Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Changing Agricultural Landscape in the Brazilian Amazon

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Since colonial explorers first sought to transform the Amazon into an agricultural landscape, agriculture in the Amazon has signified a means for taming the “wild” rainforest and benefiting human society. Alfred Russell Wallace, an English naturalist that studied in the Amazon from 184-5, believed that in the Amazon “nature and the climate are nowhere more favorable to the labourer, and I fearlessly assert that here the ‘primeval’ forest can be converted into rich pasture and meadow land, into cultivated fields, gardens and orchards, containing every variety of produce, with half the labour…” (Wallace 185 5 in de Onis 1 4). The belief that the Amazon’s lush greenery indicated fertile soils suitable for commercial agriculture carried weight throughout the agricultural development plans of the 160s-180s. Agrarian reform programs and the development of the cattle industry during this period sought to ease population pressures in northeastern and southern Brazil and catalyze economic growth. Decades later, scientists, policymakers and regional planners question the suitability of this agricultural development model for the Amazon due to its social and environmental consequences (e.g., rural migration, abandonment of settlement plots, soil erosion and deforestation). Despite the lessons learned, a similar agricultural model based on the export of soybeans is being implemented in the Santar�m region. The economic and scientific “success” of soybean production in Brazil’s cerrado is in part responsible for the push to expand soybean production to the Amazon. Fearnside (001 7) explains that the political discourse argues that “a few decades ago no one believed that the cerrado was good for anything, and now it is a great producer of soybeans. The next line in such rhetoric normally goes, ‘If only we believe in Amazonia…’” Just as previous agricultural development models were believed to save the Amazon from social and economic decay, soybeans are being taunted as the means for fast-track economic development. Advocates stress that soybean production will bring employment opportunities, improve infrastructure, diminish rural migration, and establish a sustainable economic path for the Amazon.

In this paper, I will look at the potential social and economic benefits proffered by the political-economic discourse for the Santar�m region. In doing so, I will demonstrate the political-economic structures that are encouraging the expansion of soy into the Amazon, namely politically connected agro-businesses from central-southern Brazil, the government-sponsored infrastructural development program Avança Brasil, and the global soybean market. This paper will illustrate how Avança Brasil and the political-economic strength of Brazil’s agro-industry reflects Brazil’s development history of supporting large-scale economic activities, particularly agro-industrial enterprises that benefit large-landholders and national development objectives. In addition, I will explore the future outlook of the soybean agricultural model for the Santar�m region with respect to sustaining rural livelihoods, regional food security, and generating regional economic opportunities. Lastly, I will briefly discuss how an export-oriented agricultural model can co-exist with smallholder agricultural production.

Agricultural Development in the Amazon 160s-180s

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Amazonian agricultural systems are a myriad of commercial and subsistence practices that involve cash crops and fruit trees, homegardens, swidden agriculture, and multi-purpose trees and shrubs. Development programs from 160-180 introduced an agricultural model to the Amazon that contrasted with the existing agricultural systems. They aimed to modernize and commercialize agriculture in the region in order to economically and socially integrate the Amazon with Brazil.

Several government programs systematically carried out the agricultural development plan including Operation Amazonia, the National Integration Program, and Program of Agricultural, Livestock, and Mineral Poles in Amazonia (POLOAMAZONIA), which directed agricultural programs from two levels-smallholder land settlement and large-scale cattle ranching (Mahar 18) . Moran (176) explains that the entire colonization process was overseen by National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) advertising, the application process, transportation to settlement areas, land tenure, and supplying household goods and construction materials. Though it was reported that the application procedure was not consistent for each candidate (e.g., some were expected to be literate while others were not), the deliberate application process sought a particular “settler” profile (Ibid). As a result, the land settlement process was the government’s means for controlling who would be settled, where settlement would occur, and how Amazonia would be occupied. Mahar (18 11) supports this claim with respect to Operation Amazonia, which he asserts, “ensur[ed] national sovereignty by establishing self-sustaining settlements in frontier regions”. In this respect, colonists (colonos) marked the Amazon as Brazilian property.

As part of a development scheme, colonos represented progress and modernization. Other social groups such as caboclos were ignored entirely by government programs because they represented pre-modern, colonial times. Nugent (1 7) explains that in order to build a credible story for modern development in the Amazon, “the absence of ‘viable’ societies” in the Amazon needed to be portrayed. The colonos were to replace “pre-modern” populations as they were “unsightly obstacles to a vision of progress” (Nugent 1 7). Consequently, existing social groups’ knowledge about agriculture was ignored. Moran (176 0) notes that government administrators regarded caboclos as “ignorant of agriculture…which perhaps explain why few newcomers sought the caboclo for advice.” Thus, colonists relied on government institutions for agricultural knowledge and tools, which were in keeping with the development policies’ commercial agricultural objectives (e.g., high-yielding seed varieties) (Moran 176 56). (However, overtime those who remained in the agricultural sector integrated caboclo and indigenous agricultural techniques (Ibid). Need?)

In addition to contributing to the government’s national integration plan, the development agenda for the Amazon supported large-scale economic activities such as cattle-ranching and mining to boost economic growth. Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI) policies in the post-World War II years until 164 set the foundation for a development model and power structure that favored industrial agribusiness (Hecht 18) and encouraged a similar process for agricultural development in the Amazon. Support for large-scale agricultural enterprises came in the form of infrastructural development (e.g., road building) and economic incentives including subsidies for landownership and agricultural inputs. The primary agri-business to receive support in the Amazon was cattle ranches, an industry that was controlled by a handful of families with political and economic power in the Amazon (Hecht 18). The increased economic support for cattle ranching through programs like POLOAMAZONIA, strengthened cattle ranchers’ political-economic power in the region. At the same time, land settlement schemes, systematically relocated a poor class to the Amazon with no regional political or economic power. As a result, the two-tiered agricultural development programs established a politically and economically divided agrarian sector in the Amazon.

Soybean Development in Brazil

While cattle ranching received government assistance in the Amazon, soy farming was beginning to change the cerrado landscape (savannah) of central-southern Brazil. Support for soy farms came in the form of funds for land acquisition and subsidies and credit for tractors and inputs (draft Hecht 001). The assistance provided for soybean production initiated a trend toward larger farm sizes and the expulsion of smallholders. From 165-180, soybean farms displaced .5 million smallholders in the state of Parana alone (Ibid). Overall, central-southern Brazil witnessed a decrease in the number of smallholdings and a 1. percent increase in 1,000-10,000 hectare farms and a 1.5 percent increase of 10,000 hectare farms (Ibid). Hecht (Ibid) notes that this trend in farm size and expulsions was due to smallholders’ inability to compete with the economies of scale favored by soy farms. In the 80s and 0s, these trends continued as soy farms moved northward seeking better soils and increasing family landholdings (Ibid).

The development agenda from 160-180 saw the expansion of large-scale agri-business throughout Brazil. In central-southern Brazil, the agro-industrial model resulted in the displacement of millions of smallholders practicing combinations of traditional and commercial agriculture. While central-southern Brazil witnessed a decrease in smallholder farming and the diversity of agricultural practices, the Amazon region increased its number of smallholders as many of the displaced migrated to the Amazon on their own or under INCRA settlement programs (Ibid). As noted above, the flux of smallholders to the region and the growing political-economic strength of cattle ranchers generated disparate landholdings and political-economic power in the region. The implications for the agricultural landscape, on the one hand, increased agricultural diversity with the addition of a new social group of smallholder farmers, the colonos, who adopted commercial agricultural crops and would eventually integrate these crops into a variety of agricultural practices. At the same time, the overall development agenda supported an agro-industrial model that encouraged the production of a few commercial commodities, which was cattle at this point in time. With the northern expansion of soy production and land concentration in the Amazon moving into the hands of a small number of agrarian elite, the development programs of this period set a political-economic framework suitable for soy production in the region.

An Export-Oriented Agricultural Model for the Amazon

The previous section laid out the process of land concentration and the implementation of a two-tiered agricultural model in the Amazon. While land holdings today remain disproportionately held by large enterprises, smallholders are important with respect to providing local grain and produce for Amazonian cities and rural communities (Shapiro 00, personal communication and IBGE 185). In addition, cattle ranches direct products to domestic markets (IBGE 185). Thus, the current agricultural landscape in the Amazon functions within local and national spheres. The recent push for increasing soy production in the Amazon symbolizes a shift in the region’s agricultural model. Fearnside (001 6) points to this shift

The role of global markets in soybean expansion is in marked contrast to the dominant land use in deforested parts of the Brazilian Amazon, namely cattle pasture. Cattle ranching has, in the context of Brazilian Amazonia, been largely motivated by ulterior motives such as land speculation, land-tenure establishment, and fiscal incentives.

Two main elements are encouraging this regional shift-the global soy market and the national agro-industry. The current global soy market is favorable to Brazil for several reasons global demand for soy, cheap production costs in Brazil, the production of non-genetically modified soy products, and trade arrangements with China and the European Union (FAS 00). The advantageous global market is encouraging the expansion of central-southern Brazil’s agricultural model to the Amazon. In addition, Brazil’s efforts to take advantage of the global soy market can in part be explained by the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) restructuring of Brazil’s economy in the late 10s to pay back its mounting debt (Jacquacu 00). By the late 180s Brazil’s debt service (the sum of the principal and the interest on loans) equaled 10 percent of its export income (Porter and Shepard 18 50). In order to increase their export income, the IMF’s structural adjustment program for Brazil mandated “increasing Brazil’s export earnings and attracting more foreign investments” (Jacquacu 00 58). In particular, Brazil was encouraged to support the expansion of industrial agriculture with price and trade liberalization polices (draft Hecht 001). Hecht (Ibid ) explains, “In a global market with numerous producers of rice, wheat, coffee, cocoa and sugarcane, Brazil was technically one of the very few countries with both the economic, farming, territorial and research infrastructure to take on mechanized soybean.” As seen with Brazil’s earlier soy expansion programs, the pillars of an export model for agriculture include an agro-industrial sector with the capital inputs for mechanized agriculture (tractors, transportation, etc.), support infrastructure, and favorable conditions for purchasing land. The following section will outline how this foundation exists or is being developed in the Amazon.

Avança Brasil, a program for constructing and strengthening infrastructure throughout Brazil, will provide US$4 billion over 8 years for paving highways, improving highway conditions, constructing railways and industrial waterways, and establishing energy networks through gas pipelines, hydroelectric dams and transmission lines in the Amazon (Fearnside 00). The transportation aspect of the infrastructural program is directed at reducing the transportation costs of exporting soy grown in central-southern Brazil (Ibid). In addition, the government’s commitment to improving transportation networks encouraged the private sector to invest in the region. For example, Cargill built a port in Santar�m for soy export primarily because of the planned infrastructural developments (Cargill unpublished).

Avança Brasil is similar to the Amazon’s infrastructural development plans from 160-180 in that infrastructure is viewed as a means for building commercial enterprises and attracting foreign investment. However, the importance of soy in catalyzing infrastructural development is significantly different from the military government’s development agenda. Rather than establishing agricultural development in the Amazon for national sovereignty, soy production shapes the region to meet global market demands. McMichael (000) notes the tendency for IMF export-oriented programs to deemphasize state managers for global managers of exports. He states, “In that sense, national policy embodies a global logic…[However,] global managerialism does not necessarily come from the outside; it can be expressed in the very policies and procedures of states as they attempt to reposition their producers in the global economy” (Ibid 14). Under this framework, Brazil directs soy production and related developments in a manner that enables their participation in regional and global trade agreements such as Mercosul and the World Trade Organization (Ibid).

In addition to aiding an export-oriented agricultural model in the Amazon, the soy-related infrastructural developments are encouraging soy farmers from central-southern Brazil to relocate to the Amazon. Between 15-, the states of Pará and Amazonas increased soybean production by 00 and 100 percent, respectively (draft Hecht 001). Hecht (Ibid) claims that the state of Pará has the potential to cultivate up to 0 million hectares of soybeans. Cargill, the Brazilian agricultural agency (EMBRAPA), and the U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service report that soybean production will continue to expand in the Santar�m region (Cargill and P., Joanne personal communication 00 and FAS 00). While slightly differing figures for the potential of soybean expansion are reported, approximately 515 hectares could be transformed into soybean fields in the region. Regardless of the exactness of the figures, documents such as soil maps for mechanized agriculture, a CD developed for Cargill by consultants and a municipal campaign in favor of soybean cultivation, demonstrates a level of commitment to the export-oriented agricultural model for the Santar�m region (P., Joanne and Cargill personal communication 00).

In order to elucidate the regional agricultural vision, it is necessary to profile who the soybean farmers are with respect to social history and networks, capital holdings and their goals for agricultural in the Santar�m region. Fearnside (001 8) points out, “Because soybeans require heavy capital investment in machinery, land preparation, and agricultural inputs, this crop is inherently the domain of wealthy agribusiness entrepreneurs rather than poor farmers.” By many respects, the first fleet of soy farmers in the Amazon represent the agro-business sector of the south and demonstrate that the same agricultural model employed in central-southern Brazil is at work in the Amazon. Interviews with three soy farmers in Belterra, Pará demonstrated that 1) two were from the southern state Matto Grosso; ) in addition to soy cultivation, two are involved in agri-businesses such as seed sales and farm machinery; ) two have credit arrangements with Cargill for agricultural supplies and business start-up costs; 4) they bought land from smallholders for their farms; and 5) their social and familial networks are connected to agri-business in the south (Reche, Shapiro and Espinosa personal communication, 00). These findings support Fearnside’s claim that soy farmers are “agribusiness entrepreneurs” with respect to their capital holdings and access to credit-both of which are necessary for establishing the agro-industrial model pioneered in central-southern Brazil. Moreover, the ability to purchase land from smallholders initiates a land concentration process beneficial to the central-southern agro-industrial model. Hecht (draft 001) notes that “the most recent, northern areas of cultivation clearly show a trend toward much larger holdings.” The lack of political-economic power granted smallholders under the development agenda of 160-180 created a land market favorable to agro-industrial farmers. For instance, the Belterra soy farmers noted that following the purchase of smallholders’ land, the land value increased up to three times the original sale price (Reche, Shapiro and Espinosa personal communication 00). Soy farmers’ accounts of buying land from smallholders reveals a potential growing pattern of smallholder “buy outs” for the region in order to support the growth of the agro-industry.

In addition to land concentration, capital holdings and credit access, their professional class as indicated by their familial and social networks (e.g., family members own farm machinery companies and/or have agricultural landholdings throughout Brazil) provides the Belterra soy farmers with business opportunities and connections that can reduce financial risks and increase their success in the Santar�m region. Though the soy farmers in the region are not formally organized, their southern origins form a political and economic link to southern political networks, which can impact soy-related decision for the Amazon. For example, Blairo Maggi, a politician from Matto Grosso who is financing soy planting in the Santar�m region, is applying political pressure to pave the Cuiabá-Santar�m highway (Fearnside 001).

The political and economic networks not only demonstrate their professional status as agribusiness entrepreneurs, it also indicates an agro-industrial vision for the region. The soy farmers explored various Amazon locations (e.g., Roraima) before settling in the Santar�m region. Their decision to settle in Belterra is a calculated business decision that was supported by the favorable agro-industrial environment being cultivated in the region. For instance, the Belterra farmers noted their proximity to the Santar�m port and the higher profit earnings as benefits to soy farming in the Santar�m area (Reche, Shapiro and Espinosa personal communication 00). As a result, the Belterra farmers are establishing a long-term business foundation in the area. Combined, the three Belterra farmers are involved in research and development studies, farm machinery sales, seed sales, and planting timber trees for future sale (Ibid). These efforts indicate a belief that they are the pioneering farmers for an industry that is on the brink of exploding in the region. One soy farmer, Pio Stefanelo, demonstrated this pioneer spirit with a statement that he is improving the economic opportunities in the region and advancing Brazil’s economic growth (Shapiro, personal communication 00). Another farmer, Ronaldo Reche, noted his contribution to the Belterra community such as maintaining town roads (Reche, personal communication 00). His description conveyed a “neighborly” spirit that stressed his positive influence for the community and the region. Fearnside (001 7) notes the tendency for the “patriotic spirit” to be upheld as an explanation for soy expansion and settlement in the Amazon region. Much like the rationale for the Amazon’s agricultural development model in the 60s-80s, soy farmers’ envision an agro-industry that can provide employment, improve local infrastructure, generate personal and national economic progress, and transform the “fruitless” Amazon into a productive landscape.

A Changing Agricultural Landscape?

The Belterra soy farmers’ are not alone in their assertion that soy production could “save” the Amazon from being an economically wasted landscape. A Cargill agronomist stated that despite the region’s capacity for mechanized agriculture (based on soil-types), colonos would never be able to realize the region’s agricultural potential because they lack capital (Cargill personal communication 00). The authors of The Dynamics of Deforestation and Economic Growth make a related argument by concluding that paving the Cuiabá-Santar�m highway and intensifying agriculture, as soybean production does, would strengthen the local economy and diminish smallholders’ need to migrate to new rural areas (Reis et al. 00 in Glenn 00). The underlying assumption in both statements is that left in the hands of colonos and other smallholders the region will remain an economic failure.

With respect to development planning in the Amazon, the argument that without external assistance and the tools of development, the Amazon and its people will remain destitute is not a new one. In his classic depiction of life in the Amazon, Charles Wagley (15 ) describes his work as “a study of the adaptation of man to a tropical environment…a case study of a ‘backward’ and underdeveloped area.” Wagley (15 ) frames his ethnography of caboclo society in the larger context of modernism and development as he notes “There is an awakening interest in the economically marginal regions of the world.” He outlines economic and social voids that exist in caboclo communities-education, proper nutrition, agricultural intensification, and modern technologies-and calls for “social and cultural changes” to transform “backward” people to modern men (15 1-1). Wagley’s depiction reflects the modernist discourse that penetrated the global economic and political forces after World War II (Escobar 188). Escobar explains that the political rearrangement of the globe in the early post-World War II period remade the world into “underdeveloped” and “developed” countries. As discussed earlier, the agricultural development models of the 60s-80s were directed under the same development discourse. However, while many of the same benefits are attributed to soybean development as for previous development models, soy farming represents a new agricultural model based on exports and global markets. Thus, the question is how might the new agricultural model transform the Amazon’s agricultural landscape? The following section will address this question with respect to the future of rural livelihoods, local food security and the region’s economic opportunities.

Economic opportunities

One of the most noted regional benefits from soy farming is employment. Cargill claims that soy farming produces 1 direct job for cultivated hectares of soy (personal communication 00). The Santar�m infrastructure department stated that 6 indirect jobs and 1 direct job would be created per 0 cultivated hectares of soy (P., Joanne personal communication 00). As both of these figures are not documented and appear to reflect personal estimations rather than research, the potential employment from soy farming is better accessed from actual on-farm statistics. Daniel Brito, a Belterra farmer with 50 cultivated hectares of soy, reported having 8 workers (Espinosa, personal communication 00). Pio Stefanelo, a Belterra farmer with 850 cultivated hectares of soy (in two separate plots), employs 0 workers (Shapiro, personal communication 00). Ronaldo Reche, a Belterra farmer with 00 cultivated hectares of soy, reported that 10-14 workers are sufficient for his business (Reche, personal communication 00). In sum, these three farms provide roughly 1 job per 40 cultivated hectares.

With respect to regional economic opportunities, the important aspects to consider are do the soy farms offer employment for local residents and is their a net gain in local employment. Interviews with five Belterra residents suggested that few local residents work on the soy farms (personal communication 00). All, but one resident, claimed they did not know of Belterra residents finding employment opportunities on the farms. When asked why local residents did not work for the soy farms, two interviewees explained that soy farming is mechanized agriculture and, therefore, requires laborers skilled in this form of agriculture, which is not the case for Belterra residents. The interview findings supports Hecht’s (draft 001 4-5) notion that in Brazil, mechanized agriculture creates a “’labor aristocracy’-people capable of using and caring for very valuable heavy machinery, including combines, computers and driers and managing complex data pertaining to timing and management of the crop.” As a result, soy farms in the Amazon employ laborers from the south, which is an assertion supported by the interview responses. In addition to hiring few, if any, local residents, Hecht (Ibid) and Zockun (180 in Fearnside 001) argue that soy expansion in-directly results in the marginalization of local labor due to a shift in land tenure that decreases smallholdings. For instance, Zockun states that in Paraná, 11 agricultural workers were displaced for every one finding employment on the soy farms. The Belterra soy farmers’ accounts of buying land from smallholders practicing agriculture indicates that a similar decrease in employment opportunities could be under way in the Santar�m region.

The initial employment findings suggest that soy farming may transform the social make-up of the rural landscape. As Hecht (draft 001) points out, local residents lack access to the Sulista hiring networks, and as a result, soy farms resemble islands of southern businessmen and laborers. McMichael (000 4) notes the tendency for industrialization projects in developing countries to generate “islands” of economic and social improvement. Interviews with Cargill, soy farmers and the local municipality did not demonstrate an initiative to break this employment pattern. A Cargill representative remarked that smallholders have other means than agriculture for sustaining their families such as fishing (Cargill personal communication 00). The Belterra soy farmers indicated that they did not know where the smallholders went after they purchased their land and expressed no concern for changing the relationship between the smallholders and the soy farmer. While the local municipality expressed concern about the potential for urbanization problems (e.g., growth of favelas, lack of social services, employment, etc.), there was no mention of a concerted program to mediate or prevent the employment trend (P., Joanne personal communication 00).

Food security

The expulsion of smallholders and the trend toward large farm sizes deemphasizes an agricultural mosaic that includes the region’s traditional roça crops-cassava, rice, beans, and corn-and fruit trees and homegardens. In Belterra and other locations along the Cuiabá-Santar�m highway, soy-rotations replaced smallholder roças. Changing the local pattern of food production is typical of developing countries that promote agro-industrialization for urban and export markets (McMichael 000). In these “new agricultural countries” agro-exports “either replace or supplement the traditional exports of the colonial era (Ibid 10).

In the case of the Brazilian Amazon, smallholder agricultural products are either ignored with the onset of agro-industrialization, as was the case for caboclos during the 160-180s, or shut down in the case of buy outs from soy farms. Fearnside (001 4) points out that along with the arrival of soy production the “lack of production of food for local consumption [occurs] because crop land used for subsistence agriculture is taken over by soybeans…” While it is too soon to predict the extent to which smallholder production will be replaced by soybean farms, the figures reported by Cargill and EMBRAPA with respect to the potential hectares suitable for soy production in the region (Cargill, personal communication 00 and P., Joanne, personal communication 00) indicate that maintaining local food security could be a future concern. In addition to replacing smallholder production, soy farms involved in rice rotations are in direct competition with smallholder rice production. Cargill’s literature on soy production in the Santar�m region states that “Santar�m is an optimal region for planting grains also because it is possible to have two harvests in the same agricultural year” (Cargill unpublished 4). The company stresses that planting rice cultivation maximizes fixed production costs and prepares the soils for soy. Due to these benefits, Cargill recommends a rice-soy rotation and/or rotations with corn and sorghum. Reche and other soy farmers noted the added economic benefit of selling rice in the local market (Reche, personal communication 00). Stefanelo and Clovis Casagrande, both soy farmers in the Santar�m region, believe that mechanized rice production will dominate the Santar�m municipality (Fujiyoshi 00). In fact, over the last five years Casagrande’s rice production grew to equal half of the Santar�m region’s rice production (Ibid). Santar�m area soy farmers envision absorbing rice markets in Bel�m and Manaus as well. Casagrande indicates that they are negotiating with grain buyers in these Amazonian cities (Ibid).

Transitioning the local rice market to mechanized farms with medium- to large-holdings could have a variety of regional impacts including devaluing smallholder rice production and minimizing the overall diversity of agricultural systems in the region-both of which signal a new framework for local food security. A Saude e Alegria program manager, a non-governmental organization that works on community development projects in the Santar�m region, indicated that soy farms are changing the local rice market and deemphasizing smallholder agriculture (Saude e Alegria, personal communication 00). If smallholders lose access to the local rice market, as Saude e Alegria and soy farmers’ plans suggest they might, a new agricultural landscape could reveal itself. McMichael (000 17) explains that “smallholder agriculture is ‘multi-functional’ in protecting biodiversity, enabling food security, anchoring rural social development, and preserving cultural heritage.” Agriculture as “multi-functional’ is not in keeping with an export-oriented agricultural economy that focuses solely on one crop for trade purposes. Agricultural functions such as local food security are no longer gained through local self-sufficiency but through a world agricultural system. The following statement by a US trade representative supports this notion with respect to food security “Food security-the ability to acquire the food you need when you need it-is best provided through a smooth-functioning world market…” McMichael (Ibid 17). Case-studies such as Japan and South Korea demonstrate that “this liberalization…requires dislocating a long-standing self-sufficiency in rice…” (Ibid). The export-oriented agricultural model playing out in the Amazon calls for a similar pattern of dislodging local self-sufficiency. In doing so, it supports the disintegration of smallholders’ myriad of agricultural practices.

Rural Livelihoods

Diminishing the importance of smallholder agriculture alters the economic opportunities available in the rural sector. As discussed above, soy farmers offer little to no employment for Santar�m’s local residents. Soy farmers, Belterra residents, the Sindicato dos Trabalhadores Rurais (STR), and the Santar�m municipality all reported that smallholders who sold their land to soy farmers went to Santar�m or Manaus for work (Reche, personal communication 00, Belterra school teacher, personal communication 00, Belterra organizer for STR, personal communication 00, and P., Joanne, personal communication 00). Hecht (draft 001 6) notes that this is not a surprising finding as “…the economic differences between traditional and industrial sectors stimulates the very high rates of urbanization typical of closing frontiers.” McMichael (000 11) explains that in a globalized agricultural system “peasant farmers lose markets to cheaper imported foods or surrender their land to larger commercial agro-export operations, [causing them to] flood the towns and cities looking for work.” Urbanization in the Amazon is not a new phenomenon. In fact, the majority of the Amazon’s population is urban (Browder and Godfrey 17). In Manaus, the establishment of the Zona Franca de Manaus (Free Trade Zone) in 167 encouraged rural-to-urban migration and resulted in the city’s population going from 00,000 in 160 to over 1.5 million today (Ibid). By diminishing economic support (e.g., markets, subsidies, etc.) for rural smallholders, industrialization, whether it’s a free trade zone or agro-industry, redefines urban and rural spaces and the livelihood practices embodied in each.

Regional Planning

The industrialization and de-peasantization process outlined in the previous section indicated striking transformations for the Santar�m region with respect to economic opportunities, food security and a shifting rural landscape. While the projections such as diminished local food security and urbanization are typical results of industrializing agriculture, efforts by the STR, extractive reserves and the new administration’s Fome Zero campaign could lessen or prevent these transformations. These programs call for a different agricultural model based on smallholder subsistence and producing and marketing local products such as farinha, rubber, and indigenous fruits. The question remains can both agricultural models co-exist in the Santar�m region? STR’s campaign to sustain the smallholders’ rural livelihood opposes the in-flux of soy farms and calls for a soy boycott (STR unpublished). The strong links between STR and the CNS creates a solidarity among the colonos and residents of extractive reserves. STR’s and CNS’s agricultural vision does not allow space for agro-industry. However, Lula’s agricultural goals include the Fome Zero campaign, which supports smallholder farming in order to attain national food security, and increasing agricultural exports (Trecenti 00). It is too early to decipher how Lula’s administration will balance two agricultural models for the nation and how they will play out in the Santar�m region. In the past, opposing agricultural development models, like supporting cattle ranching and land settlement projects, resulted in social clashes and violence. Frontier governance measures could mediate two agricultural models and minimize violent conflicts. Nepstad et al. (00) provide examples for increasing governance in the Amazon such as recognizing and strengthening indigenous, extractive and biological reserves and increasing municipal government’s capacity for environmental and development planning. With respect to maintaining smallholder agriculture and agro-industry, several steps at the municipal and federal level are needed including recognition of smallholders’ contribution to local food security and role in conserving the local landscape. In doing so, a new dimension to multiple-use communities (e.g., extractive reserves) could be explored that is based on smallholder farming.


In this paper, I looked at the potential social-economic transformations that could occur under an export-oriented agricultural model in the Santar�m region. In doing so, I demonstrated the political-economic structures that are encouraging the expansion of soy into the Amazon, including agri-business, the infrastructural development program Avança Brasil, and the global soybean market. I illustrated how Avança Brasil and the political-economic strength of Brazil’s agro-industry reflects Brazil’s agricultural development history of supporting agro-industrial enterprises that benefit large-landholders. Moreover, I discussed how an export-oriented agricultural model and the agri-business sector function under a development discourse. In this respect, I explored how a globalized agricultural model differs from the previous model. In turn, I demonstrated the potential outlook of the soybean agricultural model for the Santar�m region with respect to sustaining rural livelihoods, regional food security, and generating regional economic opportunities. Lastly, I suggested how to integrate smallholder agriculture into a frontier governance framework.


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