Sugarcane in Brazil
By the mid-16th century, sugarcane had become Brazil's most important export, while slaves purchased in Africa had become its largest import, mainly to work at the sugarcane plantations, due to the increasing international demand for Brazilian sugar. Brazil received more than 2.8 million slaves from Africa between the years of 1500 to 1800.
By the end of the 17th century, sugarcane exports began to decline and the discovery of gold would become the new backbone of the Portugal colony's economy, fostering a Brazilian gold rush and starting a new economic cycle.
Slave labor was the driving force behind the growth of the sugar economy in Brazil. And the discovery of gold and diamond deposits sparked an increase in the importation of enslaved African people to power this newly profitable mining.
In the 21st century I documented what once formed this tripod of Brazil's economy – sugarcane, gold and slavery – in this case what is conventionally called modern slavery, institutional labor exploitation that continues to occur in present-day society. The work at the Brazilian sugarcane fields is not an exception, specially in the northeastern and mid-west regions and in what concerns to lodging, transportation and sanitary conditions.
Grown in tropical and subtropical regions, sugarcane is the world's largest crop by production quantity. Global production in 2018 was 1.91 billion tonnes, with Brazil producing 39% of the world total.
In Brazil the plant is also grown for biofuel production, as the canes can be used directly to produce ethanol, generally available as a byproduct of sugar production. It can be used as a biofuel alternative to gasoline, and is widely used in cars all over the country.