Agricultural trade policy has an important contribution to make in addressing sustainable development challenges - as has been acknowledged repeatedly in the statements and proposals made by governments at the World Trade Organization in Geneva, at the Committee on World Food Security in Rome and elsewhere. Carefully designed agricultural trade policies can contribute towards ensuring that economic growth occurs in a sustainable and equitable manner, and can help overcome food insecurity and poverty, especially in rural areas. Reforms predicated under the Doha Round of trade talks have widely been seen as a significant step toward achieving these objectives, governments and other stakeholders increasingly recognise that there is a need to ensure compatibility between domestic agricultural trade policies and broader public policy goals.
Brazil's continuous economic expansion over the preceding decade brought millions out of poverty and dispersed the fruits of the country's bounteous natural resources. Innovations such as the Bolsa Familia cash transfer scheme have been credited, at least in part, for reducing some of the ravages of the worst cases of poverty and are being used as models across the world. In addition the country has witnessed an emerging role for family farming, especially through the Ministry of Agrarian Development (MDA). Among large developing countries, Brazil has experienced some of the greatest improvements in statistics on income and hunger, not least due to successes such as the Food Acquisition Programme (PAA) that purchases food from family farmers to supply to low cost kitchens and other distribution points for the most vulnerable. Nonetheless, Brazil remains a deeply unequal society - especially in agricultural terms - the top .9 percent of farmers control more than 15 percent of the available land according to 2006 census figures.
The government invested in infrastructure and research through its agricultural and rural development policies even when similar paths were unpopular elsewhere. This and other flanking policies lead to gains in productivity that have turned a net food importer into one of the largest exporters of agricultural commodities in the world in a short period. Regrettably, smallholder farmers may not have benefitted equally from the country's stature as an agricultural behemoth. Family farmers, however, through both governmental and non-governmental programmes have taken an interest in recent attempts to sustainably intensify their production, allowing them to do more with smaller plot sizes. As is often the case in countries with growing economies, spending on agriculture continues to grow but how government policies are designed and implemented will be critical in the attainment of social, environmental and economic objectives.
Unlike policy making process in other large producers, Brazil does not have a single and uniform undertaking on agriculture. Several ministries and government agencies collaborate to respond to constituent needs and to devise forward-looking plans. The export orientation of many producers and the linkages between key outputs, such as biofuels, are critical concerns for many Brazilians and the country's trading partners. Domestically, small holders produce a substantial share of local and regional consumption of some goods, such as fruits and vegetables. Additionally, policy makers must carefully weigh food security, deforestation and social protection needs as an important component of the policy making process. As governments across the world contend with changing climatic trends, and seek to preserve the environment while achieving economic and social objectives, Brazil's efforts can be a useful contribution debates in these areas, offering tangible policy tools. Moreover, enhancing domestic understanding of international processes and successes, and vice versa, can perhaps lead to improved development outcomes.