State of Hunger: Local and Regional Disequilibrium in Brazil's First Ethanol Boom

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 11:20 AM
Superior Room B (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Thomas D. Rogers, Emory University
In 1975, Brazil's military regime launched the National Alcohol Program,
or ProAlcohol, which had consequences that were as diverse as, if not
consonant with, its goals. The immediate impetus for incentivizing the
production of ethanol from sugarcane came from the 1973 oil shock and
steeply rising fuel prices, but planners also sought to occupy the
industrial capacity that had fallen dormant in the years following the
weakening of the late-1960s boom, rescue sugar producers suffering from
falling sugar prices, and overcome "the contradictions of the rural
areas," including income disparities. Despite the justifications for
ProAlcohol in terms of social policy, the program facilitated increased
rural inequality and greater concentrations of land ownership in the hands
of small producer groups, even as it contributed to rapid rural to urban
migration. At the same time, regional inequalities increased as
northeastern producers lost more ground to center-south producers. This
paper examines the federal and state-level policy debates and decisions
regarding ProAlcohol from its inception, through its intensification in
1979, to its decline in 1985. At question here is the military regime's
vision of how to address energy challenges, rural/urban issues,
agribusiness, and regional competition, since ProAlcohol brought these
issues together. One vehicle for assessing these policy debates and
linking them to material social realities is food production and the
problem of hunger. The paper will pair the analysis of planning with a
discussion of nutrition studies, agricultural surveys, and rural
sustainability. This particular combination presages vigorous debates
about biofuels and food in 2008 and in the past few months (early 2011).