Brazil urged to expand
land rental market but small farmers aren't convinced
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[September 08, 2016]
By Chris Arsenault
RIO PRETO, Brazil (Thomson Reuters
Foundation) - Brazilian farmer Ivan Engler shakes his head at the
thought of renting out his land, where he grows sweet potato and
passion fruit, despite overtures from a big agricultural company
keen to expand its territory.
For years, the farmer raised his family on this 11-hectare plot of
land outside Brasilia. The proceeds have fed, clothed and provided
his children with an education.
"For the wellbeing of my family, I thought about renting my land,"
Engler told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"But I don't want to rent my land to bigger companies or big farms
... I like seeing my small farm grow."
In many developed countries, big commercial agricultural firms often
lease land from small-scale farmers to help consolidate land
Supporters of the practice say it can help improve efficiency and
profitability in farm operations while safeguarding long-term land
rights for farmers like Engler.
However, in Brazil, where one percent of the population owns nearly
half the land and territorial conflicts are common due to a lack of
property deeds, many small-scale growers are not convinced they
should pursue commercial rental deals.
Their concerns could be a stumbling block to efforts to boost
production in Brazil, which is already the world's largest exporter
of sugar, coffee and beef.
If Brazil's newly-installed government is to achieve its goal of
expanding the country's vast agricultural potential, the slow rental
market needs to be addressed, land experts say.
"The best way to get this (growth) would be through a rental
market," said Maximo Torero, director of markets at the Washington
D.C.-based International Food Policy Research Group (IFPRI).
"The farmers are included; they still have ownership," Torero told
the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"They get rent money and the land is used more effectively."
Under rental agreements, small-scale landowners retain their title
deeds, but larger companies with access to capital and machinery pay
for the right to use the land to grow their crops.
Owners' fears their land could be taken over in unscrupulous
business dealings have contributed to a weak farmland rental market
in Brazil, which has cumbersome regulations in comparison with other
major economies, researchers say.
Less than four percent of Brazil's farmland is rented under lease or
sharecropping contracts compared to 33 percent in Europe or 38
percent in the United States, according to the World Census of
"A lot of Brazilians view land renting as exploitative," said Lee
Alston, a professor of economics at Indiana University, who studies
Frequent land conflicts in South America's largest country and
unclear property titles in rural areas have deterred owners from
renting their land, Alston said.
[to top of second column]
An aerial view of a tract of Amazon jungle recently cleared by
loggers and farmers near the city of Novo Progresso, Brazil
September 22, 2013. Picture taken September 22, 2013. REUTERS/Nacho
"They fear it could be expropriated," he told the Thomson Reuters
The government needs to simplify rental contracts so investments are
protected, he said.
The expansion of land rentals has also run into criticism for
favoring the production of monoculture crops like soy or sugar by
large farms, rather than more varied food for local consumption.
"Land rentals usually mean that a rich farmer will exploit the land
of a poor farmer," said Daniel Balaban, director of the United
Nations Centre of Excellence Against Hunger in Brasilia.
"It's not in the best interest of Brazilian public policies to
encourage the expansion of this market," he told the Thomson Reuters
Seventy percent of the food consumed by Brazilians is grown by small
farmers, according to U.N. data.
If they rent out their land, larger farms are more likely to grow
less healthy food for export, Balaban said.
"For small farmers the land is not only their work," Balaban said.
"It's their home."
Back on his farm, Engler, the fruit and vegetable grower, agrees.
Today, he isn't keen on renting his land to a larger operation, but
he says his views might change as he gets older.
Engler's two daughters have moved away from the farm to take jobs in
the city. They show little interest in moving back to the
countryside to work on the land, he said.
"I am not sure yet what I will do in the future," Engler said,
adding that his daughters might want to rent out the land once he
(Reporting by Chris Arsenault; Editing by Paola Totaro and Katie
Nguyen.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news,
women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)
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