Rice Production in Brazil


General information

  • GNI per capita at PPP$, 2011: 11,420
  • Internal renewable water resources, 2011: 5,418 km3/year
  • Incoming water flow, 2011: 2,815 km3/year
  • Main food consumed, 2009: milk, fruits, cereals (rice, wheat, maize), meat, starchy roots, fermented beverages, vegetables, sugar and sweeteners, soybean oil
  • Rice consumption, 2009: 34.6 kg milled rice per person per year

Production seasons




South, main
Northeast, main
North, main Nov-Dec Apr-Jun

Write-up taken from the IRRI’s Rice Almanac (2013):

Brazil, the fifth-largest country in the world, is located in east-central South America and occupies almost 50% of the continent. Its national territory covers 8,514,599 km2 and includes archipelagos of Fernando de Noronha, Trindade and Martim Vaz, and São Pedro e São Paulo, and the Rocas Atoll. The Atlantic Ocean borders the entire east coast, with a length of 10,959 km. Brazil has country borders with Guyana (1,731 km), Venezuela (2,078 km), Suriname (438 km), French Guyana (664 km), Uruguay (1,044 km), Bolivia (3,338 km), Peru (2,241 km), and Colombia (1,532 km).

Brazil has a population of nearly 196 million (2011), increasing from about 150 million in 1990. The most populated regions are the southeast, which has 41% of the Brazilian population, the northeast with 28%, and the south with 14%. Those are also the regions with the highest population density: 84, 47, and 33 persons per km², respectively. In contrast, the agricultural population decreased by 40%, while the agricultural area increased, from 241,608 ha in 1990 to 264,500 ha in 2009.  

The economy, based on well-developed agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and service sectors, is expanding and stands out among Latin American countries. The GNI per capita at PPP$ grew from 8,810 in 2006 to 11,000 in 2010 alone. The national poverty rate declined from 30.8% in 2005 to 21.4% in 2009, while external debt (% of GNI) fell from 47.5% in 2002 to 16.9% in 2010.

In 2006, perennial crops occupied 3.5% of the total land area, field crops 13.2%, natural pastures 17.1%, cultivated pastures 31.3%, forests and conservation units 26.0%, cultivated forest (silviculture) 1.4%, and nonarable land 1.8%. In the 2011-12 season, approximately 50.3 million ha were cultivated and produced 157.5 million t of cereals and oilseeds. The main food crops are rice, maize, and soybeans, representing 90.7% of total production, using 83.1% of the cultivated area.

Five regions can be distinguished: north, northeast, south, southeast, and center-west. The north is the largest region, covering almost 45% of the country, including the Amazon’s tropical forest. The climate is hot and humid with an average temperature of 26 °C and 1,500—3,000 mm rainfall. The northeast includes the semiarid lands characterized by an irregular rainfall pattern of 250—750 mm per year. The south is in the temperate zone and includes the Uruguayan savanna. This area has cool-dry winters and warm-moist summers. The southeast is characterized by milder winters and rainy summers with temperatures between 18 and 24 °C and 900—4,400 mm rainfall; the Atlantic forest is included even though less than 10% of its original area remains because of farming, ranching, and charcoal making. Finally, the center-west includes the vast tropical savanna ecoregion known as “cerrados” that account for 21% of Brazilian territory. It is the richest tropical savanna region in the world and has a semihumid tropical climate with 22—26 °C average temperature and 1,250—3,000 mm rainfall.

The basic staple foods in Brazil are rice, cassava, and beans; however, lately, beans and cassava have lost favor and wheat consumption has increased. At present, rice calorie intake is around 11% of total calorie intake and protein intake is almost 8%. Wheat and meat contribute more calories and protein than rice, with values of more than 12% each. 

Rice is cultivated in almost all 558 micro-regions of the country. In 2010, only 129 micro-regions did not produce any rice. In that year, 81.8% of production was concentrated in the states of Rio Grande do Sul (61.1%), Santa Catarina (9.2%), Mato Grosso (6.1%), and Maranhão (5.2%). A number of states produce more than they consume.

Rice production has increased in the last 20 years, from 9.5 million t in 1991 to 13.5 million t in 2011, an increase of about 30%. However, rice farming area fell from 4.1 million ha in 1991 to 2.7 million ha in 2011. 

Irrigated rice is the most important system of production. In 2010, the irrigated system covered 50.1% of the total area under cultivation and accounted for 78.0% of the production; upland rice occupied 49.1% of the area and produced 21.4% of the total; while rainfed lowland rice occupied 0.8% of the area and produced 0.6% of the total. The production increase is the result of a combination of adequate technology investments, yield improvement, and climate. Upland rice area decreased, associated with its low productivity, in comparison with lowland rice, attributed to dry spells during the crop season, low soil fertility, and high risks due to rainfall dependence. 

The average annual rice consumption per capita varies from 15 to 90 kg among the Brazilian states. The national average was 34.6 kg in 2009. The country can be divided into six regions in terms of rice production and consumption: Region 1: Maranhão and Piauí states, with high per capita consumption and local production enough to ensure local supply. However, consumer preferences regarding quality and the competitiveness of brands from other states affect this balance. Region 2: states with low per capita consumption but insufficient local production to supply local demand. Region 3: states where local production is higher than local demand; the surplus goes to other regions, mainly 1, 2, and 5. Region 4: including 50% of the population, with the highest GDP but insufficient rice production to satisfy demand. Region 5: areas with a deficit in rice production and a population with low per capita income. Consumers here prefer 1-kg bags of parboiled rice, while consumers in the other regions prefer 5-kg bags of rice. Region 6: the main producing region, where the major processors are located. Per capita consumption is lower than in the other regions. 

International agricultural trade has increased since 1990. In recent years, Brazil has become one of the main producers and exporters of food and vegetable fibers. The main exports are soybean, raw sugar, maize, chicken, green coffee, beef, and tobacco, reaching markets worldwide as well as within South America.

Recent developments in the rice sector

Brazil is the ninth-largest rice-producing country and largest outside Asia, with 11.3 million t in 2010, 1.7% of the world’s rice production. Because of several factors (e.g., Mercosur agreement, large country size, and market openings), Brazil is an importer as well as exporter of rice, being the largest South American rice importer at 590,000 t of milled rice and 82,146 t of paddy rice in 2009. The imported rice comes principally from Uruguay, Argentina, and Paraguay, which in 2009 sent 186,239, 131,926, and 58,440 t of milled rice and 29,913, 4,720, and 47,510 t of paddy rice, respectively.

Brazil became rice self-sufficient in 2002-03 and began exporting in 2004, with 36,717 t of milled rice, climbing to 511,919 t in 2008. Exports, which were less than 5% of rice production, were mainly for African countries such as Benin (108,138 t), Nigeria (80,998 t), South Africa (50,525 t), and Cameroon (16,547 t). Paddy rice was exported mainly to Venezuela (29,880 t).

In order to ensure domestic supply and minimum prices to farmers, the federal government intervenes whenever supply is higher than domestic demand, using a minimum price guarantee policy, which has a set of measures to influence markets.

Rice environments

Rice production systems vary from small nonmechanized farmers in the north and northeast to highly technical, large-scale production in the south and southeast. Planting methods involve direct sowing, minimum cultivation, conventional sowing, and pregermination. The first method is commonly used in upland rice production systems in areas repeatedly planted; the conventional method is used in rice areas recently opened and in the north and northeast, where agriculture is only for subsistence. In Santa Catarina, pregerminated seeds are preferred. 

In the north and northeast, a small area of lowland rice is located in the humid coastal strip. However, most of the region has subsistence agriculture. In the north, irrigation needs are minimal, but, in the northeast, water is scarce and uncontrolled water extraction has dried some rivers and streams. 

In the south, rice production is on a large scale, mechanized, and integrated with cattle grazing. Irrigation systems have been developed for flooding the lowlands. The main rice-producing state is Rio Grande do Sul, where rice production is completely mechanized and the farms are at least 200 ha in size. Santa Catarina is the other main Brazilian rice-producing state, also located in the south; there, the average farm size is 10 ha and the use of family labor is common. 

Upland rice is sown in several Brazilian states, mainly in the central-west (Mato Grosso and Goiás), northeast (Ceará and Piauí), southeast (São Paulo and Minas Gerais), and in the “cerrados” where it was the pioneer crop when agriculture began there during the 1980s. Production peaked in 1988 at 4.5 million t and has since declined. In 1999, the rice area was 2.4 million ha, or 64% of the total rice area and 38% of the total production. In recent years, the central-west planting area has declined from 15% to 11% of the total.

The southeast is one of the best regions for agriculture. It has great advantages over the south, where frost prevents cropping in winter. Because of the milder climate and some irrigation also being possible during the winter, the southeast has two growing seasons over the year. This has increased the living standards in the southeast. The northern and northeastern regions are the poorest in Brazil.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Food Supply in March 2012, a total of 251 varieties of rice were registered with the ministry. Long slender-grain rice with good cooking quality and high commercial value has been prioritized. 

Production constraints

Other crops. Soybean farming is expanding in the savanna region, while the agronomic and commercial challenges faced by upland rice are being neglected by both policymakers and agribusiness agents; the rice-growing area is decreasing. Also, there is no clear framework for the future of rice in the country regarding such issues as consumption trends, increasing the international market share, and, above all, the real possibilities of using rice by-products.

Production costs. Record national production in 2011 resulted in an excess of rice, which revealed some logistical constraints, especially transportation costs, which increased domestic rice prices. The government introduced subsidies to cope with cheaper rice imported from Uruguay.

According to the Instituto Rio Grandense do Arroz, rice production costs in Brazil are the highest in Latin America at US$2,200 per ha, especially in relation to these costs in Argentina (US$1,300) and Uruguay (US$1,600). Producers in Brazil fear that the increase in Argentina’s rice production along with lower interest rates and easy credit will make Brazilian rice even less competitive. A similar situation occurred with wheat being cheaper to import from neighboring countries such as Argentina. If this situation persists, rice producers may change to more profitable crops such as soybean. However, for the moment, they are reluctant to change, mainly because of their investments in rice irrigation systems.

Weeds. One of the biggest biological constraints to Brazilian irrigated rice production is the weed “red rice,” a major problem in rice-growing regions everywhere and affecting all production areas, especially Rio Grande do Sul, where it is critical. The problem is more common in direct-seeded areas and arises because red rice germinates later than domestic varieties, and the seed bank in the soil is replenished before the grain is harvested. Additionally, red rice and white rice are genetically close, so most products used for eliminating red rice will also affect white rice.

Production opportunities

Exports. The success of the southern region in rice production has been due to yield increase and improvements in quality of grains. Irrigated Brazilian rice can compete in the international market and, although Brazilian rice has increased its international market share in recent years, it makes up only 4% of traded rice.

New markets. Brazil has been exporting white rice to South Africa since 2009. In 2011, the first shipment of parboiled rice was sent and Brazil is expected to ship approximately 1,000 t monthly.

Importation. Since 2011, the government is requiring countries that export rice to Brazil to undertake residue analysis before it purchases the rice. This has affected the rice trade between Brazil and the two main rice providers, Argentina and Uruguay. The purpose is to protect Brazil’s national rice production, especially when there is a surplus.

Diverse rice-producing regions. Irrigated rice produced in southern Brazil reaches other regions of the country at competitive prices due to economies of scale, and is preferred by consumers. The main asset of rice from the southern states is the stronger organization of the production chain.

The main winner for irrigated rice production is Brazilian society. But rainfed production continues to have an important role in local supply, where brands from southern states are more expensive and less accessible to lower-income communities. Additionally, production in different regions may become more important for food security in future years if irrigated systems are affected by environmental threats. Therefore, it is economically and environmentally important to maintain rice production in several regions of the country.

Rice surplus. The excess rice production in 2011 and the challenges to trade forced rice growers to look for new uses for the surplus stocks as animal feed and even biofuel. In addition, surplus rice can be distributed as humanitarian assistance to eradicate hunger in the country.

Weed control. Red rice was controlled through minimum tillage in infested fields; however, a new hybrid rice resistant to herbicides named BRS Sinuelo Cl l was released by Embrapa and BASF in 2011, as part of the “Clearfield Production System;” with this hybrid, herbicides can be used to control red rice populations. Hybrid breeding was first launched in 1985 by Embrapa and IRAT (France) and continued later by IRGA and Fazenda Ana Paulo. In 2004, Embrapa began a collaborative breeding program with CIRAD (France). The future of hybrid rice in Brazil depends now mainly on improving grain quality. 

Research. In 1998, Embrapa began zoning the areas for rice cultivation in the states of Goiás, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Tocantins, and Minas Gerais. This is the main tool in defining the best timing and most suitable areas for planting upland rice along with the formulation of policies on production incentives in areas identified as having lower climatic risk. A water-balance model was used to estimate climatic risk, considering rainfall, potential evapotranspiration, crop coefficient, water storage capacity of the soil, and crop phenological stages. Zoning of irrigated rice in Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina has also been carried out.

Sources: FAO’s FAOSTAT databses online and AQUASTAT database online, as of September 2012. *CIAT in Focus, 2012.

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