The importance of agriculture has been decreasing continuously since the middle of the 20th century. Their share of GDP is (2016) only 5.5%; the share of those employed in this area fell from two thirds (1949) to 10.2% over the same period. The production potential of agriculture is very large. The total area of the 5.8 million agricultural holdings comprises 288 million hectares, around 33.8% of the Brazilian territory; the rest is agriculturally unused (especially in the Amazon region) or unusable state land. Arable land accounts for around 30% of the farmland, while 59.3% of the land area is designated as forest. The irrigation areas have almost tripled to 2.8 million hectares since 1972, not least thanks to public funding programs. Under the pressure of population growth and foreign debt, the government promoted the expansion of the operating areas to the Amazon lowlands, to the humid savannas of the central Brazilian highlands and to the irrigated areas of the semi-arid northeast. As part of the export orientation in the 1970s and as a result of the debt crisis in the 1980s, the state specifically promoted the cultivation of certain export crops (soy) and import substitute crops (wheat, sugar cane for the production of alcohol as a petroleum substitute). At times these were displaced As part of the export orientation in the 1970s and as a result of the debt crisis in the 1980s, the state specifically promoted the cultivation of certain export crops (soy) and import substitute crops (wheat, sugar cane for the production of alcohol as a petroleum substitute). At times these were displaced As part of the export orientation in the 1970s and as a result of the debt crisis in the 1980s, the state specifically promoted the cultivation of certain export crops (soy) and import substitute crops (wheat, sugar cane for the production of alcohol as a petroleum substitute). At times these were displaced Cash crops (monocultures) the cultivation of food crops in such a way that the increase in the production of staple foods did not keep pace with the population growth. Food imports had to be increased sharply in some cases. The mechanization of (export) cultures released workers who, by moving to the cities, aggravated or created the environmental problem by settling in the rainforest and wet savannah areas. Soybeans and their derivatives are now the most important agricultural export product, ahead of sugar and meat.
According to Naturegnosis, Brazil is the second largest soy producer after the USA; Brazil also ranks second in the world as an exporter of soybeans, bran and oil; Soy (mostly genetically modified) is grown particularly in the Midwest, where a quarter of Brazilian production is achieved in the state of Mato Grosso alone. With a share of around 33% of world coffee production, Brazil has the leading position as a producer and exporter of coffee, ahead of Vietnam and Colombia. The same applies to the production of sugar cane; Brazil is the largest exporter of raw and refined sugar (world market share around 40%). Brazil is also the world market leader for orange juice concentrate. Bananas, beans and cocoa are also important. Long periods of drought in the north-eastern regions of the country, floods as a result of heavy rainfall and frost in the south repeatedly lead to major crop failures, so that the production of individual agricultural goods fluctuates sharply.
The livestock industry is mostly practiced extensively on large grazing lands. Meat production and export have expanded considerably in recent years. Fresh or industrially processed beef and poultry are particularly important for export. With over 210 million cattle, Brazil has the world’s second largest livestock after the USA and has developed into an important meat and poultry producer. The agricultural structure is characterized by the discrepancy between very few large farms and a relatively large number of small farms: only around 10% of all farms are larger than 100 ha, but they account for around three quarters of the total farm area.
Forestry: The proportion of forests in the total area amounts to 5.02 million km 2 and about 59.0% of the country’s area. Almost 70% of the forests belong to the tropical lowland rainforests of the Amazon region, where over 4,000 tree species are represented, of which, however, only 5% are used for wood. Most of the wood is harvested in the (already largely destroyed) forests of the southern states, as in Amazonia the very wide range of species (maximum 3–4 precious wood trunks per hectare) makes efficient logging in the region unprofitable; Exceptions are the subregions of Rondônia, Mato Grosso and South Pará as well as some species, e.g. B. mahogany. The destruction of the Amazon rainforests does not occur primarily for reasons of timber, but because of the desired economic “valorisation” of the region (agricultural, mineral and industrial development, energy production). In the production of pulp and sawmill products, Brazil occupies leading positions worldwide.
Fishing: Despite the good natural conditions and the extension of the territorial waters to 200 nautical miles, fishing is of little economic importance and only serves the country’s self-sufficiency.