Brazil Regional Complexes

There is another way to regionalize Brazil, in a way that better captures the socioeconomic situation and the relationships between society and the natural space. It deals with the geoeconomic division of the country into three large regional complexes: the Center-South , the Northeast and the Amazon .

Unlike the official regional division, this regionalization was not carried out by IBGE. It emerged with the Brazilian geographer Pedro Pinchas Geiger at the end of the 60s, in which the author took into account the historical process of formation of the Brazilian territory, especially industrialization, associated with natural aspects.

The division into regional complexes does not respect the boundary between states. The North of Minas Gerais is in the Northeast, while the rest of the Minas Gerais territory is in the Center-South. The east of Maranhão is in the Northeast, while the west is in the Amazon. The south of Tocantins and Mato Grosso is in the Center-South, but most of these states belong to the Amazon complex. As economic and population statistics are produced by states, this way of regionalizing is not useful under certain aspects, but it is very useful for geography, because it helps to tell the story of the production of the Brazilian space.

The Northeast was the richest economic hub in Portuguese America, based on the monoculture of sugarcane, using slave labor. In the 20th century, it became an economically problematic region, with a large population surplus. Northeastern migrations to other regions attest to this situation of poverty.

The Center-South is currently the economic center of the country. It concentrates the modern economy, both in the industrial sector and in the agricultural sector, in addition to the best service structure. It is also the political capital of the country.

The Brazilian Amazon is the most recent settlement space, still in the initial stage of human occupation. The area is covered by dense forest, with an equatorial climate, which makes settlement difficult. Migratory movements towards this regional complex come from both the Center-South and the Northeast, and today the region receives more population.

This is a superficial view of the organization of the Brazilian geographic space. It summarizes the main natural and human characteristics of each of these regions. Because they are vast areas, true regional complexes, the Northeast, the Center-South and the Amazon record deep natural, social and economic inequalities. The regions differ from each other and an internal variety of geographic landscapes.

In the midst of traditional poverty, the Northeast is home to immense economic and human resources, which point out ways to overcome a crisis that has gone on for too long. The changes introduced in the irrigated areas of the São Francisco Valley and the creation of industrial zones in the coastal area prove this possibility.

The generation of wealth in the Center-South made this region the richest in the country, establishing a pole of population attraction that, in the 20th century, gave rise to the largest national metropolises. The rapid pace of this growth has created extremely serious social disparities, such as unemployment, slums, and environmental problems that are difficult to solve.

Significant areas of the Amazon have already been occupied, especially those located in the eastern part of the region or on the banks of rivers. Today this settlement has accelerated a lot, to the point that conflicts over land tenure have become sadly common. Large cities were also formed, characterized by explosive growth and profound social and economic imbalances.

The northeast

a) The forest zone

It is the coastal strip of plains that extends from Rio Grande do Norte to southern Bahia. The rains are intense and there are two well-defined seasons: the dry summer and the rainy winter.

In colonial times, the slave sugar enterprise was installed in this area. The ecological conditions are ideal for growing sugarcane. The fertile and dark soils, known as massapê, cover the river valleys, which became known as “sugar rivers”. Several of these rivers are temporary, as their sources are located in the interior of the semi-arid region.

At the beginning of colonization, Zona da Mata was not completely dominated by sugarcane plantations. The population of cities and farms needed food. For this reason, part of the land was reserved for crops of corn, cassava, beans and fruit. There were also pastures for raising cattle. These lands were the tablelands, slightly higher areas situated between the valleys of two rivers.

As the soils in the trays are less humid and poorer than the massape, they were not used for planting sugarcane. Thus, initially, all agricultural production and even livestock were located on the humid coastal strip, where family farms that produced food and cattle ranches were installed.

But sugarcane production grew as sugar exports to Europe increased. Sesmarias were divided between the heirs of the first owners. Each of them created new mills, which needed more cane. Afterwards, the farms were bought by farmers and food crops were replaced by new sugarcane plantations.

A lot has changed in the Zona da Mata since colonial times. Slavery gave way to the salaried work of the cold buoys. The old mills were replaced by sugar and alcohol mills. But sugarcane remained the main product of the coastal strip in the Northeast.

The main reason for this permanence lies in the political strength of the owners of mills and farms. During the 20th century, the production of sugarcane, sugar and alcohol in the Center-South technically evolved, surpassing the production in the Zona da Mata. But the mill owners always got help from the federal or state governments, in the form of loans, debt forgiveness or guarantee of minimum prices. In this way, they prevented the diversification of agriculture on the northeastern coast.

This does not mean that sugarcane is the only crop in the Zona da Mata. On the coast of Bahia, mainly in the Recôncavo Baiano area, near Salvador, important tobacco crops appear. In the south of Bahia, in the area of ​​the cities of Ilhéus and Itabuna, cocoa farms are concentrated.

In addition, fruit production has been gaining importance in the Zona da Mata. There are several fruits native to the Northeast – such as cashew, cajá, mangaba and pitanga – that are used to make delicious juices and sweets. Other fruits from the tropical areas of the East – such as soursop, jackfruit and mango – have adapted very well to northeastern climates and soils.

b) The wild

It is an ecological transition strip between the Zona da Mata and the northeastern Sertão . Approximately the same width as the Zona da Mata, it runs parallel to it, from Rio Grande do Norte to southern Bahia. Although, as in Sertão, the semi-arid climate prevails, droughts in the Agreste are rarely as long-lasting and rainfall levels are greater than those recorded in Sertão.

In fact, a large part of the Agreste corresponds to the Borborema plateau, facing the Atlantic Ocean, receives winds laden with moisture that, in contact with the cooler air, cause significant rains. On the western slope of the plateau, droughts are frequent and the desolate landscape of the Sertão becomes dominant.

The settlement of Agreste was a consequence of the expansion of sugarcane plantations in the Zona da Mata. Expelled from the coast, the besiegers and cattle raisers settled in inland lands, previously occupied by indigenous people. Thus, the Agreste became a food producing area. The Agreste supplied the Zona da Mata with food and this, in turn, Europe exporting sugar.

After the end of slavery, sugarcane plantations started to use temporary workers, employed during the harvest season. The Agreste started to supply these workers: farmers and poor peasants who leave their land in the harvest months (transhumance). While the men earn some money from the harvest, the women and children continue to take care of the domestic crops.

While the Zona da Mata is a monoculture area, the Agreste is a polyculture area, as its farms cultivate various foods and raise cattle for the production of milk, cheese and butter. For this reason, one sub-region depends on the other, establishing a strong interdependence. Thus, the Zona da Mata needs the food and workers of the Agreste and the latter needs the consumer markets and jobs of the Zona da Mata.

The differences between the two subregions are not just in what they produce, but in how they produce.

In the Zona da Mata, the sugar land grants from the colonial era were divided and gave rise to hundreds of sugar mills. Some didn’t even make sugar, just brown sugar and brandy. Even so, the resulting farms did not become small properties, as the owners needed to maintain a sufficient area to supply the engenhos.

In the Agreste, on the contrary, properties were subdivided more and more, since they did not cultivate sugarcane or had sugar mills.

With the succession of several generations, the properties of the Agreste reached a minimum size, sufficient only for the production of food needed by the family, that is, for the practice of subsistence agriculture.

The poverty of the Northeast is associated with this contrast in the rural world. On the one hand, the sugar mills and farms in the Zona da Mata concentrate wealth in the hands of a small portion of owners. On the other hand, the smallholdings of the Agreste keep peasant families in poverty, who do not have enough land and techniques to practice business agriculture.

In recent years there has been a process of land concentration in the Agreste, mainly due to the expansion of properties for raising cattle for cutting.

c) The Sertão

According to Watchtutorials, more than half of the northeastern regional complex corresponds to the semi-arid Sertão. The caatinga, a word of indigenous origin that means “white forest”, is the dominant and almost exclusive cover in the immense Sertão area.

The occupation of the Sertão, still in the colonial period, was due to the expansion of cattle breeding areas. Extensive cattle raising represents, until today, the main activity of large properties in the semi-arid region.

In the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution was underway in England. Fabric factories were producing more and more, making fabulous profits and demanding ever-increasing amounts of raw materials. Around that time, cotton planting in the northeastern Sertão began to increase. Selling cotton to English industrialists had become a great business.

In the 19th century, the Civil War between Northerners and Southerners in the US disrupted US cotton exports. In the Northeast, ranchers from the Sertão began to cultivate cotton on a part of their land and Brazil took over markets previously controlled by the US. The cotton planters of the Sertão became rich farmers, who competed for power and influence with the mill owners in the Zona da Mata.

In the interior of the Sertão, an area in which rainfall is lower was defined, called “ Polígono das Droughts ”. However, it is not true that droughts are limited to the Polygon: they often affect the entire Sertão and even the Agreste. It is also not true that every year there are droughts in the Polygon.

In the Sertão there were historic droughts that lasted for several years, causing great social tragedies that are still remembered today.

The great droughts occurred after several years of irregular rains. The first great drought historically documented occurred in the period from 1721 to 1727. A historian, Tomás Pompeu de Assis Brasil, wrote that “1722 was the year of the great drought, in which not only died numerous indigenous tribes, such as cattle and even wild beasts and birds lay dead everywhere.”

The Pernambuco journalist Carlos Garcia explains the mechanism of the droughts: “The great drought of 1932 really began in 1926, when the rains were irregular, an irregularity that became more accentuated with each following year. In 1932, light rains fell in January but ceased entirely in March. The 1958 drought was also a major drought, which indicates the occurrence of a dry year cycle approximately every 26 years. This periodicity is what leads the sertanejos to affirm that every man has to face a great drought in his life.” (What is northeastern Brazil? São Paulo, Brasiliense, 1984, p.64.)

In addition to the great droughts, there are also localized droughts, which affect small stretches of one or another northeastern state but cause a lot of damage. They are usually caused by the lack of good rain in the weeks following the planting of corn, beans and cotton.

Planting is done right after the first summer rains. The germination and growth of the plants depend on the continuation of rain, in the exact amount. If the rains are reduced, heat and sunlight kill crops that have just sprouted. When it rains again, the peasant plants new crops. But if the rains stop again, tragedy begins.

At this point, the peasant no longer has money or credit in the banks. Therefore, it cannot restart planting. The corn and beans saved from the previous year are consumed. With no money and no food, all that is left is to wait for government help or else head for the cities. Thus, the countryman becomes a retreatant.

d) The mid-north

It covers the states of Piauí and Maranhão. From a natural point of view, it is a sub-region between the semi-arid Sertão and the equatorial Amazon.

This sub-region has a tropical climate, with heavy rains in summer. In the south of Piauí and Maranhão, vast expanses of cerrado appear . In the interior of Piauí there are patches of caatinga. In the west of Maranhão, the equatorial forest begins. Therefore, not all of the Mid-North is found in the northeastern regional complex: the western part of Maranhão is in the Amazon.

The Mid-North has three different areas, both in terms of occupation and landscape and economic activities.

The south and center of Piauí, dominated by the caatinga, seem to be a continuation of the Sertão. This area was occupied by the expansion of cattle ranches, which came from the interior of Pernambuco and Ceará. The cattle raising activity was responsible for the foundation of Teresina, the only state capital in the Northeast that is not located on the coast.

The Parnaíba Valley is a special area. Covered by Mata dos Cocais, it became a space for vegetable extraction of babassu oil and carnauba wax. These palm trees are not cultivated. Exploitation of its products consists only of cutting the leaves of the carnauba and collecting the babassu coconuts that fall from the tree.

In the wetlands of northern Maranhão, located on the outskirts of the Amazon, polyculture farms were formed that cultivate rice as the main product. The heavy rains and the semi-flooded areas of the floodplains of the Mearim and Pindaré rivers present ideal conditions for rice cultivation.

The Center-South

The Center-South extends from Minas Gerais to Rio Grande do Sul, also encompassing Mato Grosso do Sul, Goiás and the Federal District .

It is an area of ​​the Brazilian territory where the industrialization process, accelerated from the mid-twentieth century, took place with greater intensity. This led to its differentiation from the rest of the country.

The Center-South is the area with the greatest production capacity. In this region, flows of circulation of goods, people, capital and information occur with greater intensity. It houses the most important economic and political decision-making centers in the country.

The differentiation of the Center-South takes place through some relevant aspects. A first feature would be the large industrial concentration, with emphasis on five large industrial areas that are more or less diversified:

  • the industrial area that has its center in São Paulo and extends to Rio de Janeiro;
  • the metallurgical zone around Belo Horizonte;
  • the industrial area of ​​Curitiba;
  • the northeast of Santa Catarina, in the Itajaí valley;
  • the industrial area from Porto Alegre to Caxias do Sul.

The Center-South is the main agro-industrial belt in the country. In it we find areas in which a true industrialization of agriculture took place, with the use of machines, fertilizers and fertilizers, in addition to specializing production in the so-called rural companies.

The Center-South also has the best road infrastructure in the country. The intense circulation of products and people, made through a dense road and railway network, reveals the strong integration and dynamism of its internal area. As well as its articulation with other regions of the country.

Due to its greater economic development, it is in the Center-South that the highest income levels in the country occur. There is a strong contrast between the average income of an inhabitant of the Center-South and that of an inhabitant of the Northeast or the Amazon.

However, if there are areas with high levels of modernization and life, as in some cities in the interior of São Paulo, in the Vale do Itajaí, in Santa Catarina, or in the north of Paraná -, there are also real “pockets” of poverty. This is the case of Vale do Ribeira de Iguape, the satellite cities of Brasília and, mainly, the periphery of large urban centers. Even in wealthier areas the contrast between “places of the rich” and “places of the poor” is sharp, striking, and often frightening.

The Amazon

The Amazon comprises the territory of the States of Rondônia, Acre, Amazonas, Roraima, Pará and Amapá and Tocantins, entering through Maranhão and Mato Grosso. It is the area that, from the 1970s onwards, became part of the national market as a large resource resource frontier, that is, as an area for the supply of raw materials from agriculture and mining.

The occupation of the Amazon territory is still in progress. This occupation seeks to definitively integrate the area with the economy of the Center-South and even with the international economy, thanks to large capital investments in mining, agricultural and industrial projects.

The Amazon becomes, in this way, a frontier that is being expanded, and a reserve of resources that starts to be used. Among the main measures adopted to make this integration possible, we highlight the construction of highways, the most visible form of this integration. Until the 1950s, the economy of the Amazon converged with Belém, which acted as the great regional hub through a natural hydrographic network.

The construction of the Belém-Brasília, Brasília-Acre, Cuiabá-Santarém and Porto Velho-Manaus highways penetrated the region, accelerating the integration of the Amazon to the Center-South. Public and private capital invested in the construction of hydroelectric plants such as Tucuruí, the installation of mining centers such as Carajás, and industrial centers such as the Manaus Free Trade Zone, are seeking to integrate the region into the country’s economy more effectively – as a supplier of products semi-processed or processed products for large internal or external consumer markets, and also as a consumer market for products in the Center-South.

Fiscal incentives from the Superintendence for the Development of the Amazon (Sudam) have allowed large national and transnational companies to acquire enormous land properties, whose use of natural resources – minerals, wood and the land itself – has caused serious environmental damage.

The Amazon frontier has attracted, in recent decades, important flows of migrants. Two currents are identified: those that come from the Center-South, due to the modernization of agriculture, and that go to Mato Grosso, Rondônia and even to Acre; and those coming from the Northeast, heading to Pará and Tocantins, and forming the Eastern Amazon.

The occupation of the new frontier, to a great extent disorderly, causes serious social conflicts. The different contenders fight mainly for land ownership and for the use of the forest. Little by little, the movement that proposes the need to occupy the Amazon in a more rational way, preserving the ecological balance with efficient actions to maintain the forest, is gaining public opinion. environmental quality. What is proposed is a more careful occupation, aiming at an equitable and sustainable development for the largest rainforest on the planet.

Brazil Regional Complexes