U.S. factor sparked Brazil soybean revolution
Luís Fernando Cirne Lima took office as a minister of Agriculture of Brazil in 1969 during military rule. At the time, Brazil was not within the 20 largest economies in the world and coffee accounted for nearly half of the total exports of the country. The South American country also did not produce over a million tons of soybeans. As of today, Brazil is the top producer of soybeans in the world, a major player of corn production, and the seventh largest GDP.
In an exclusive interview to Agriculture.com from one of his offices in Porto Alegre, the former minister explained the main initiatives that made the Brazilian cerrado a major agricultural area and how it helped soybeans to be as significant as it is for today's economy. He also explained some US factors that helped Brazil to expand towards the west and his view on the Amazon rainforest issues. Currently, Cirne Lima is 80 years old. He farms on the flat lands of Dom Pedrito, Rio Grande do Sul, is a council member of SLC Agrícola, a major grain company producer in Brazil, and Camera, the largest grain trader in Rio Grande do Sul.
Agriculture.com - Which was the panorama of Brazilian agriculture when you took over as minister of Agriculture in 1969?
Cirne Lima - Brazil was an imminent agricultural country with rural population. Agriculture was mostly happening in the Northeast and southeast parts of the country. Coffee had then a disproportional share of the exports. It accounted for half of a total of US$ 2 billion of Brazilian exports. The other significant crops were sugar, cotton, and cocoa, which had some limitations in the period. We still did not have policies pushing for more supply of alcohol and cocoa was concentrated in the southeast of (the state of) Bahia.
The result was that unfortunately we lost relative and absolute production of cocoa, and a relative loss of coffee production. In the other goals, we were successful.
Agriculture.com - What did you have in mind to revolutionize Brazilian agriculture in long-term purposes?
Cirne Lima - In the end of 1969, I had traveled a lot throughout the country. Between 1971 and 1972, I had established two pillars. To maintain the production of the crops that we were already strong and to grow a lot more grains and other crops. We decided to start with the oilseed, which later became a top exporting commodity. At the time, we already produced corn, but the productivity was very low. Rice and corn were other grains that we wanted to boost. I saw that the perspective was huge for grains. We wanted to grow the cattle herd, which also had a big potential for exports. And finally, we started to think about fruit, mainly orange juice. The high technology applied in the state of São Paulo made it become huge. Foresting was starting to become a huge as Brazil consumed a lot of woods. Soybeans were the thing with the major perspective. We started to visualize an agricultural expansion with a growing meat industry and aviculture.