Map of the Legal Amazon- Agricultural Boundaries
Challenging the image of a homogeneous space covered by forest, the Legal Amazon has undergone several changes driven by its natural, social, economic, technological and cultural diversity.
Those changes are consistent with the recent territorial transformation of Brazil, especially concerning the use of land. In this context, the expansion of the agricultural activities plays a crucial role in determining the economic and population (see the indicators of population density on the Map) dynamics of this huge region.
However, instead of reproducing the old patterns of agricultural production, the recent expansion of the agricultural boundaries in Amazon is aligned with technological innovation.
The distribution of grain crops, especially soybean, corn and rice, and cotton in Amazon (see the Map), is determined by scientific research, which enables new vegetal species to adapt to cerrado, and by the intensive use of machines, equipment and inputs, which renders high indices of productivity.
The potential for large-scale production of grains is seen mainly in the areas of cerrado of the Legal Amazon, including Mato Grosso, Tocantins and the south of Maranhão. These places are characterized by well-defined drought periods and a plain topography, favoring mechanization and the use of technology.
Therefore, the profile of the territorial dynamics of the main temporary crops, especially of soybean, is the association of technological innovation with the spatial expansion of modern farming techniques in the areas of cerrado with a low population density. Those areas were traditionally occupied by livestock farming or were previously covered by the native cerrado or, to a less extent, by forest, when natural characteristics were obstacles for a productive potential.
From the municipality of Itiquira, to the Southeast of Mato Grosso, soybean crops expanded to the region of influence of Rondonópolis and, later, to Cuiabá, reaching the center of this state in the mid 80s. An evidence for this trajectory is the position of Itiquira and Cuiabá in the production ranking among the municipalities of the state. Itiquira was third place in 1985 and fifth place in 1995, while Diamantino changed from third to second place in these two years.
In the mid 90s, Campo Novo dos Parecis, Sorriso, Primavera do Leste and Lucas do Rio Verde assumed the leadership in the state production, revealing that production moved from the central-south to the central-north of the state, towards BR-163 (Cuiabá-Santarém), where the municipality of Sorriso accounts for 10% of the national production of soybean today.
New patterns of agricultural land use have consolidated in the areas where occupation is stable, such as Rondonópolis, where the crops of soybean and corn are established.
In the central axis of the BR-163, there are large areas of soybean crops up to Sorriso and Sinop, where the large-scale activity ends. In the areas covered by forest, to the north of the municipality, the significant decrease in the production is attributable to rice crops. Rice crops are usually associated with the establishment of pastures or, more recently, with the implementation of new commercial crops, such as soybean, corn and, more recently, cotton.
The agricultural production dramatically decreases in the region of Alta Floresta, in the north of Mato Grosso, in the area of transition between the cerrado and the forest, where declivity is higher, soil is rocky and rainfall indices are higher.
To the west, in the satellite region of BR-364 (Cuiabá-Porto Velho), soybean crops cover large areas and register high levels of production, reaching the territory of Rondônia by the southeast.
The growth of some soybean planting areas in Santarém and in Marabá and Redenção in Pará is the result of state policies for promoting commercial planting in the cerrados of Mato Grosso, Tocantins and Balsas, in the south of Maranhão and Piauí.
Associated with the expansion of the agricultural boundaries, the spatial distribution of deforested areas and hot spots reflect the growth of the harvest of timber and the establishment of pastures. This mosaic of uses of the Amazon land has radically changed the traditional dynamics of occupation in this area.
The existence of a capitalized agriculture is new in the history of the use of land in Amazon. Previously, local economy was based on mining and forestry activities, mainly rubber extraction, which, in the present, depends on the efforts of the local population (with strong international support) in preserving collective forms of use of the natural resources.
This way, important changes in the structure and performance of the agricultural sector in this region are associated with the introduction of new technologies, methods and farming techniques, which affect the natural environment through deforestation, erosion and water pollution and impact population in terms of income generation, employment and life conditions.
Moreover, changes are also driven by the expansion of the road network associated with the city and village networks.
The creation of new villages and cities are another result of the expansion of the agricultural boundaries in the region, where, up to a short time ago, economic life depended on the access to the rivers.
Cities in the interior of Amazon increasingly offer operational and technical support and are information dissemination strategic areas for the modern agro-industrial production.
Consequently, the agricultural expansion precedes (and determines) the growth of industry and services, even in those areas where there were no public policies to promote development.
The increase of production and the continuous enlargement of the areas with agricultural activity drive the internal demand and attract investments on infrastructure, creating opportunities for the industrial and services sectors directly involved with the agro business.
In addition, services directly connected with the urban population are favored with the creation of small and average cities located in the boundaries of Amazon. This way, there is an increasing demand for schools, medical and food services and a growth of the local businesses.
In sum, the regional patterns of the use of land today are far from the geopolitical project of the 70s, as they represent an articulation of the agricultural occupation and the national economic space according to internal and external interests in the region.