Prosperity and marginalization : An analysis of the expanding meat production in southern Brazil

University essay from Stockholms universitet/Ekonomisk-historiska institutionen

Abstract: The production of meat has risen dramatically during the past decades. This process, generally referred to as the Livestock Revolution, particularly includes so called “developing countries”, hosting the most intensive augmentation of both production and consumption. As agricultural activities often are performed by small-scale farmers in these countries, the principal question for this study has been how family farmers are affected by the Livestock Revolution. This study approaches the Livestock Revolution in Brazil, the world’s biggest national exporter of meats and animal feeds, from the small-scale farmer perspective. Drawing on a case study of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil’s southernmost state, it is argued that family farmers experience multi-level marginalization. Smallholders of pork and poultry face direct marginalization through vertical integration with the large-scale meat processors (the agribusiness). Other family farmers experience marginalization through the actual exclusion from ‘integration’, as the combined corporate forces of agribusiness and supermarket chains control the principal distributive channels. Small-scale farmers also face indirect marginalization as the increasing production of soybeans (used as animal feeds) and large-scale cattle raising create an unfortunate ‘competition for arable land’. Overall, the case study seems to reflect a national tendency, in which the Livestock Revolution intensifies the polarization of the agrarian community in Brazil, thus creating parallel patterns of prosperity for the agribusiness and marginalization for the small-scale farmers. As the Food Regime analysis aims to approach the global political economy by analysing agri-food structures, this theoretical approach has been used to contextualize the case of Livestock Revolution in Brazil. From this viewpoint, the Livestock Revolution constitutes an explicit expression of a corporate Food Regime, increasing the power of private companies at the expense of family farmers. However, the Food Regime analysis also identifies divergent patterns of this Third Food Regime, in which the corporate discourse is being challenged by an alternative paradigm of food and agriculture. The marginalization of farmers in rural Brazil has indeed provoked emancipatory responses, including alternative patterns of production and distribution, as well as direct confrontations such as land occupations. This ‘resistance from the margins’ accentuates the conflict between contrasting visions for food and agriculture, apparently embedded in the Food Regime. The farmers’ emancipation is therefore somewhat determined by the rather uncertain progress of the Third Food Regime.

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