South America is the fourth largest continent with twelve per cent of the world’s landmass. A major portion of this continent lies in southern hemisphere. It has very high mountains, large plateaus and great river plains. The hot and wet evergreen forests are dense and almost impenetrable. The tropical and temperate grasslands get seasonal rain. It also has the Atacama and Patagonia deserts.
Only 10 per cent of the soil is suited to agriculture. Wheat, maize, sugarcane, coffee and banana are important crops. Sheep and cattle are reared on a large scale on the grasslands in a number of countries. They yield meat, wool and variety of dairy products.
South America is rich in minerals like oil, copper, tin, silver, iron, bauxite, manganese and antimony. Economic resources of the continent are rather poor as most of the countries are still undeveloped. Some of the natural resources have not been tapped. Minerals are exported without developing industries. Only Argentina and Brazil are the more developed countries. While Brazil has developed its mineral based industries, Argentina has developed its agricultural raw materials. You will learn more about these countries in this unit.
Water resources although abundant have not been utilized sufficiently to produce electricity. Major industries are meat packing, textiles, sugar refineries and leather ware. Heavy industries are gradually coming up.
A very rapid population growth has been experienced in South America; between 1960 to 1990, it almost doubled. Brazil, Columbia and Venezuela are densely populated. Most people live in big cities and ports near the coast. The transport network is not yet well developed considering the vast size of the continent.
Republic of Brazil is the largest country in South America. It occupies an area of 8.5 million sq.km, which is nearly one-half of the continent. Brazil is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the north and east. It shares its borders with all South American countries except Chile and Ecuador. This country is about two and half times larger than India. It has a distinct tropical location. The country got its name from the redwood tree called ‘Brasil’ which was a major export to Europe in the past for red and purple dyes.
Brazil can be divided into three physical divisions :
(a) The Amazon basin
(b) Brazilian highlands
(c) Coastal region
The Amazon basin covers three-fourths of the country’s area in the saucer-like lowland and is drained by the numerous tributaries of the vast river Amazon (see the map 13.1). The river also flows through a belt of north-east Bolivia, eastern Peru and south-east Colombia. The Amazon basin is surrounded by various highlands.
The Brazilian highlands slope from the east towards the north and west. They cover a fourth of Brazil and have a row of short, swift tumbling rivers along the raised part which drop suddenly towards the narrow coastal plains.
The coastal region in the north and eastern fringe borders the Atlantic Ocean. It is made up of the mouth of Amazon river in the north. In the east there is an ‘Escarpment’ i.e. a long steep slope o step like ending. It forms the western edge of the Brazilian highlands.
Climate and Natural Vegetation
Brazil is mainly a tropical country as a major part of it lies between 9o and 231/2o S. The extreme north has equatorial hot and wet climate all year. What is the vegetation of such areas ? The highlands are cooler because they are higher than sea level ? They get rain in summer. Tall coarse savanna grasses are found growing here. The south and south-east Brazilian plateau lies in warm temperature belt so the climate is mild and cool. There are few palm trees growing as well.
Natural Resources and Their Utilization
Brazil is rich in forest, soil and mineral resources. It is mainly an agricultural country that specializes in coffee production. Industrial development is limited and only contributes to 30 per cent of the earnings. Let us learn about the major resources of Brazil.
Forest Resources are the richest in the world. Many kinds of timber are obtained from trees like mahogany and balsa (a substitute for cork used to make life-boats). The cinchona tree yields quinine; carnauba palm gives wax from its leaves. Forest products include rubber, gum, nuts etc. The timber industry faces many problems in exploiting and transporting the hardwoods through the dense forests. The same species of trees are not found growing close together in the selves. Most of the trees that are cut down are along the river banks so that logs can be transported by water.
Agricultural Resources :
44 per cent of Brazil’s population is engaged in the agriculture. A number of crops such as maize, rice, beans, cassava and potatoes are grown for home consumption. The crops that are grown for export to other countries and earn foreign exchange are called ‘cash crops’. Important cash crops of Brazil are coffee, cotton, sugar-cane, cocoa, tobacco and oranges.
Brazil is often called the ‘Coffee Pot of the World’. The crops was introduced in the country by the Portuguese over a century ago. Today it is the largest producer and exporter of coffee in the world. Coffee is generally grown of large plantations called ‘fazendas’.
A large coffee fazenda may extend over several hundred sq.km with nearly a million coffee trees planted neatly in rows. On such a large fazenda, at least 4000 workers would be required to do various jobs. Trees are carefully pruned to a height of 2.5 metres to keep them low and enablehand-picking of the berries. The berry-picking season is in the cool dry months. Many families live on allotted parts of the plantation to look after a certain number of trees. They also cultivate some crops for their own consumption. Apart from the workers’ cottages, a fazenda has a school, church, a health centre, store and sometimes even a cinema to entertain the workers.
Coffee grows well on the slopes of the Brazlian plateau at altitudes of about 900 metres. The fertile well-drained volcanic soil called ‘Terra Roxa’ (red earth in Portguese) is ideal for growing coffee. Other advantages are temperatures ranging from 18o to 21o celcius and rainfall of 125 cm, well distributed over the year. Coffee trees begin to yield berries within five to six years after planting. Ripe berries are picked, sorted and washed. Then they may be dried and ‘hulled’ (the outer covering of the berries is removed to take out the beans). The coffee ‘beans’ are then cleaned, sorted and packed for export. Cocoa and cotton are also important cash crops of Brazil. Sugar-cane is grown in the north-east. Many kinds of tropical fruits like banana, pine-apples, oranges and grapes are also harvested.
Animal Rearing is an important occupation. One-eighth of the total land area of Brazil consists of grasslands of permanent pastures. As a result animals are reared for their meat, wool and hides. Cattle, pig, sheep, goat and horse are common domestic animals. Brazilian ranchers rear cattle in large numbers on open ranches of the interior grasslands called campos. The cattle are fattened when they are fully grown, slaughtered and their meat is processed at the packing centres.
Mineral Resources and Industries, Trade and Transport
Brazil possesses vast deposits of mineral wealth. It has the world’s largest iron resources. Phosphates, uranium, manganese, copper, coal, platinum and gold are mined from the ‘Minas Gerias’ (meaning many minerals) which lies in the Brazilian highlands. Mineral oil is a state monopology.
Brazil lacks good quality coal which hampers the development of its iron and steel industry. However its water resources have been utilised well to generate hydro electric power on a large scale. Brazil’s major industries are concentrated at Sao Paulo. Othe centres are Rio de Janeiro, Belo-Horizonte and Santos. Brazilia located high on the Brazilian highlands is the new capital city. There are cotton and woolen textile mills, ship building, motor cars, food stuffs, metals and chemical industries.
Brazil has a flourishing trade. Coffee accounts for 70 per cent of its exports. Cotton takes a second place. Cocoa, iron-ore, wood, sisal and sugar, meat and animal hides are also exported. Brazil imports mainly manufactured goods especially machines, machine tools, petroleum and coal, chemicals, wheat and flour. U.S.A., United Kingdom and Argentina are major trade partners.
Roads and Railways are presently concentrated in the southern and eastern parts (see the maps 13.3). Roads are being constructed in the interior parts where, so far, rivers are the major means of cheap transport. A long coastline with several port cities facilitates good trade. See the map and note the names of the port cities along the Atlantic Ocean.
People are the most important resource of a country. Brazil has a total population of a country. Brazil has a total population of over 165 million but the density of population is very low – about 19 persons per sq.km. The original inhabitants of Brazil mostly live in the forests of Amazon at the border of Paraguay. The Amazon Indians are primitive hunters and food gatherers. They are engaged in fishing and collecting forests resources like berries and fruits. They sleep in ‘hammocks’ made from jungle vines, negotiate the streams in ‘dugouts’, and catch fish with bows and arrows.
75 per cent of the population is made up of Mestizos who are of mixed European and Amazon Indian blood. Some Indians practices the slash-and-burn ‘shifting’ cultivation. This involves the cutting and clearing of an area in the forest, cultivating some root crops, and then abandoning the patch after some time. Today nearly half of Brazil’s population lives in cities, especially in the Atlantic coastal region of south east Brazil. Some important cities are Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Santos, Belo-Horizonte and Recife.