Soybeans and corn are Brazil's leading crops

Rice and beans are a trademark of everyday Brazilian cuisine. It’s even made it into the lexicon: calling something “rice and beans” is to describe it as basic, yet essential. But the importance of this traditional pairing is dwindling among Brazilian consumers, and especially among agribusiness producers.

According to a recent study by the Ministry of Agriculture, which projects what Brazilian agribusiness will look like in ten years, Big Agro will focus increasingly on products destined for export, to the detriment of local consumers – even though the 208 million people domestic market is pivotal do the sector’s performance.

Soybeans and corn, the building blocks for a number of industrial food products, will be the leading crops in new plantation areas. The government projects that Brazil’s grain production will reach at least 301.8 million tons in the 2027-2028 harvest, almost 30 percent more than the last one on record. Meanwhile, plantation area should increase by just over 15 percent, to 70.7 million.

Of course, such a gain in productivity is highly dependant on investment in infrastructure and technology. “Brazil is observing a decreasing rise in productivity, which shows the need to invest in research and development, and improve technology in rural properties,” said Alan Bojanic, the representative in Brazil of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture places Brazil as the world’s biggest food supplier by 2027.


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Brazil’s less-than-diverse grain production

If the projections are confirmed, soybeans and corn will represent 88.8 percent of plantation areas in ten years – today, they amount to an already enormous 84-percent share. In terms of production, these two crops alone will account for 89 percent of Brazil’s grains. This advance will largely be in degraded pastures – but rice and beans, the popular dish on Brazilians dinner tables, will lose space.

Rice crops will lose half of their surface in ten years, from 2 million to 905,000 hectares. Production will rise by 3.6 percent over the next decade – a rate ten times smaller than grains.

Back in December 2017, The Brazilian Report published an article about the risks of monoculture farming to the environment – which actually rivals deforestation. In the Cerrado, a savannah-like biome typical to central Brazil, sustainability is endangered by grain crops and eucalyptus plantations. The Cerrado is large enough that specialists believe changes to its ecosystem could have very real impacts for the rest of the country, which are already beginning to be felt in nearby cities.

There is another issue with monoculture. Planting only identical plant species – like soybeans and corn – leaves crops more vulnerable to diseases – thus enhancing the need for pesticides. “You can look at crop value in terms of pollinations,” he said. “Horticulture depends on pollination, so you need an ecosystem that can provide that,” Sergio Collaço de Carvalho, a biologist and doctoral researcher on environmental protection areas as public goods at the University of Oxford, told The Brazilian Report.


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BY Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist with experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. His work has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets.