Agricultural Frontier - Legal Amazon

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Having an extensive natural, social, economic, technological and cultural diversity, the Legal Amazon comprises a region increasingly differentiated, which contradicts the image disseminated across the world of a homogeneous space characterized by a forest cover that identifies it both internally and externally.

Today, this regional space is part of the territorial transformation of Brazil, especially in terms of the changes in the land use, in which the expansion of the agriculture determines, at a great extent, the economic and demographic dynamics of this huge region, the latter unveiled on the Map through the indicators of population density.

Rather than reproducing existing productive structures as in the old areas of agriculture, the recent expansion of the agricultural frontier in the Amazon comprises a technological frontier, in which the scientific innovation is the key element to explain the new productive profile of the regional agriculture.

In this regard, the distribution of grain cropping, especially soybean, corn and rice, as well as cotton, in the Amazon, showed on the Map, has its spatial dynamics associated, at a great extent, not only with the scientific research, which allowed the adaptation of new vegetal species to the characteristics of the savanna, but also with the intensive use of machinery, equipment and inputs, which set the high indexes of productivity reached there.

The potential grain cropping on a large scale is mainly found in the savanna areas of the Legal Amazon, including Mato Grosso, Tocantins and south of Maranhão, where a well-defined dry period and a flat topography allows mechanization, at the same time that the soil presents characteristics that meet the modern technology.

In this regard, the spatial distribution of the major temporary crops, especially that of soybean, reveals the current feature of a territorial dynamics that couples technological innovation with the horizontal expansion of modernized crops predominantly in savanna areas with low population density. Such areas were either traditionally occupied by an extensive livestock or covered with a natural vegetation of savanna or, on a smaller scale, of forest, associated with natural characteristics limiting their productive potential.

Starting in the municipality of Itiquira, in the southeast of Mato Grosso, soybean would expand in the 1980s to the region of Rondonópolis and later to Cuiabá, reaching the central portion of this state by the middle of that decade. As a registry of this spatial shift, the position of Itiquira and Cuiabá in the ranking of the municipalities that stand out in the state context hits the third place in 1985 and the fifth in 1995 (Itiquira), whereas the municipality of Diamantino jumped from the third to the seventh place between these two comparison years.

In the middle of the 1990s, Campo Novo dos Parecis, Sorriso, Primavera do Leste and Lucas do Rio Verde led the state production, unveiling an even greater shift from the center-south to the center-north of the state, towards the BR-163 (Cuiabá-Santarém) axis, where the municipality of Sorriso currently produces more than 10% of the national output of soybean.

Along this dynamics, new patterns of agricultural land use are being consolidated in the more stabilized areas of occupation, like the region of Rondonópolis, where the soybean-corn pairing is established.

On the other hand, the central axis of BR-163 reveals large areas of soybean expansion up to the municipalities of Sorriso, which currently concentrates more than 10% of the national output, and Sinop, where the large-scale agricultural activity ends. To the north of this municipality, in the forest areas, the significant decrease in the production is replaced by rice growing, as a crop that incorporates new areas to the production. The latter is associated with the introduction of pasture or, more recently, with the implementation of new commercial crops, like soybean, corn and, more recently, cotton.

Indeed, in the region of Alta Floresta, in the north of Mato Grosso, where is the transition from savanna to forest, the agricultural production decreases drastically, due to the increasing declivity, rocky soil and higher rainfall than in the savanna region.

To the west, soybean cropping would hit a high level of expression and capitalization through the region directly and indirectly reached by BR-364 (Cuiabá-Porto Velho), even penetrating in the territory of Rondônia from the southeast.

Today, the development of soybean planting in the region of Santarém, Marabá and Redenção in Pará reflects the implementation of state policies to stimulate commercial planting out of the expansion areas in the savanna of Mato Grosso, Tocantins and Balsas, in the south of Maranhão, and Piauí.

Associated with the expansion of the agricultural frontier, the spatial distribution of deforested areas, as well as of heat spots, directly reflects the increase of activities inherently associated, like logging and pasture, which, together with the expansion of grain cropping, comprise a mosaic of differentiated uses of the Amazon space, which has been radically changing the traditional dynamics of the occupation of the Brazilian Amazon.

Indeed, the introduction of the capitalized agriculture in the Amazon is a historic innovation in the land use in a region whose economy spun around mining and forestry, mainly of rubber, whose survival depends, at a great extent, on the effort of the local population in preserving their collective forms of appropriation and use of natural resources, with a strong international support.

Therefore, evidences signaling important changes in the structure and performance of the agricultural sector in this region pile up, many of them associated with the introduction of new technologies, methods and culture, whose effects affect the natural environment – through deforesting, erosion and water pollution, among others –, as well as the generation of income, employment and general life conditions of its population.

Lastly, among the key elements that foster the transformation in this region, the expansion of the road network coupled with that of the network of cities and villages comprises the most visible face of the transformations in the Amazon territory.

Indeed, the creation of new settlements, villages and cities, i.e., the distribution of the urban headquarters is an important factor in the expansion of the agricultural frontier in this huge region, whose economic life was not so long ago guided by the pace and accessibility of the rivers.

Serving as technical and operational support and center of dissemination of regional communication, the cities in the interior of the Amazon increasingly concentrate the services and manpower involved in the modern agribusiness.

Indeed, the agricultural expansion is not only closely associated with the other economic sectors, but also there is an order of precedence in this association, such as the growth of agriculture antecedes (and sets) the growth of industry and services, even in areas where public policies did not support the urban activities.

The expansion in the production and the increasing incorporation of areas to the agricultural activities improve the internal demand and attract investments in infrastructure, creating a wide array of opportunities not only to the industrial and services sectors directly involved in the agribusiness in the Amazon.

Beyond these opportunities, the services directly linked with the urban population are one of the sectors mostly benefited from the emergence and improvement of the small and medium cities located in the Amazon frontier, involving the demand for schools, medical services and food, as well as stimulating the growth of the local trade, improving the array of activities coming from the country-town association that currently follows the expansion of the agricultural frontier in the Amazon.

Indeed, the convergence of regional patterns of land use is far from expressing the continuity of the geopolitical project of frontier incorporation, which marked the territorial occupation of the Amazon in the 1970s. It currently expresses an agricultural occupation associated with a greater articulation of the national economic space, based on interests from outside and within the region.