Land tenure in São Paulo

Image: Min An


In general, small and medium-sized landowners maintained their rural real estate assets, but were and continue to stop being farmers.

The concentration of ownership of agricultural areas in the state of São Paulo has been increasing progressively. The participation of the 5% largest establishments in the total area increased from 53% to 66%, from 1996 to 2017, as shown by the agricultural censuses of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). In other words, 5% of São Paulo's establishments control 2/3 of the State's agricultural area, leaving 1/3 for the other 95%.

Another indicator that corroborates this concentration is the Gini Index for land distribution among agricultural establishments, which went from 0,760 in 1996 to 0,833 in 2017. This index measures inequality and varies between 0 and 1. The closer 0 is the least unequal distribution of the variable considered and values ​​above 0,4 already indicate high concentration.

It is important to realize that the concentration of rural property has been shown to be much lower than that of agricultural ownership or exploitation. Just compare the distribution of rural properties with that of agricultural establishments. In 2017, establishments above 1.000 hectares (ha) exploited 45% of the census area in São Paulo, compared to just 12,5% ​​of those below 50 ha. In 2018, rural properties above 1.000 ha had 21% of the area registered with the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform, while for those below 50 ha this value was slightly higher, at 23%.

In general, small and medium-sized landowners maintained their rural real estate assets, but were and continue to stop being farmers. They live in the 645 municipalities of São Paulo, where many are dedicated to service activities, and the onerous transfer of their rural area to third parties is an important source of family income.

The rental of land for agricultural exploration took a leap between 1996 and 2017. In that year, 86% of the area of ​​São Paulo establishments was exploited directly by their owners, compared to 13% exploited via lease or partnership contracts and 1% in other ways. In 2017, the importance of owned land fell to 63%, while that of rented land grew to 34%, 19% in the form of leasing, 15% in agricultural partnerships.

It should be clarified that the current partnership has no relationship with the one that existed in the 1970s, when the partner was small (with an average area of ​​12 ha) and subordinated to the land owner. In 2017, the average area taken up in partnership was 576 ha, compared to an average area of ​​88 ha for all agricultural establishments in São Paulo. In reality, the current partnership is used to reduce the incidence of Income Tax on the land owner, disguising a contract that, in fact, is a lease.

The expansion of the sugar-energy complex (sugar-alcohol, in the previous name) and its agricultural raw material, sugar cane, helps to explain much of what has happened in the São Paulo land structure in recent decades. Sugarcane advanced, replacing pasture areas, especially, and other crops and becoming concentrated in large establishments. Data from 2017 shows that 78% of the area cultivated with sugarcane in São Paulo was located in establishments larger than 1.000 ha. For reforestation, this number was 63%, for other crops, 34% and for pasture, it was 15%.

It will certainly surprise many that the pasture area is no longer concentrated in large establishments in São Paulo. In fact, the participation of establishments up to 50 ha, 23% in the pasture area, was greater than that of those larger than 1.000 ha. Another piece of information, while in all establishments 29% of the area was occupied by pasture, in those under 50 ha this percentage exceeded 50%.

This does not seem to be related to the use of the area for dairy cattle farming, even though milk production in agricultural establishments fell by 23% in São Paulo, from 1996 to 2017. A likely explanation is that a large part of small farmers in São Paulo, Given the lack of other options, it is preferring to leave a significant part of its areas with pasture for beef cattle farming, which requires less investment and labor dedication.

The greatest difficulties and less recent dynamism of small establishments are evident when comparing the average and total gross income. In 1975, establishments up to 50 ha obtained income per area 3,9 times higher than establishments above 1.000 ha, a number that fell to 1,6 times in 2017. In 1975, 35% of the gross income of agriculture in São Paulo came from establishments up to 50 ha, falling to 19% in 2017.

When considering the different regions of São Paulo, it is clear that the greater the percentage of area planted with sugar cane, the greater the percentage of area under lease/partnership. Sugar-energy agro-industries (mills) directly produce 60% of the sugar cane processed in São Paulo and purchase the other 40% from supplier farmers. Of the plant's so-called own sugarcane, 20% is grown on land it owns and 80% on leased land or in partnership. For the farmer, providing the area for sugarcane cultivation provides a higher income than if it were provided for other crops or livestock.

The greater sugar-energy and sugarcane dynamism in relation to other agro-industrial complexes and the impacts caused on the São Paulo land structure have several causes: historical, linked to the State's industrial, logistics and consumption structure, strong vertical integration between the plant and sugarcane farming, implementation of policies public, quantitative and qualitative advances in sugarcane mechanization. This analysis will not be in-depth here, but it is immediately suggested that the causes of transformation should not be reduced to a current analytical fad, of attributing everything to financialization of agriculture.

However, it cannot be ignored that, for a long time, the sugar-energy complex has been covered, in a privileged way, by public actions and programs, by state and federal governments and research institutes. In 1975, Proálcool was created, granting abundant subsidies for investments, production and consumption of ethanol, contributing to the advancement of sugarcane from the center-north to the west and south of São Paulo.

From then on, without intending to exhaust the relationship, other public support can be mentioned, such as the obligation by law to mix 25% ethanol with gasoline, the charging of a much lower ICMS rate on ethanol than on gasoline , the creation of the BIOEN Program by FAPESP, the strengthening of the sugarcane section of the Campinas Agronomic Institute, BNDES' PRORENOVA, the Agro-Environmental Protocol of the São Paulo Sugar Energy Sector, among others.

Many will consider it inevitable that the development of São Paulo's agriculture will be accompanied by an increase in the concentration of land use and the exclusion and discouragement of small farmers, as well as rural workers, whose numbers have fallen sharply in the present century. And they will not fail to highlight the positive economic effects of the sugar-energy complex, including guaranteeing extra income for small rural landowners who are no longer dedicated to agriculture.

From this perspective, there would not be much more left for small farmers than to hope that sugarcane entrepreneurs, when expanding their planted areas, offer rental proposals for their land. Or they can be achieved by expanding the urban area and implementing rural subdivisions for leisure and recreation, allowing them to obtain significant patrimonial gains.

Alternatively, one can envisage the possibility of adopting public policies that encourage the intensification of production and the obtaining of higher incomes by small farmers, as well as greater productive diversity in the State. This would involve strengthening traditional public actions, in the fields of research, technical assistance and rural extension, rural credit and public food purchases. As well as, in the consolidation and public validation of new technologies, including those with an agroecological basis. It should not be overlooked that, currently, there are possibilities that small farmers will receive payment for environmental services provided, in the preservation and recovery of natural vegetation and water sources.

Not an easy alternative to achieve. Especially because the last state governments scrapped public bodies and instruments for planning and executing actions with greater social reach. They have also maintained a close relationship with the interests of large businesspeople, including those from the sugar-energy complex, revealing little capacity to consider the demands of small farmers.

To make this fact worse, while large farmers have shown the ability to act collectively and permanently, the interests and demands of small farmers manifest themselves in a diffuse, sporadic and poorly organized way.

*José Giacomo Baccarin he is a professor at Unesp; of agrarian economics and agricultural policies on the campuses of Jaboticabal, at the undergraduate level, and Rio Claro, at the postgraduate level in geography.

the earth is round exists thanks to our readers and supporters.
Help us keep this idea going.

See this link for all articles