Reducing inequality and ending poverty are two central development objectives of the Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the United Nations. Rural areas will play a particular role in this process as 80% of those living in extreme poverty reside there (IBRD and The World Bank 2017). Although non-farm activities are gaining ground in rural areas, agriculture is still a major source of income and employment in most developing economies (ILOSTAT 2020).

My doctoral research project will contribute to the scholarly debate on agriculture, inequality, and poverty. It will do so by developing a typology of farming systems with different accumulation and regulation systems that draws on Latin American (neo-)structuralism as its theoretical basis and regulation theory as its analytical framework. The aim of my research is to map, analyze and compare the agricultural transformation paths of three Brazilian states over the last 30 years, and to understand the ways in which different farming systems are associated with multidimensional poverty and inequality.

The following research questions are central to my research:

  • Which models of accumulation and regulation exist in the Brazilian agricultural sector?
  • Which patterns of transformations can be observed?
  • What are the connections between varying farming systems, inequality, and poverty?

Specific historical and geographical conditions have led to regional concentrations of small- and large-scale agriculture in Brazil. Furthermore, various modes of capital accumulation (how the surplus is produced, patterns of production and consumption) and regulation (this includes rules, norms, social and organizational networks and institutions) have developed. The importance of both small- and large-scale farming systems is mirrored by the existence, until 2016, of two government ministries – and thus two different regulation systems – responsible for agricultural development. The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Supply was in charge of agribusiness and export agriculture, while the Ministry of Agrarian oversaw agrarian reform and family farming.

The agrarian structure in Brazil has always been characterized by a high concentration of land, export orientation, and extreme social inequality. Colonial agricultural structures have continued to influence agricultural power structures and accumulation systems (Furtado 1972; Fajnzylber 1990; Fajnzylber and Schejtman 1995). Simultaneously, the patterns of accumulation and regulation have undergone major transformations in the past decades, such as high improvements in productivity, investment in research and development, the use of high-tech machinery, the adoption of modern technologies (seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides), the increasing dependency on financing and infrastructure, the rise of big agribusiness companies, the integration into global value chains, the new political and institutional environment, and the changing role of the state (Buainain et al. 2013). These remaining structures and transformation processes pose a high potential for social and environmental conflicts. 

My doctoral research project combines both quantitative and qualitative methods. The analysis and comparisons of the transformation processes of the agricultural sector will be based on a literature review and data analysis. Furthermore, semi-structured expert interviews will be conducted with stakeholders, such as farmers, policy makers and government representatives, the research community, and civil society organizations. For the examination of the relationship between different farming systems and Brazil’s socio-economic development, an econometric analysis will be applied.


Buainain, Antônio M.; Alves, Eliseu; da Silveira, José M., and Navarro, Zander (2013): “Sete teses sobre o mundo rural brasileiro.” Revista de Política Agrícola 12 (2), pp. 105–121.

Fajnzylber, Fernando (1990): “Industrialización en América Latina: de la ‘caja negra’ al ‘casillero vacío’: Comparación de patrones contemporáneos de industrialización.” Cuadernos de la CPEAL 60.

Fajnzylber, Fernando, and Alexander Schejtman (1995): “Agricultura, industria y transformación productiva.” In: Reyna, José L. (ed.) (1995): América Latina a fines de siglo. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica/Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, pp. 148–197.

Furtado, Celso (1972): “Agricultura y desarrollo económico: consideraciones sobre el caso brasileño.” El Trimestre Económico 39/153 (1), pp. 13–36.

IBRD (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development) and The World Bank (2017): Growing the Rural Nonfarm Economy to Alleviate Poverty. An Evaluation of the Contribution of the World Bank Group. Washington DC: International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank.

ILOSTAT – International Labour Organization (2020): Employment by sector – ILO modelled estimates, September 2020. Accessed January 22, 2021.