The Brazilian agricultural sector is well-known for its crucial role in food production, providing enough food to feed over 1.9 billion people every year. But its contribution to society goes far beyond that. In this article, we’ll examine how Brazilian agribusiness positively impacts sustainability, diversifies the energy mix, produces fibers, artifacts, and sustainable fuels, and most importantly, changes lives.
Guardian of biodiversity
One of its remarkable aspects is the agricultural sector’s ability to preserve areas with native vegetation. Brazilian farms are responsible for protecting 33.2% of the preserved areas in the country, which amounts to over 282 million hectares. To put it in perspective, these preserved areas on rural properties are nearly as large as the entire United Kingdom and the Netherlands territories combined.
Due to strict environmental legislation, these preserved areas play a crucial role in preserving biodiversity and maintaining natural ecosystems. However, it’s important to acknowledge and recognize the services provided by the sector for it to continue thriving in a sustainable way.
Energy beyond food
The sector’s sustainability is also evident in its contribution to electricity generation from renewable sources. In 2022, Brazil generated over 677 thousand GWh, with 87.2% of it coming from renewable sources. The agricultural sector alone contributed 52 thousand GWh coming from biomass, accounting for 8% of the country’s total power generation. This biomass energy source is particularly strategic, especially during the dry months when hydropower generation may be limited.
To give you an idea of this scale, the electricity generated solely from biomass by agribusiness (Agro) activities—excluding numerous agricultural premises that generate their own energy from solar power— would be sufficient to supply power to over 17 million people for a year. This energy supply is almost enough to meet the needs of the inhabitants of São Paulo, Brasília, and Salvador combined.
But Brazil’s energy transformation doesn’t stop there. Since the introduction of ethanol-powered cars in 1970, Brazil has been an example in promoting the use of non-fossil fuels in transportation. Today, the country has a fleet of over 40 million flex-fuel vehicles capable of running on either gasoline or ethanol.
Ethanol production by the agricultural sector has been a transformative source, estimated at 27.36 billion liters in 2022. Made from sugarcane and corn, this biofuel is used independently or as a blend demanded by Brazilian law.
Additionally, biodiesel production is on the rise, reaching 6.25 billion liters in 2022, with soybean as its main raw material. The use of biodiesel, either pure or blended with fossil fuels, contributes to making Brazil’s energy mix one of the cleanest in the world. This positions Brazil as a major player in the energy transition in the transportation sector, with the potential to use hybrid cars powered by electricity (87% renewable) and biofuels.
When it comes to sustainability and fighting climate change in the fuel sector, Brazil acts as a catalyst for change through the National Biofuels Policy (RENOVABIO), the world’s largest program for decarbonizing the transportation mix. This program generates decarbonization credits (CBIOs) for each ton of CO2 removed from the atmosphere. In 2022, over 41 million CBIOs were issued, surpassing the year’s target by more than 15%.
Brazilian agribusiness: present in our daily lives
In addition to the benefits related to food and power generation, the Brazilian agricultural sector has a significant impact through planted forests. With almost 10 million hectares of planted forests and a stock of 1.79 billion tons of CO2 equivalent, the forestry sector produces over 22 million tons of cellulose and 10 tons of paper, making Brazil the world’s largest exporter of pulp.
While it may seem far from our daily lives, products from the forestry sector are part of the everyday lives of many families worldwide. In addition to common uses such as furniture and construction, this sector also supplies raw materials for pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, solvents, diapers, adhesives, and even paints. It’s fascinating to realize how intertwined we are with these products!
Similarly, the global fashion industry benefits from Brazilian agribusiness through cotton. Brazil produced nearly 3 million tons of cotton lint in the last harvest, with three-quarters of the production sent to international markets. Asia—particularly countries like China, Vietnam, Turkey, and Bangladesh—is the main destination for Brazilian cotton imports. As a member of the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Brazil provides 42% of all BCI-certified cotton worldwide. In other words, for every 10 shirts produced with sustainable cotton, 4 are made with Brazilian cotton.
Leather is another agricultural product from Brazil that reaches several markets worldwide. As the second-largest global producer of bovine leather and the largest global exporter, Brazil feeds the automotive, furniture, clothing, and footwear industries. In 2022, Brazilian leather exports totaled $ 1.21 billion, with over 342 thousand tons shipped. The main buyers of Brazilian leather are China, the United States, and Italy.
Agribusiness: creating employment, yielding income, and changing lives
Brazilian agribusiness plays a vital role in the country’s economy, accounting for 24.5% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2022, it yielded over $159 billion in exports to more than 200 territories. However, its impact goes beyond economic figures. The sector supports over 5 million producers, with 80% of them being family farmers. It also provides employment for over 24 million people, representing nearly 24% of the country’s workforce.
The transformative power of the sector can be seen in the stories of people like David, Otávio, and Gervaso, whose lives have been changed through the support of the National Rural Learning Service (SENAR). The entity helps empower people in the sector that feeds, energizes, dresses, and transports us all.
From small to large producers, from food to fuel, from clothing to electricity, Brazilian Agro is more present in the lives of the world’s population than they are aware of, and the best part is that it provides all these services with sustainability and social responsibility.
*Maciel Silva is an agronomist engineer and Deputy Technical Director at the Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock (CNA).