Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Brazil as a Rice-Producing Nation - Part 2

If Discovery Channel can have a Shark Week (about one out of every five weeks, it seems) then Flavors of Brazil can certainly have a Rice Week, which is what this week appears to be turning out to be here on the blog. Rice is such an essential and central part of Brazilian food culture that it deserves detailed coverage - and lots of recipes to showcase how many different ways rice is eaten in Brazil.

In the first part of this "rice saga", published yesterday, we detailed where Brazil fits in as part of worldwide rice cultivation and consumption patterns. There are places on Earth where the population consumes more rice than Brazilians do, and there are many more where the population consumes much less. On a per capita basis, Brazilians are right in the middle in terms of rice consumption. What makes the Brazilian rice market so large, however, is the sheer size of Brazil's population. Brazil is the fifth most-populous nation in the world, with the current estimated population of just over 194 million. It is outranked only by China, India, the United States and Indonesia in terms of population. So if you take the estimated per capita consumption of 45 kgs (100 lbs) and multiply that by 200 million you've got a lot of rice.
Irrigated rice field - Rio Grande do Sul

Where is most of this rice grown? Although rice requires warm weather and adequate water to grow, large portions of Brazil are not suitable for rice cultivation. Rice cannot be cultivated in the Amazonian rain forest which covers more than half of Brazilian territory. Because of agricultural suitability, historical patterns of habitation and present-day economics rice cultivation is concentrated today in two Brazilian regions. The most important region is Brazil's far south - the two southern-most states in the country, Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina, where about 54% of Brazil's rice comes from. The second region is in the state of Mato Grosso, in the the Center-West Region, where about 15% of the nation's rice is grown. The balance of the crop comes from a number of regions in the South-east and North-east of the country.
Non-irrigated rice field - Mato Grosso

The two main regions for cultivating rice use very different cultivating techniques to grow rice. In the South, rice is grown on older, well-established and irrigated lands. In the Center-West, by contrast, rice is grown on non-irrigated, newly-cleared land where rice is used to prepare the land for soy and cotton production. Rice production, therefore, is much more stable in the traditional rice-growing regions in the South, where rice has a long history of cultivation and farmers have a greater investment in growing rice specifically, because of the infrastructure required for irrigation.

Ecologists and environmentalists point out that the Southern rice crop is more sustainable than the crop from the Center-West. In the Center-West rice farmers need newly-cleared land for their crop, which means that deforestation is required. In the South, rice fields have long been established and there is no present-day deforestation occurring. Unfortunately, with the way rice is marketed in Brazil, it's virtually impossible to tell where the rice one buys in the supermarket comes from. Perhaps as consumers become more demanding in terms of food security and environmental impact some smart marketer might be able to sell sustainably grown rice, even at a premium. But the Brazilian market isn't yet at that point.

Of the total rice crop in Brazil 99% is long-grain rice and only 1% short-grain. Although whole-grain (brown) rice is available in most supermarkets, it's little seen in restaurants or in home cupboards and is consumed only by a very small percentage of the population. For nearly all Brazilians their daily rice is white and long-grain. Because the daily consumption of rice is such an integral part of Brazilian eating patterns, it will probably be some time before brown rice has wide acceptance.

Starting tomorrow,  Flavors of Brazil will continue its Rice Week with some typical Brazilian recipes for this grain.


  1. I've enjoyed these two posts! The place where we buy feed for our chickens and dogs processes rice from brown to white. I asked if I could come watch one day, and they couple responded to me like grandparents humoring a silly child. But I have an appointment with them and their HUGE machine! I want some of the rice bran, and they are excited to give it to me (they throw it away).

  2. Very interesting! I hope you'll add another comment to this post after your visit to the rice processing facility. What do you plan to do with the rice bran?