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close this bookThe Fragile Tropics of Latin America. Sustainable Management of Changing Environments (UNU, 1995, 335 p.)
close this folderPart 4 : The semi-arid north-east
close this folderDrought, irrigation, and changes in the sertão of north-east Brazil
View the document(introduction...)
View the document1 Introduction
View the document2 Reservoir irrigation in Paraíba
View the document3 Middle São Francisco valley
View the document4 Consequences of irrigation agriculture
View the documentAcknowledgement
View the documentReferences


1 Introduction
2 Reservoir irrigation in Para
3 Middle SFrancisco valley
4 Consequences of irrigation agriculture


Isao Saito and Noritaka Yagasaki

1 Introduction

In Brazil's North-East, the semi-arid interior known as sert/em> (backcountry) is in marked contrast ecologically with the coastal zone (zona da mata) and the transitional zone (agreste). While the coastal zone is humid, receiving more than 1,600 mm of rain per annum, precipitation decreases toward the interior, less than 800 mm falling in the sert The humid coast was originally covered with dense forest, though little of this remains today. In the sert on the other hand, the caatinga the drought-resistant thorn scrub and xerophytic vegetation, predominates.

Such ecological regions have been the basis for different types of human land use, settlement, and economy. On the coast, sugar cane cultivation and sugar production have been important from the early stage of colonization and settlement up to the present. In the transitional zone, intensive farming of livestock and food crops has supported a dense population of peasants. The sert on the other hand, has been characterized by extensive cattle grazing and largescale properties held by absentee owners. Thus, the three regions of zone da mate, agreste, and sert differ in terms of environment, type of economy, and process of development (Andrade, 1968; Saito and Yagasaki, 1987).

While the fragility of the humid tropical environment of Amazonia is attracting worldwide attention, the sert whose ecological conditions and history of human use and occupancy differs substantially from those of Amazonia, is also considered susceptible to the process of desertification. The sert suffers from chronic scarcity of water and recurrent drought. Severe droughts have often caused hunger, poverty, mass migration, and even the deaths of many people as well as of animals.

While the first drought since the Portuguese colonization and settlement was officially recorded in the late sixteenth century in Pernambuco, six droughts occurred in the seventeenth century, fourteen in the eighteenth century, twelve in the nineteenth century, and twelve so far in this century, according to the Superintendency for Development of the North-East (Superintendia do Desenvolvimento do Nordeste) (SUDENE, 1981). Such droughts have become nationally recognized, especially since the late nineteenth century. An influx of people into the interior accelerated with the development of commercial cultivation of arboreal cotton, and the increased population, consequently, further exacerbated the region's susceptibility to drought. Despite attempts by various public organizations and projects to relieve drought problems, the region remains today one of the most underdeveloped sections of Brazil.

For the people in the semi-arid sert maximum use of limited water resources has been their major concern. Traditionally, people took advantage of the brejos, or the humid mountain environment with orographic rainfalls. Farming was practised during the lowwater season in the riverbeds, as the flow ceased, in the moist soil known as vezante. More recently, small reservoirs (aes) were constructed for storing and supplying water. Such reservoirs now constitute an important landscape element of the sert (Saito et al., 1986). These efforts were traditional adaptations of the people to the semiarid environment.

In recent years, the sert is changing, as federal and state governments endeavour to promote regional development by establishing irrigation projects, which attempt to utilize scarce water resources by constructing dams, reservoirs, and irrigation canals and by introducing electric pumps and other irrigation facilities. The land covered with caatinga is being transformed into farmland. Irrigation farming, regardless of the scale and type, gradually - and sometimes drastically - changes agriculture, land use, and rural communities of the sert

Although the contemporary sert in transition can hardly be understood without considering irrigation farming, there is still limited knowledge concerning the process of irrigation development, land-use systems, and agricultural management on the farm and local scales. We also do not know if contemporary development policy will be able to remedy the serts chronic problems. In order to assess the government's irrigation approach for development, the socio-economic and ecological consequences of contemporary irrigation farming need to be scrutinized. Such examinations have to be made on a local scale, based on careful field investigation. Geographers concerned with people, land use, and environment have much to contribute here. An accumulation of case-studies will offer the basis for considering ecologically sound land-use systems and the social well-being of residents, and for reconsidering the regional development policies.

In this paper we intend to examine, on a small scale, the contemporary changes due to irrigation. Presented are two examples of smallscale, spontaneous irrigation farming around reservoirs in Boqueirand Teixeira municos in the state of Para. and a large-scale irrigation development in the middle SFrancisco Valley, around the twin cities of Petrolina and Juiro (fig. 14.1). These areas emerged as important centres of irrigation farming during the past decade or so. We pay special attention to the development process of irrigation, farming types, and land use rotation systems. Details of each case are elaborated in our previous reports (Saito and Yagasaki, 1989,1991; Saito et al., 1991; Yagasaki et al., 1989).

2 Reservoir irrigation in Paraíba

Reservoirs in Para.

Reservoirs in Para. including those constructed by federal, state, and local governments, may be classified into three categories by size and type of use (table 14.1). A large reservoir has water storage capacity of over 200 million m, a medium-size reservoir ranges from 10 to 50 million m, and a smallscale reservoir holds less than 1 million m. Large reservoirs are constructed by damming up major rivers, while those of small to medium size are found around urban settlements. In addition, numerous small reservoirs of less than 1 million m of water are found in cattle fazendas.

The National Department of Works Against the Drought (Departamento Nacional de Obras Contra as Secas, DNOCS) is a federal organization for regional development of the North-East, which was established as early as the first decade of this century. DNOCS has constructed reservoirs intended as a development strategy against aridity and rural poverty. The intention is to augment agricultural production and to promote commercial agriculture in order to alleviate rural poverty and to stabilize the population in the semi-arid regions, which are characterized traditionally by extensive livestock grazing and subsistence farming (Hall, 1978).

Figure 14.1 Study area in Nortb-East Brazil. A: Boqueirarea; B. Teixeira area; C: Petrolina-Juiro area.

Up to the end of 1981, DNOCS had built 261 public dams and reservoirs in the North-East, with a total water storage capacity of 12.3 billion m. Among them, 38 are found in the state of Para, with a capacity of 2.5 billion m. In addition, 596 dams were constructed by DNOCS in the NorthEast for private water storage; their reservoir capacity amounted to 1.3 billion m. Para. has 59 such reservoirs (Ara1982). However, it has often been pointed out that these reservoirs are not necessarily utilized efficiently for local farming activities, despite the vast amount of water stored in them.

Boqueirreservoir and its vicinity

Boqueirmunico is situated on the eastern edge of the Paraiban sert in the middle Para valley. Here the caatinga vegetation predominates with jurema-preta (Mimosa hostilis Benth.), catingueira (Caesalpinia pyramidalis Tul.), and pereiro (Aspidosperma pyrifolium Mart.), as well as such xerophytic plants as facheiro (Cereus squamosus Guerke) and mandacaru (Cereus jamacaru DC). Although annual precipitation fluctuates substantially, the region receives 400 to 600 mm in an average year. The rainy season is from March through August.

The Para River was dammed up by DNOCS in 1956. Boqueirreservoir, with a water capacity of over 500 million m, belongs to the largescale category. It is variously utilized for urban consumption, electric power generation, irrigation, fishery, recreation, and flood control.

Boqueirs economy has depended traditionally on livestock grazing and rainfed cultivation of maize, beans, cotton, and palma, a cactaceous plant used for cattle feed. Cattle are the most important animals, grazed in the caatinga as well as in the stubble of crops. Beans, maize, and cotton are cropped together for three to four years after the scrub is cleared. Palma and xerophytic plants become increasingly important as fodder for cattle during the dry season. Absentee landlords are not numerous. The landholding pattern of Boqueirshows the transitional characteristics from the agreste to the sert.

Although irrigation farming was primarily undertaken on the floodplain to grow elephant grass, a type of sorghum used for cattle feed, it gradually expanded to the interfluvial areas using water pumped from the reservoir and the Para River. Irrigated acreage increased substantially in the late 1970s, when tomatoes, bell peppers, and bananas became particularly important. In 1980, the area under irrigation amounted to around 400 hectares. Boqueirreservoir, blessed with an ample quantity of water, is able to provide water for farming all the year round, and the area under irrigation is expanding.

During our field study in this area in October 1988, we identified 31 irrigation fields operated by 26 farmers (fig. 14.2). These fields are situated within two kilometres' distance from either the reservoir or the Para, River. The total area under irrigation, crop production, and the type of irrigation were investigated. We also interviewed fourteen farm households regarding land tenure, family structure, residence, previous occupation, and crop marketing methods. Landuse surveys were also conducted. Figure 14.3 shows an example of an irrigation farm on the left bank of the Para. River. In this farm, operated by a tenant farmer, tomatoes were first cultivated after clearing of the caatinga. Watermelons followed tomatoes. Then the field appears to have been rotated to either cotton or maize and beans (feij, and eventually returned to caatinga. The details of the study are elaborated elsewhere (Saito and Yagasaki, 1989).

Table 14.1 Classification of reservoirs in Para, North-East Brazil

Size Name of reservoir Construction Storage
('000 m)
Year Agency
Large Coremas 1942 DNOCS 720,000
Mae D'Agua 1956 DNOCS 638,000
Boqueir/td> 1956 DNOCS 536,000
Engenheiro Avidos 1936 DNOCS 255,000
Medium SGono 1936 DNOCS 44,600
Sume 1962 DNOCS 36,800
Eng. Arco Verde 1936 DNOCS 35,000
Soledade 1933 DNOCS 27,058
Jatoba I 1954 DNOCS 17,520
Santa Luzia 1933 DNOCS 11,960
Taperoa 198? Canatd> ?
Small Lagoa de Meio 1955 DNOCS 6,648
Riacho de S. Antonio 1956 DNOCS 6,834
Serra Branca 1966 DNOCS 2,117
Po 1923/53 DNOCS 2,000
Bodocongo 1915 DNOCS 1,020
SFrancisco 1984 Canaup>a 9,000
Communal aes 1930~ Community  
Aes in Fazendas 1950~ Individual
Roadside aes 1970~ Community

Source: Based on Ara1982): Darns in the northeast of Brazil, DNOCS, and field observa tion.
a.Governmental project of Para.

While the produce is sold locally at the periodic market known as the feira, most crops are shipped to the public wholesale produce markets (CEASA) of large cities in Para. and Pernambuco. Boqueirao's tomatoes and bell peppers are particularly important at the wholesale market of Recife,
where they represented 12.3 per cent and 13.2 per cent respectively of the total receipt in 1987.

Table. Use of reservoirs

Use of reservoirs

Hydroelectric Irrigation Urban Individual Animal Fishing Recreation Flood


Gravity Pump
O O   O   O O O O
O   O O   O     O
O O O O   O O O O
O O   O   O O O  
      O   O O    
  O       O      
          O O    
  O   O   O O   O
    O O          
      O     O   O
      O   O O    
      O   O O    
    O O   O      
    O     O      
      O O O      
        O O      
        O O O    

Irrigation farms are mobile and transient, easily shifting from one location to another. The repeated use of land causes plant diseases and declining productivity. Simple irrigation equipment and the acquisition of land by tenancy facilitate such mobility. In the fields, crops are typically rotated. After the land is rented, the caatinga cover is cleared and burned, the field is prepared, the irrigation ditch is dug, and water is secured by installing electric pumps and water pipes.

Tomatoes are generally grown for the first one to two years. The field is then planted in bell peppers, and afterwards rotated to cotton. Cotton fields eventually turn to banana fields before being abandoned and returning to caatinga. The crop rotation systems are summarized in table 14.2.

Although the production and marketing of irrigated crops have so far been successful, it is rather doubtful whether spontaneous irrigation farming has expanded employment opportunities in Boqueir

Figure 14.2 Irrigation farms around BoqueirReservoir, Para. (Based on interviews.)

Teixeira plateau

The Teixeira plateau is located in the heart of the Paraiban sert some 270 km inland from JoPessoa and overlooking the Patos basin. Due to its high elevation, ranging from 750 to 900 m above sea level, the region has relatively mild climatic conditions with rather stable precipitation. February through April is the main rainy season, when 80 per cent of the annual precipitation is received. The environment, resembling that of the brejos typically found in eastern Para is rather favourable for farming activities.

Teixeira munico is dominated by small landholdings. Cattle and goats are the main animals, but the role of livestock in the economy of Teixeira is limited (Saito and Maroyama, 1988). Maize and beans are important food crops, while sisal and cashew nuts constitute the major cash crops.

Figure 14.3 Land use of an irrigation farm on the Para River. 1: tomatoes; 2: tomatoes harvested; 3; watermelons; 4: bell peppers; S: cotton; 6: maize and beans; 7: wasteland; 8: caatinga; 9: uncultivated land; 10: corral; 11: irrigation pipes; 12: fences; 13: aveledgerow; 14: simple hut; 15: residence; 16: road. (Based on field observation.)

Although the local residents attempted to construct a small reservoir in the late nineteenth century by damming up a small stream of the Po River, the present Po Reservoir was completed by DNOCS (then called IFOCS) in 1923. Reconstructed thirty years later, the reservoir now holds 2 million m of water. However, the reservoir alone did not promote the development of irrigation farming. The real growth took place after 1984, when the SFrancisco reservoir was built on the Po River upstream of the Po reservoir as part of the state-sponsored Cana project. This reservoir, with a capacity of 9 million m, effectively promoted irrigated farming. In 1987, a third reservoir, named So, was constructed downstream on the same river. Although these three reservoirs belong to the smallscale group in our overall classification of Para's reservoirs, they have played important roles in intensifying Teixeira's farming.

Table 14.2 Land use cycles in the sert North-East Brazil

Irrigation method Location


Land use cycle (yrs) Use of caatinga Reference
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
No irrigation (rain) Caatinga/sert/td> D Caatinga(r) 30 Charcoal/ fire- wood/fence Johnson (1971)
Caatinga/Boa D Caatinga(r) DCaatinga(r) 10
Ventura MF MF Caatinga(r) DMF 15
Field/sertao MF MFA A A Caatinga(r) DMF 15 Fence/char- coal Andrade (1968)
Field/Boqueir/td> MF MFP P P P Caatinga(r) DMF 15
River Flood Vea (flood- plain) MF(r) 1 - Andrade (1968)
B(r) 1 _
R(r) 1 -
Ae and river Pump Boqueir/td> TT TT A A Banana(r) ? - Field Observation
Pump Boqueir/td> PP PP PP PP MF MF Orange(r) ? -
Pump Teixeira TT TT TT CC CC CC CC CC Caatinga(r) ? Ash
Pump Petrolina F F Grapes(r) ? -
Canal Petrolina TT TT TT F F F Tree crops ? -
Canal Petrolina TT TT F F F MF MF MF TT TT F F F MF MF 8 -
Canal Petrolina N N F F F MF MF MF N N F F F MF MF 8 -
Ground water (pumpwell)   Mossorio Grande doNorte) N Capoeira(r) DNCapoeira(r) DN Capoeira(r) 5 Ash Interview

D: clearing of caatinga; Capoeira: second growth; A: cotton; P: palma; M: maize; F: beans; B: sweet potatoes; R: rice; N: melons; T: tomatoes; P: bell peppers; C: carrots;
(r)continuous land use.

Figure 14.4 Distribution of irrigation farms in Teixeira, Para. (Based on interviews and data from the Bank of Brazil.)

In our field research, 88 farms utilizing irrigation were identified in the Texeira munico, based on our interviews and the data supplied at the branch office of Bank of Brazil (for details see Yagasaki et al., 1989). The total irrigated area amounted to 261 ha. This figure is nearly six times larger than that enumerated in the 1980 Census of Agriculture. Most irrigated fields are found around the Po and SFrancisco reservoirs, while others are dispersed, utilizing water from smaller reservoirs or rivers (fig. 14.4).

Carrots, tomatoes, and table beets are the major irrigated crops, accounting for 74 per cent, 16 per cent, and 5 per cent, respectively, of the total irrigated areas. Carrots are the most important, and are grown twice a year on wide mounds called canteiros with plenty of water and care. Figure 14.5 shows the land use of an irrigation farm on the SFrancisco reservoir, with carrots and tomatoes being the major crops. The owner plans to continue planting carrots for the next fifteen years. After tomato is harvested, the field will be planted with bell pepper and onions.

There are three types of irrigation farms, operated by ownergrowers (proprietos), renters (arrendatos), and share-croppers (meieros). Since it is difficult to purchase farmland within easy access to the reservoirs, renters and share-croppers are becoming increasingly dominant. They constitute one-half both in terms of acreage and the number of farms. Most of these farms have taken advantage of agricultural loans from the Bank of Brazil. Such agricultural credit can cover from 70 per cent to nearly 100 per cent of the necessary investments.

Figure 14.5 Land use of an irrigation farm in Teixeira, Para. 1: farm shed; 2: irrigation pipes; 3: carrots; 4: caatinga; 5: tomatoes; 6: other land use; 7: wasteland; 8: SFrancisco reservoir, 9: road. (Based on field observation.)

Carrots and tomatoes are marketed to the CEASAs in the major cities of the North-East. Carrots are particularly important in Fortaleza, Recife, and Salvador. In 1987, Fortaleza received some 2,000 tons of carrots from Teixeira, amounting to 34 per cent of the total receipt. In Recife, Teixeira's carrots accounted for 11 per cent. Teixeira is considered one of the major carrot-producing areas in the North-East. This development took place in a relatively short period of time.

3 Middle São Francisco valley

Sobradinho dam, CODEVASF, and irrigation projects

The SFrancisco River, originating in the state of Minas Gerais, is the largest permanent river of North-East Brazil. Enjoying semi-arid tropical conditions and an abundant supply of water all year round, the river's environs have great potential for agricultural development.

The middle SFrancisco Valley, particularly the area around the twin cities of Petrolina and Juiro, attracted national attention during the 1980s, when the region began to change rapidly from traditional sertcovered with caatinga into a productive farming area. The nature of the transformation process, as well as the type of irrigation farming, differs substantially from the spontaneous development exemplified by Boqueirand Teixeira.

The construction of the Sobradinho dam in 1978, some 30 km upstream from the urban settlements of Petrolina and Juiro, was one of the most important factors in transforming the region's economy, society, and landscape (fig. 14.6). There is a hydroelectric power plant with a capacity of 1 million kW. The Sobradinho lake has over 4,000Km of surface areas and a water storage capacity of 34 billion m. The water area is comparable to the Japanese inland sea of Setonaikai. The dam has contributed not only to stabilizing the volume of water flowing downstream but also to providing water for large irrigation projects.

The construction of the Sobradinho dam and the subsequent development of irrigation agriculture brought about a substantial influx of people. In 1940, the municos of Petrolina and Juiro had a combined population of some 30,000. This increased to 124,000 in 1970 and to 222,000 in 1980, reaching 332,000 in 1989. The din and bustle of the urbanized sections of Petrolina and Juiro remind us of the boom towns of the frontier.

Figure 14.6 Irrigation projects in the middle SFrancisco Valley. 1 to 7 correspond to projects in Table 3. (Based on the project plans of CODEVASF, aerial photographs, and field observation.)

The SFrancisco Valley is presently administered by the Development Company of the SFrancisco Valley (Companhia de Desenvolvimento do Vale do SFrancisco, CODEVASF), while the rest of the North-East falls under the jurisdiction of the aforementioned DNOCS. CODEVASF, a public corporation established in 1974 on the basis of SUVALE (Superintendency of the SFrancisco Valley), has five districts with headquarters in Brasilia. The Petrolina-Juiro area belongs to the third district, whose regional office is situated in Petrolina (CODEVASF, 1989).

CODEVASF has promoted regional development by organizing large irrigation projects (table 14.3). In the late 1960s and early 1970s, SUDENE and SUVALE launched the pilot project of Bebedouro in the Petrolina munico, and another pilot project, Mandacaru, in the Juiro municip for the settlement of small farmers. When CODEVASF took over the implementation of such colonization projects, it established the Tourproject in 1976, the Bebedouro II and Mania projects in 1981, the Curaproject in 1982, and the Senador Nilo Coelho project in 1984. These projects offer small parcelas (plots) for small farmers, as well as medium to large parcelas to corporate farms. The emphasis is increasingly on corporate farming, as can be seen particularly in the Tourproject. While Bebedouro and Mandacaru have limited areas under irrigation, CODEVASF's new developments have vast amounts of land under irrigation, including 10,000 ha in Tourand over 4,000 ha each in Manigoba and Cura In the Senador Nilo Coelho project, the largest development in the area, 20,000 ha would be irrigated upon its completion.

Small farms and corporate farms

Provided that a sufficient amount of water is supplied, the semi-arid tropical environment with ample sunshine promotes rapid plant growth. Agricultural production increased substantially in the 1980s, when tomatoes, melons, cotton, grapes, mangoes, and sugar cane became major crops. In the Juiro munico, the area planted with tomato increased sharply from less than 900 ha in 1984 and 3,800 ha a year later to 4,700 ha in 1988, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatist, IBGE). Melons were important throughout the decade, occupying 770 ha in 1988. The area under grapes also increased substantially in the mid-1980s, reaching over 200 ha in 1988. Mangoes, the most recent addition to the list of commercial crops, increased from 20 ha in 1986 to 240 ha in 1987. Although the area under sugar cane was only 1 ha in 1980, over 6,000 ha were recorded in 1988. As these statistics show, development of agriculture in this region took place only during the last decade. Small farms, medium- to large-scale corporate farms, and agroindustries have played their respective roles in this rapid development.

Table 14.3 Irrigation projects of CODEVASF in the middle SFrancisco Valley

Project Establishment Total area (ha) Irrigable area (ha) Pumping capacity (m3/s)

Colono area

Colono area

Lot Area (ha) Average Lot Area (ha) Major firm
1 Bebedouro I 1968 7,797 2,418 3.7 104 1,090 10.5 6 1,328  
2 Mandacaru 1973 823 382 0.72 331 331 6.5 1 51 EMBRAPA
3 Tour/td> 1976 10,713 10,454 11.06 32 182 5.7 M:17 2,034
L: 2 8,238 Agrovale/Frutivale


4 Bebedouro II 1981 2,064 667 1 2,064
5 Mania 1981 12,236 4,317 5.43 232 1,890 8.1 S/M:50 1,321
L: 1 500 Mania Agricola


6 Cura/td> 1982 15,059 4,436 5.66 267 1,964 7.3 16 2,280
7 Senador Nilo Coelho 1984 56,286 20,018 23.2 1,432 8,592 6.0 S/M:105 12~59/lot
L: 8 60~320/lot

S: Small; M: Medium; L: Large.
Sources: CODEVASF (1989): Informa gerais dos perimetros irrigados da 3 directoria regional da CODEVASF. CODEVASF (1982): Invento dos projetos de irriga.

Small farmers in irrigation projects are called colonos. They own five to ten hectares of farmland, and cultivate such cash crops as melons, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, and cotton. Colono farming is typically observed in the Bebedouro and Mandacaru projects, where agricultural cooperatives are effectively organized for cooperative purchase and marketing. The Agricultural Cooperative of Bebedouro (CAMPIB) has 130 members, and that of Mandacaru (CAMPIM) has 50 members.

Japanese farmers, widely known in Brazil as skilled producers of vegetables and fruits, are actively engaged in farming in this area. Although a small number of Japanese farmers started to produce melons in the 1970s, the real development took place in the mid1980s, when the Agricultural Cooperative of Cotia (Cooperative Agrla de Cotia), the largest agricultural cooperative in Brazil, founded by Japanese immigrants in the 1920s, started a colonization project. Obtaining some 1,000 ha from CODEVASF in the Cura project, thirty plots for settlers were prepared. Twenty-nine Japanese families with ample experience and capital from the states of SPaulo and Paranook advantage of this opportunity. After clearing caatinga and preparing fields in 1983, they initially planted tomatoes and melons for immediate returns. As grape vines grew, the colony developed as a centre of grape cultivation. Grapes are shipped to the domestic market as well as to Europe. Beside Cotia's colonization project, many Japanese are independently engaged in farming.

Japanese farmers function as agricultural innovators who experiment with new crops, technology, and marketing. They have contributed a great deal to producing and marketing melons for SPaulo. Double harvesting of grapes and year-round shipment of mangoes became successful due to their experiments. A winery with extensive vineyards is operated by a Japanese resettled from SPaulo. In support of their endeavours, the Agricultural Cooperative of Cotia, as well as the Agricultural Cooperative of South Brazil (Cooperative Agrla Sul Brasil), another Japanese-founded cooperative, opened branch offices in Juiro This region is thus becoming an outpost of Japanese colonization outside of the cultural and agricultural centres in SPaulo and northern Paran

Corporate farms, diverse in size, management, and origin, also play important roles in this region. The Bomprecompany, operating a large supermarket chain in the North-East with headquarters in Recife, operates a 5,000 ha farm of Frutivale in Juiro in and around the Tour o project. The DAN (Desenvolvimento Agrla do Nordeste S.A.) company, financed by the American Express Company and Brazilian investors, is operated by an Israeli firm with advanced technology for arid-land agriculture. An attempt by non-farming investors to make profits in agriculture is well exemplified by the Frutinor company. With headquarters in Salvador, it owns 8,000 ha in three locations. Figure 14.7 shows the land use of a Frutinor farm in the Curaproject. With four centre-pivot irrigation systems, 500 ha are under irrigation, and the fields are rotated for continuous harvest (for details, see Saito et al., 1991).

In addition, local cattle fazendas attempt to intensify parts of their land use by introducing irrigation farming. These corporate farms typically have gigantic centre-pivot irrigation facilities and expensive drip irrigation equipment.


The Petrolina-Juiro area has also attracted agricultural processing industries, which, in turn, promote farming activities. There are processing plants for tomatoes, cotton, and bell peppers. Wine, sugar, and alcohol are also produced. Some of these agro-industries have headquarters in southeastern Brazil, while others are multinational corporations.

The first enterprise to start agricultural processing was the SFrancisco Valley Winery (Vinicola do Vale do SFrancisco, Fazenda Milano), which initiated wine production in 1974. A decade later the second winery, operated by a Japanese Brazilian, appeared. Both wineries are managed by people resettled from the state of SPaulo.

Probably most important was the establishment of tomato processing plants. The Cicanorte company, established in 1978 in Juiro was the first to start processing tomatoes. It is a subsidiary of Cica headquartered in JundiaSPaulo. Two other major tomato processors, Etti and Costa Pinto, established their factories in Petrolina's industrial district in 1984 and 1988 respectively. The Paulo Coelho group, headed by a local economic and political leader in Petrolina, also started the Frutos do Vale company in 1986. These four tomato processors collect tomatoes by contracting with small farmers as well as large corporate growers. The area under contract amounted to some 15,000 ha in 1989. Tomato cultivation starts in March and the processing continues from June through November. Contracts are well planned in order to secure a stable supply of tomatoes (Saito and Yagasaki, 1991).

Figure 14.7 Land use of the Frutinor company's industrial farm. 1: watermelons; 2: tomatoes; 3: maize; 4: beans; 5: crotaralia; 6: under preparation; 7: harvested; 8: fruits; 9: grapes; 10: mangoes; 11: lemons; 12: bananas; 13: administrative facilities; 14: agrovila; 15: road; 16: irrigation canals; 17: capoeira; 18: caatinga. (Based on field observation and aerial photographs.)

The establishment of a sugar and alcohol factory by the Agrovale company in 1980 was very striking. The company owns some 16,000 ha, of which over 7,000 ha are planted to sugar cane. The Usina Mandacaru, located in the centre of the vast cane fields, functions from May through November. Its calendar differs substantially from that of the traditional sugar cane regions of the coastal North-East. Sugar-cane yields amount to some 120 tons per hectare, more than twice than that on the coast, and even higher than that in the canegrowing regions of SPaula. The operation is financed mainly by a civil engineering and construction firm based in Maceio.

There are two multinational corporations operating in this area. One is the Algodeira SMiguel company, started in 1984, a subsidiary of one of the world's largest cotton manufacturers, Coats Viyella, headquartered in Great Britain. Not only does it manage directly 1,200 ha of cotton fields, but it also has 2,500 ha under contract with small farmers. The other is Nisshin Seifun do Brasil. This Japanese firm extracts red dyes from bell peppers to make poultry feed. The product is exported to Japan.

4 Consequences of irrigation agriculture

During the 1980s the sertexperienced a substantial transformation where irrigation water became available. In this paper we have observed two types of irrigation farming. Small-scale spontaneous irrigation farming is practised around reservoirs constructed on small rivers in Boqueirand Teixeira. After the caatinga vegetation is cleared and burned, the field is irrigated by pumping up water. Although such fields are limited in area and tend to shift after several years of cultivation, this type of intensive farming plays a significant role in the metropolitan markets of the North-East.

On the other hand, large-scale transformations are taking place in the middle SFrancisco Valley. With the influx of capital, manpower and technology, and with governmental planning and support, the PetrolinaJuiro area has emerged as a productive farming region known as "New California." It produces fruits such as melons, grapes, and mangoes, as well as tomato pulp, cotton, wine, sugar, and alcohol for the national and international markets. The region is a contemporary frontier of Brazil.

If sufficient and regular supply of water is secured, the dry tropical environment has great merits for farming free from plant diseases. Besides, abundant sunshine throughout the year promotes uninterrupted plant growth. The unexploited soils are fertile enough. The construction of better roads and the development of trucking have improved the serts access to the coastal North-East as well as to the south-eastern metropolises.

Although intensive farming in our study areas has only a short history of development, taking place during the last decade, various consequences are already observed. More time is needed to evaluate critically the total consequences of irrigation farming in the sert but it is worth while mentioning some effects that we observed in the field.

Irrigation farming has introduced a new land-use system. The longterm, extensive use of land was replaced by the repeated cultivation system. Plant diseases have started to appear and soil productivity has begun to decline. Thus, the yield per unit area is decreasing. Consequently some fields have already been abandoned. In order to cultivate continuously, pesticides and fertilizers are increasingly applied. In addition, effective crop rotation systems need to be introduced. In the spontaneous irrigation areas around the reservoirs in Boqueirand Teixeira, the system of crop rotation depends on the farmers' empirical knowledge, taking into consideration the ecological responses of crops to the soil conditions. For example, tomatoes are a typical short-term crop, and carrots and bananas long-term crops.

In the industrial farms of the middle SFrancisco Valley, on the other hand, careful study of the soil and of market conditions decides the rotation system. It can be practised only with substantial aid of pesticides and fertilizers. Beans and crotalaria are also used in the crop rotation as cleaning crops. Tree crops are introduced and are becoming increasingly important.

Repeated application of irrigation water and excess use of pesticides and fertilizers often cause salinization of the soil. In the spontaneous farming regions of Boqueirand Teixeira, farms are mobile and fields are abandoned after several years of cultivation. In the Petrolina-Juiro area, the fields are permanent and more intensively utilized. This is because the producers own the land and invest substantial capital in it. Crops are more carefully rotated and drainage ditches are often observed in the fields to remove accumulated salt.

Social and economic consequences are also substantial in the middle SFrancisco Valley. Irrigation farming and agro-industries have created a sharp increase in job opportunities in both field and factory. This has caused a rapid increase in the population of Petrolina and Juiro and their urban centres have grown rapidly. There are numerous seasonal workers who find work in the fields during the busy harvesting season. Manufacturers of irrigation equipment have also been attracted to the region. Brazil's two major manufacturers have branch offices here, and one company has built a factory to supply irrigation equipment for the entire North-East, as well as for largescale developments in the cerrado region. The twin cities of Petrolina and Juiro with the landscape and atmosphere of the frontier's boom towns, are the most important inland centres of the North-East.

Concentration of land has also taken place in the process of agricultural development in the middle SFrancisco Valley. Early public irrigation projects, such as Bebedouro and Mandacaru, aimed to settle small farmers by giving them titles to the land. However, CODEVASF's recent development policy appears to promote largescale industrial farms (see table 14.3). In addition, turnover of land ownership appears to be frequent. Developed parcelas in irrigation projects are sold and purchased, while large farms and undeveloped land covered with caatinga are also on the market. Thus, land ownership is easily concentrated in the Petrolina-Juiro area. The largest industrial farm owns 15,000 ha.

In the small-scale spontaneous developments of Boqueirand Teixeira, on the other hand, the traditional system of land tenure persists and increased concentration is less apparent. In Boqueirwhere irrigation farming is undertaken by renting land and ample uncleared caatinga still exists, purchasing land decreases mobility and productivity. In Teixeira, where half of the irrigation farms are tenant-operated, the area accessible to the reservoir water is already extensively used and landowners are not willing to sell their properties. Under these conditions, it is difficult to accumulate farmland. Besides, large-scale industrial farms appear to have little interest in these areas.

Our observations clearly suggest that irrigation farming has largely modified the traditional landscape and land use of the sert Has it, then, transformed fundamentally its traditional social and economic structure? Is irrigation agriculture a successful strategy for the economic development of the North-East? Is the new farming system ecologically and economically viable in the long run? Do these farming regions become development centres for the diffusion of the intensive cultivation system? We do not yet have complete answers to these questions. Continued observation of the changes currently taking place in the sert is required to this end.


The field studies for this paper were financed by overseas research grants from the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture of Japan.


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GILBERTO C. GALLOP Leader, Land Management, Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical, CalColombia.

ICHIROKV HAYASHI Professor and Director, Sugadaira Montane Research Center, University of Tsukuba, Nagano, Japan.

MARIO HIRAOKA Professor, Department of Geography, Millersville University of Pennsylvania, USA.

PETER JIPP Graduate student, School of the Environment, Duke University, USA.

WIL DE JONG Research Associate, Institute of Economic Botany, New York Botanical Garden, New York, USA.

Em MATSUMOTO Associate Professor, Institute of Geoscience, University of Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

BETTY J. MBGGERS Research Associate, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. USA.

EMILIO F. MORAN Professor and Director, Anthropological Center for Training and Research on Global Environmental Change (ACT), Indiana University, USA.

ROBERTO MOTTA Professor of Anthropology, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Recife, Brazil.

TOSHIE NISHTZAWA Professor, Tokyo Seitoku University, Chiba, Japan.

CHRISTINE PADOCH Scientist, Institute of Economic Botany, New York Botanical Garden, New York, USA.

MIGUEL PINEDO-VASQUEZ Research Associate, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, USA.

ISAO SATTO Professor, Institute of Geoscience, University of Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

HILGARD O'REILLY STERNBERG Emeritus Professor of Geography, University of California. Berkelev. USA.

MTNORU TANAKA Research Associate, Meteorological Research Institute, Ibaraki, Japan.

AKIO TSUCHIYA Assistant Professor, Faculty of Integrated Arts and Sciences, Department of Natural Environmental Studies, Hiroshima University, Hiroshima, Japan.

JUHA 1. UITTO Academic Officer, The United Nations University, Tokyo, Japan.

MARIA MAGDALENA VIEIRA PINTO Fundacao Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatica (retired), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

MANUEL WINOGRAD Director, Grupo de Ansis de Sistemas Ecolos (GASE), Buenos Aires, Argentina.

NORITAKA YAGASAKI Associate Professor, Department of Geography, Yokohama National University, Kanagawa, Japan.

DANIEL ZARIN Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Geology, University of Pennsylvania, USA.