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Small commodity agriculture in north-east Brazil: The case of horticultural farming in Pernambuco brejos

Monteiro de Barros, HO; (1991) Small commodity agriculture in north-east Brazil: The case of horticultural farming in Pernambuco brejos. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

Since the early 1970s, agricultural modernisation policies in North-East Brazil have been marked by a significant degree of state intervention, especially in the form of rural development programmes. Subsidised credit, technical assistance, as well as public expenditure on infrastructure, have been instrumental in enhancing market oriented agriculture, in the break up of traditional farming systems. As a consequence, forms of small commodity farming have expanded significantly since 1970, emerging as an alternative path on the transformation of traditional subsistence-oriented agriculture. The study begins with a review of recent literature on small commodity production in agriculture, in order to elaborate a conceptual framework for the later case studies. The analysis focuses on the transformations observed in North-Eastern agriculture in the 1970s and 1980s, with particular emphasis on the emergence and expansion of modern market-oriented horticultural farming in hilly areas (brejos) of the Agreste region of the state of Pernambuco. Against the background of recent agricultural modernisation in the so-called brejos, the study examines the decline of their traditional agriculture, based on coffee and mixed crop-livestock systems, which used to be complemented by the seasonal migration of the local working force for the sugarcane harvest in neighbouring areas. Recent horticultural expansion is analysed using both secondary and primary data sources, with emphasis on the effects of changes in rural development policies since 1970, and especially in rural credit. Farming structures and labour practices associated with vegetable production are explored with the help of field data. The study reveals the important role of labour-saving strategies in overcoming the increasing costs of vegetable farming, accentuated by the virtual extinction of subsidies to the Brazilian agriculture in recent years. Commodity strategies adopted by different groups of producers are investigated by analysing the role of family relations in the internal labour organisation of vegetable farms. Field data provide evidence of the importance of both the extended family and non-vegetable income sources to support the smaller farms. The role of informal credit sources and short-term saving strategies also are identified as decisive means of enhancing the smallholders' position within the commodity market. Attitudes towards investment are discussed from survey data and illustrated by a case study. In general, they highlight the priority given by smallholders to expansion and diversification within the commodity agriculture as a way to achieve security in an uncertain economic environment.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Small commodity agriculture in north-east Brazil: The case of horticultural farming in Pernambuco brejos
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10115540
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