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Patterns of Economic Development


Most crop and livestock production in South America is for home consumption and domestic markets. Nevertheless, revenues from agricultural exports are very important in many South American countries. The processing, internal marketing, and exporting of agricultural products account for a substantial part of commercial and manufacturing activity. Although agriculture, together with hunting, fishing, and forestry, accounted for about 12 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) within the continent in the 1990s, it accounted for more than 30 percent of the labor force in Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, and Ecuador, between 20 percent and 30 percent in Colombia, Brazil, and Guyana, and less than 20 percent in Suriname, Chile, Uruguay, Venezuela, Argentina, and French Guiana.

The most intensive forms of commercial agriculture are concentrated near cities. Perishables, such as vegetables, fruits, and dairy items, are the principal products here. The production of staples such as root crops, beans, and corn is more dispersed. In many areas these crops are raised by subsistence farmers under unfavorable climatic or soil conditions. Wheat and rice tend to be produced wherever conditions are most suitable. The nonexport beef-cattle industry is dispersed widely; the raising of beef cattle for export is of particular importance in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Colombia. Export-oriented agriculture is pursued in the tropical areas and midlatitudes, where arable land and access to ports are optimal. Among the tropical crops, coffee is the most important. It is produced in the highlands, chiefly in southeastern Brazil and in west central Colombia. Cacao is important in eastern Brazil and west central Ecuador. Bananas and sugarcane are produced throughout the tropics, mostly for domestic markets. Bananas are grown for export in Colombia and western Ecuador; sugar is produced for export in coastal Peru, Guyana, and Suriname. Cotton has been produced for export for many decades in coastal Peru. Cotton and sugarcane are also raised (both for export and domestic markets) in northeastern and southeastern Brazil. In southeastern Brazil soybeans have, since the 1970s, become an important export crop. Soybeans are less important in Argentina, where fertile prairie soils have long supported grain and livestock industries of worldwide importance. Argentine wheat, corn, linseed, beef, mutton, hides, and wool are important items of international trade. Uruguay has a long-standing export trade dominated by wool and hides.

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