of livestock in farms of less than 50 ha, which contribute 39% of national production.
The present Forest Code demands that natural forests be maintained over 80% of private properties in the Amazon and 20% of private rural properties elsewhere. This agriculture legislation is an important "constraint" to farmers when about 5,500,000 ha of permanent pastures are seeded yearly for pasture renovation, and 80,000 tons of seeds are required per year, 50% being Brachiaria brizantha at present. 100,000 tons of seeds of Avena strigosa are sown annually, mainly in crop rotations by direct drilling, and 8,000 tons of Lolium multiflorum and 15,000 tons of Pennisetum americanum for grazing or crop rotations. Of the total area of pastures, 50% are native pastures, but cultivated pastures increased from 30 million ha in 1970 to 105 million ha in 1995, increasing stocking rate from 0.5 to 0.9 head/ha.