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Research Report

Soybean and oil palm expansion in South America: A review of main trends and implications

Pablo Pacheco
Copyright Date: Jan. 1, 2012
Pages: 38
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-2)

    Arable land under cultivation has expanded in recent decades, in some cases associated with growths in yields, thus leading to a net increase in total food supply around the world. By 2010, most arable land cultivated grains such as wheat, rice and maize (532 million ha). Annual growth rates were relatively modest, except for maize, which grew by 1.6% per year between 2001 and 2010 (FAOSTAT 2011). In the same period, soybean cultivation has expanded significantly, reaching 102 million ha in 2010, with an annual rate of growth of 2.9%. Oil palm represents less cultivated land but experienced high growth...

  2. (pp. 2-7)

    Two main trends are taking place in the agricultural sector in South America: a relative stagnation of traditional crop production and a growing expansion of new crops, mainly oilseeds and sugarcane.

    The latter is primarily associated, firstly, to a growing demand in the food and feed markets for agricultural production (particularly in Asia) and secondly, to an expanding demand for feedstocks for biofuel production to supply both domestic and international markets. The intersection of food and fuel markets has made these interactions relatively more complex over time. Agricultural production dynamics currently respond to changes in demand taking place in these...

  3. (pp. 7-17)

    As mentioned earlier, the most important agricultural dynamic in Latin America in the last two decades has been linked to the enormous expansion of soybean cultivation. This started in the Pampean region in Argentina and southern Brazil, expanding towards the north of Argentina, and the centre-west of Brazil (Schnepf et al. 2001). Furthermore, Brazilian investors were relatively active in expanding the soybean frontier in the Bolivian lowlands in eastern Santa Cruz, where the best agricultural lands are located (Pacheco 2006) and in the Chaco region in northern Paraguay, where most soybean expansion is taking place (Riquelme et al. 2006).


  4. (pp. 17-23)

    Oil palm cultivation is becoming increasingly attractive in South American countries for two reasons: it constitutes an important raw material for edible oil production and it’s the most productive feedstock for biodiesel production. Its cultivation has increased in the region since the 1980s, although it has become more significant in the two subsequent decades. Its annual rate of growth was equivalent to 4.9% in the 1990s and to 3.6% from 2000 to 2010 (Table 11). According to FAOSTAT (2011) main countries producing oil palm are Colombia (165 000 ha), Ecuador (135 000 ha) and Brazil (91 000 ha). Plantations have...

  5. (pp. 23-25)

    Most of the changes in agriculture in South America in recent years have been associated with soybean, sugarcane and oil palm expansion. This expansion has prompted significant agricultural development, along with important trends of modernisation of production. This, in turn, has brought significant earnings for rural producers and several other groups associated with the respective value chains, stimulating local development where these crops are grown.

    Soybean growth has been driven by increasing demand, which has benefitted from important technological change linked to the use of improved seeds and adoption of capital-intensive mechanised agriculture, often in medium- and large-scale landholdings. Oil...