In Brazil coexist great opulence and terrible misery, poor subsistence agriculture, especially in the Northeast, and market agriculture on enormous surfaces, advanced industry and more backward industrial processes that exploit the modest cost of labor. Recent economic development has sometimes been achieved at the expense of environmental balances. The per capita GDP – of 4720 dollars – signals a better situation for Brazil than in many other Latin American states, on a par with Chile, but less good than that of Argentina. However, this is a much lower figure than the average for Anglo-Saxon America and Central-Western Europe, and this figure represents a balance between the poverty of large rural and suburban masses and the wealth of narrow high social hierarchies and a middle and upper-middle urban class, quite widespread in the coastal megalopolis and in the southern states of Paraná (with Curitiba) and Rio Grande do Sul (with Pôrto Alegre).
The increase in some products, such as beef, is also due to farms planted on large deforested areas in the North and West, which last a few years, while the explanted forest can only partially regenerate; the meat also supplies the large North American chains of cheap restaurants. Brazilian cattle breeding is now, with 163 million head (1997), the largest not only in America, but in the world, if we exclude that of India, which nevertheless has particular characteristics. Even sheep and pigs (about 18, 5 million and over 36 million, respectively) are numerous; 1, 7 millions of buffaloes are, in America, a Brazilian peculiarity.
The traditional ability of Brazil to supply tropical and temperate agricultural products at the same time, given the vastness of the territory and therefore the variety of climates and soils, as well as the relative abundance of water, has experienced a considerable boost in recent years, for which the fluctuations in the international prices of some fundamental products in the past, such as coffee (B. remains the first producer in the world of coffee and cane sugar, the second of bananas, the fourth of cocoa), do not harm the country as a time, given the variety of agricultural production. The Brazil has also reached other conspicuous world positions for products other than the classic tropical ones, such as corn, after the USA and China, rice (for which it is the first American producer and the tenth in the world) or oranges (a gigantic production of these citrus fruits gives Brazil the world record); the spread of soybean cultivation makes it the second largest producer in the world after the USA. However, population growth requires sizeable imports (eg of wheat) despite relative abundance and diversification of the domestic product.
According to ebizdir, the growing mining exploitation, with a wide range of productions, is often carried out in the central and northern regions, with the construction of roads, the cutting down of other strips of forest, the creation of service centers which, once exhausted the deposit, they do not always become stable settlements. The hydroelectric potential is very high, due to the presence of large rivers (including the largest in the world), but the construction of gigantic dams, especially in tropical areas, involves unpredictable environmental impacts.
Oil extraction, on the increase (34.9 million tonnes in 1995), traditionally takes place in the states of Bahia and Espirito Santo, but has spread to the Amazon, along the marine continental shelf, and south to Paraná. The automotive industry is the largest in Latin America, and nearly as large as Canada’s, with 1. 804,328 vehicles (19.2 % of which were industrial vehicles) in 1996 ; ethanol, derived from sugar cane, is widely used as a fuel, but this production, although less polluting, suffers from competition from oil, which is increasingly abundant and at competitive prices on the domestic market.
The network of Brazilian airports is dense, not so much for the intercontinental or international ones, located in the megalopolis or in other large urban areas, but for the many minor airports, up to the small runways obtained in newly deforested clearings; the traffic of public and private companies, of aircraft at the service of companies and above all of the many small private planes allows to overcome the great distances of the country and allows refueling even in very secluded areas.
The Northeast remains one of the poorest regions in the world, in the overall context of a country that is not entirely poor, endowed with considerable resources and with an industrial system that is not complete but not even weak. There has never been a real agrarian reform in Brazil and the estates with the best lands remain in the hands of a few families or national and international companies.