Monday, January 25, 2016

Cattle Ranching in the Amazon Basin

The Brazilian Amazon has shifted progressively from an agricultural economy towards a cattle economy in only a few decades (Walker et al., p. 732). Today, Amazonian pastures support “a heard of over 70 million animals,” this constitutes about one third of Brazil’s commercial stock (p. 732). Cattle ranching is however also the main driver of deforestation in Amazonian Brazil. At least 80% of all deforested land in the region is a consequence of ranching practices (p. 733).  This dramatic change has not only large repercussions for the environment but additionally for the livelihoods of the residents.
This rapid growth of the cattle industry in the Amazon was a result of extensive government intervention (p. 734).  Since 1946, “federal policy aggressively promoted development efforts to integrate the Amazon region in to the national economy.”  Some of these efforts include reducing transportation costs and improved product quality as well as monetary reform and trade liberalization.
The expansion of the Amazonian highway infrastructure was crucial in the growth of the cattle economy. “In 1968, the federal highway system in Amazônia covered a scant 400 km, a number that grew by 1999 to 56,654 km.” (p.734)This expansion also persuaded state and municipal governments to build roads. This multi-scale investment process has caused a precipitous decline in transportation costs which can be observed in Fig. 1 below as reduced travel times.

This figure shows hours of travel time by road from different locations in Amazonian Brazil to Sao Paulo.  “Sao Paulo has long dominated Brazil’s economy as the premier internal market and internal transshipment point” (p. 734).Through this map we can see how transportation times in many areas have been reduced by 30% and even 50% in some areas from 1968 to 1995.  In fact, by 1995, “about a third of the basin, to the south and east, lay within 50hrs of Sao Paulo by ground, whereas less than 30years before only thin silver in the far southeast had this degree of access” (p. 736).  Extended highways have thus facilitating the growth of the cattle industry by reducing transportation costs and providing access to more isolated communities. 

Source: Walker, R., Browder, J., Arima, E., Simmons, C., Pereira, R., Caldas, M., ... & de Zen, S. (2009). Ranching and the new global range: Amazônia in the 21st century. Geoforum40(5), 732-745.

I have acted with honesty and integrity in producing this work and am unaware of anyone who has not.- Ilka Vega


  1. The never-ending battle between capitalism and climate change is obvious here. In some ways, the deforestation that has allowed the growth of cattle ranching is great (I'm using this word loosely here) because it has helped the economy and people's overall income. But at what expense? When will the economic benefits of these actions cease to exist because the negative externalities become so huge?

  2. In seeing this increase in government infrastructure across time it would be interesting to see if any population change happened during this time. These two variables can be spatiotemporally analyzed to see if any correlation exists. Further analysis can be conducted on how the countries standard of living reacted to the rise of the cattle industry.