I read that up to 70% of Brazil's sugar cane in the Sao Paulo area is still harvested manually. Some workers are paid $1.50 per tonne. Why is it still being cut manually? Some possibilities:

(1) farm owners lack the capital to buy mechanical harvesters

(2) human labor is cheaper

(3) regulatory or legal obstacles are blocking the use of harvesters

  • $\begingroup$ This is an important question. One comment: (1) If investment is truly very profitable, lack of capital shouldn't explain absence of "better tools". Lack of access to finance is also needed. $\endgroup$
    – snoram
    Jun 27, 2016 at 23:30
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    $\begingroup$ It would be helpful to have a link or reference to where you read this. $\endgroup$ Jun 28, 2016 at 8:15
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    $\begingroup$ @LassieFair It seems rather surprising that there should be so much manual harvesting, so those seeing the question may like to see evidence that this is the case before considering possible explanations. $\endgroup$ Jun 28, 2016 at 8:28
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    $\begingroup$ @LassieFair Yes, I'm asking for proof or at least evidence. A link would just be one way to provide this. $\endgroup$ Jun 28, 2016 at 8:41
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    $\begingroup$ @LassieFair What an interesting attitude to take when asking for help. Would you please edit the question so I can remove my upvote? $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Jul 26, 2016 at 6:29

2 Answers 2


Brazil is a more complicated country than most. It has extreme variability in wealth and education. It is very ethnically diverse, has vast natural resources and inconvenient geography.

Unfortunately, there's not an easy straightforward answer to your question. A lot of what affects Brazil is political fragmentation and instability. When ranking countries by stability, The Fragile State Index ranks Brazil as the 108th most stable country, putting is firmly below average. This results in poorly centralized power which means most case studies are unique to local resources, local labor and local leadership.

The specific situation you ask about in regards to manual harvesting is a combination of insufficient capital, disregard for worker's rights, or a complete lack of organization.

Having lived in Brazil, there are an infinite number of economic and social issues that require attention, but not enough time or resources to devote to all of them. The country relies on resource extraction while trying to grow manufacturing and tech while trying to deal with massive inequality. Poor geography.

Here is a study that might give you more precise information for your particular question: https://medcraveonline.com/SIJ/social-impacts-with-the-end-of-the-manual-sugarcane-harvest-a-case-study-in-brazil.html


Although it seems that it necessarily boils down to the idea that labor is very, very cheap for some reason or another, it is often the case in these situations that workers unions, somewhat perversely, will block the firm´s replacement of labor with capital, in order to keep the workers employed.


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