Food Security: The Brazilian case

By Weber Antonio Neves do Amaral, Alessandro Peduto on September 26, 2010

Chronic food insecurity remains one of the main challenges to developing countries' sustainable development and thus to the stability of global political and economic regimes and nations.

Trade also plays an important role in nations' economic growth and has several links with food security.

This country policy report—part of a joint TKN-CINDES research project—provides the Brazilian context regarding food security and trade linkages. In less than three decades, Brazil has changed from a net importer of food to a net exporter, due to increased production (by incorporating new areas of the country) and productivity. The increased scale of large agricultural enterprises has contributed to lower production costs and thus increased accessibility to food and to the global commodity trade, without affecting the country's internal market. Therefore, using aggregated data and time series statistics for the last 20 years, it can be said that international trade has not affected Brazil's food security adversely. However, a deeper analysis is needed to identify the relationships between food security and trade at the local and regional levels, which is a complex exercise that goes beyond the scope of this report.

Key points:

  • Brazil has played an important role in food production and trade. Its agricultural expansion during recent decades has resulted in an increase in food supplies to its national market and, significantly, to the global commodities trade.

  • At the national level, food availability in Brazil is more than sufficient for its entire population. Domestic production of food, plus imports and minus exports, results in food availability per capita (in grain equivalent) of more than 340 kg per capita per year: about one third more than the per capita nutritional requirements. Lack of access to food, therefore, is not the result of lack of food availability, but due to the inability of poor Brazilians to afford food. The Brazilian government has a range of programs in place that attempt to deal with this problem.

  • The market share of Brazilian imports for this period has decreased for dry beans (from 10.82 to 3.25 per cent), maize (from 2.38 to 1.02 per cent), rice (from 6.1 to 2.39 per cent), soybeans (from 2.15 to 0.13 per cent), refined sugar (from 0.0003 to 0.0002 per cent) and wheat (from 6.03 to 5.57 per cent). In the same period, trade exports have increased for dry beans (from 1.85 to 30.85 kilotons), maize (from 7.17 to 10,933.46 kilotons), rice (from 6.61 to 201.48 kilotons), soybeans (from 9,274.75 to 23,733.78 kilotons), refined sugar (from 3,575.27 to 6,925.80 kilotons) and wheat (from 4.19 to 104.48 kilotons). Imports have only decreased for paddy rice (from 0.133 to 0.125 kilotons).

  • Considering the figures from the last decade (the late 1990s to the late 2000s), and using those for 2007 as an example, Brazil has played a significant role in the world commodity trade, especially by exporting maize (10,933.46 kilotons and 9.97 per cent of market share), refined sugar (6,915.80 kilotons and 29.95 per cent of market share) and soybeans (23,733.78 kilotons and 31.90 per cent of market share), while importing maize (1,095.54 kilotons and 1.02 per cent of market share) and wheat (6,638.02 kilotons and 5.57 per cent of market share).

  • Perhaps the factor that was most responsible for the rise of food prices in the period 2006-08, besides the increase in food demand due to population growth and, more importantly, higher incomes, was the price of fertilizers, particularly in Brazil. As the country is one of the world's largest producers of agricultural commodities, the use of fertilizers is significant and it has a considerable impact on the cost of production.

Key recommendations:

  • The analysis of complex issues such as food security and trade within and among countries and across regions requires proper methodological frameworks in order to make comparable conclusions and in-depth assessments, particularly in the long term. Therefore, a global research agenda on this matter is necessary, monitoring food production and trade on a much finer scale, while analysis at the national, regional and global levels should be increased.

  • Regardless of existing agricultural policies supporting global trade, countries should monitor the impacts of such policies on price and food availability at local markets, in order to correct the asymmetric impact of large-scale production systems on the livelihoods of small and medium-sized farmers.

Report details

Food and Agriculture
Focus area
IISD, 2010