Cattle Ranching and Market Access in the Backlands: The Case of Mato Grosso, Brazil, 1890–1940

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 11:40 AM
Superior Room B (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Robert W. Wilcox, Northern Kentucky University
Today, the major ranching regions in Brazil’s dynamic cattle sector are the Central-Western states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, both with a long history of ranching extending from the late nineteenth century. While a vibrant business with extensive international linkages today, until the 1940s there was no obvious indication that the efforts of ranchers in the remote backlands of Brazil would yield much result. There was some limited growth based on unsystematic exports of cattle products to other regions of Brazil and even internationally, but cattle raisers faced significant obstacles to economic expansion that required them to resort to a variety of measures to establish viable networks, many of them unsuccessful. While an argument can be made that the production of cattle and beef in other states precluded access to markets from more remote regions, evidence strongly suggests that many difficulties in entering coastal and international markets were the result of a combination of local and national decisions and attitudes that deliberately ignored or bypassed the demands and needs of the Mato Grosso ranching sector. This involved a range of factors, including the often conflicting priorities of national and state governments, inefficient transportation structures, preconceptions of animal husbandry experts from outside the region, and even the mind-set of ranchers themselves. This paper will examine some of the most important obstacles to early ranching expansion in Mato Grosso in order to illustrate the complex process of integrating a remote ranching region into the national and international marketplace.