Munich Personal RePEc Archive

The end of plantation? Coffee and land inequality in early twentieth century São Paulo

Colistete, Renato P. and Lamounier, Maria Lucia (2011): The end of plantation? Coffee and land inequality in early twentieth century São Paulo.

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Abstract

This paper examines the concentration of land ownership in the leading coffee export region in the early twentieth century, the northeast area of the state of São Paulo, Brazil. Critics of the so-called plantationist perspective have rejected the classic view that large estates shaped colonial and nineteenth century Brazilian economy and society, arguing instead for a major role of small and medium-sized landholdings. We describe the size distribution of landholdings and estimate alternative measures of land concentration based on a detailed agricultural census of the state of São Paulo. We find that, despite variation across municipalities, large farms and latifundia controlled most of the productive resources in northeast São Paulo, resulting in high levels of inequality when compared to those of other agrarian societies in the past. These results contrast with the view of the critics of classic historiography and suggest that the large estate and high concentration of wealth were remarkable features at least in the most important coffee region in Brazil during the early twentieth century.

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