Agriculture constitutes a large sector of South America’s economy in both its tropical and its temperate regions. Livestock production also occupies large parts of rural South America, especially cattle ranching. Most of the commercial livestock production, especially for the export sector, occurs on huge estancias (estates) that have been the source of economic and social dominance for their owners for many generations.
Only about one-eighth of South America’s land is suitable for permanent cropping or grazing. It is broadly agreed that agricultural land use throughout the continent is less efficient than it might be. Farm and ranch productivity could be enhanced by measures such as providing adequate agricultural credit, improving marketing, storage, and transportation systems, and expanding the educational system in rural areas. Such changes would benefit the large number of small farmholdings (minifundias)—three-fourths of South America’s farmers own less than 25 acres (10 hectares)—making it possible for those farmers to improve their living standards and contribute to national development. The changes also would help to alleviate the widespread under- and unemployment prevalent in some densely populated rural areas. Unemployment is a problem in such areas, even though less than one-third of South America’s working population is employed in the agricultural sector, as compared with nearly one-half of the population for the world as a whole.
The agricultural sector is affected negatively as well by the unfavourable terms of trade between agricultural commodities and manufactured goods that have existed in general since World War II. The rise in the cost of farming has outstripped the rise in the prices paid for agricultural commodities, and this imbalance substantially lowers the investment potential in the agricultural sector.
Corn (maize), a native of tropical America and now a staple in countries around the world, is the most widely cultivated crop throughout the continent. Argentina became a major exporter of corn during the 20th century. Beans, including several species of the genus Phaseolus, are widely cultivated by small-scale methods and form an important food item in most countries.
Cassava and sweet potato also are indigenous to the New World and have become the basic foodstuffs of much of tropical Africa and parts of Asia. The potato, which originated in the high Andes, became a dietary staple of many European nations.
Several other plants were domesticated in South American environments, such as quinoa andcanahua, both small grains used as cereals, and tuberoses such as ullucu and oca. Squashes and pumpkins are pre-Columbian crops that have spread throughout the world, as is the tomato, indigenous to South America’s west coast. Cashews, cultivated in most tropical countries, and Brazil nuts, harvested from trees in the Amazon basin, are widely regarded as delicacies, but both the cashew fruit and the nuts also are local favourites. Cacao, native to the Amazon region and the source of cocoa, was prized by indigenous peoples and is still cultivated in many parts of South America, particularly in the state of Bahia, Brazil. Avocados also originated in the same region. Pineapples, probably indigenous to southern Brazil and the Paraná River basin, were cultivated throughout tropical South America and the West Indies prior to the arrival of Columbus. Papaya and guava are also from tropical America. "South America" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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