Transforming Brazilian agriculture: the experience of the Brazilian-American Commission for the Production of Foodstuffs, 1942-1945


  • Earl Richard Downes Independent researcher


Brazil, United States, agriculture, Vargas, Rockefeller


Reponses by the Brazilian and U.S. governments to the pressures of World War II fundamentally altered the course of Brazil’s agricultural development. As fears of a European war arose in the late 1930s, Brazil’s political leadership became convinced that collaboration with the United States was essential to boosting the output of Brazilian agricultural and extractive products. The mutual search for ways to increase the output of agricultural and extractive products created an important incentive for wartime cooperation. Importing technical expertise and equipment from the United States became the primary option for Brazilian economic planners while securing Brazil’s support emerged as a political priority for the Roosevelt administration. While the commission was conceived as an instrument for aiding rubber production in the Amazon, Getúlio Vargas’s government transformed it into a massive binational subsidy for the chronically suffering Brazilian Northeast. The joint food production commission also exposed multitudes of farmers to the benefits of increased federal governmental support. Efforts by the Ministry of Agriculture and the commission to introduce even rudimentary agricultural implements led to accelerating the replacement of the digging stick with the hoe and marked the beginnings of more capital-intensive cultivation methods. The linkages between Brazil’s agriculture and the United States also grew, as more Brazilians became aware of the potential benefits to Brazil of the agricultural revolution underway in the United States and U.S. capital related to agriculture would diversify its search for profits offered by Brazil.


Bevans, Charles L., ed., Treaties and Other International Agreements of the United States of America 1776-1949. Vol. V (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of State, 1970)

Colby, Gerard and Charlotte Dennett, Thy Will be Done: The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and the Evangelism in the Age of Oil (New York: Harper Collins Publishers), 1995).

Conn, Stetson, and Byron Fairchild, The United States Army in World War II; The Western Hemisphere; The Framework of Hemispheric Defense (Washington, DC: Center of Military History United States Army, 1989).

Cueto, Marcos, “The Rockefeller Foundation’s Medical Policy and Scientific Research in Latin America: The Cost of Physiology,” in Cueto, ed., Missionaries of Science

Cueto, Marcos, ed., Missionaries of Science: The Rockefeller Foundation and Latin America (Bloomington, IN: Indiana Univ. Press, 1994).

Garfield, Seth, “The Environment of Wartime Migration: Labor Transfers from The Brazilian Northeast To The Amazon During World War II,” Journal of Social History, Vol. 43, No. 4 (summer 2010).

Garfield, Seth, In Search of the Amazon: Brazil, the United States, and the Nature of a Region (Durham: Duke University Press, 2013).

Gordon-Ashworth, Fiona, “Agricultural Commodity Control under Vargas in Brazil, 1930-1945, Journal of Latin American Studies, Vol. 12, No. 1 (May, 1980).

Hilton, Stanley E., “Brazilian Diplomacy and the Washington-Rio de Janeiro ‘Axis’ during the World War II Era,” The Hispanic American Historical Review 59, No. 2 (May 1979).

Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística. Conselho Nacional de Estatística. Anuário Estatistico do Brasil Ano VII 1946 (Rio de Janeiro: Serviço Gráfico do Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística, 1947).

Marinho, Maria Gabriela S.M.C., Norte-americanos no Brasil: Uma historia da Fundação Rockefeller na Universidade de São Paulo 1934-1952, (Campinas, SP: Editora Autores Associados Ltd., 2001).

McCann, Frank, The Brazilian American Alliance 1937-1945 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973).

Meron, Luiz B., “Racionamentos e carestia de alimentos na Bahia durante a II Guerra Mundial,” Anais do I Simpósio Nacional de História Militar, Universidade Estadual de Londrina,

Moura, Gerson, Relações Exteriores Do Brasil 1939-1950: Mudanças na natureza das relações Brasil-Estados Unidos durante e após a Segunda Guerra Mundial (Brasilia: Fundação Alexandre de Gusmão, 2012).

Oliveira, Dennison de, Aliança Brasil-EUA: Nova História do Brasil na Segunda Guerra Mundial (Curitiba, PA: Juruá Editora, 2015).

Sales, Apolonio, Viagem aos Estados Unidos: aspectos da produção agropecuario e do electrifição rural (Rio de Janeiro: Serviço de Informação Agricola, Ministerio da Agricultura, 1944).

Secretaria da Agricultura do Estado de São Paulo, Anais do I Symposio sobre Fabricação do Tractor e Implemento Agricola no Brasil, 16 20 de Novembro de 1959. (N.P: n.p., c1960).

Silva, Salomão L. Quadros da, “A era Vargas e a economia,” in Maria Celina D’Araujo, eds., As instituições brasileira da era Vargas (Rio de Janeiro: Editora FGV, 1999)

Smith, T. Lynn, Brazil, People and Institutions, Rev. ed (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1952.

Tota, Antonio Pedro, The Seduction of Brazil: The Americanization of Brazil during World War II. Trans. Lorena B. Ellis (Austin, TX: Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, 2009).

Wilkinson Vunovic, Xenia, “Tapping The Amazon For Victory: Brazil’s “Battle For Rubber” Of World War II,” (Diss: Georgetown Univ., 2009).

Williams, Steven C., “Nationalism and Public Health: the Convergence of Rockefeller Foundation Technique and Brazilian Federal Authority during the Time of Yellow Fever, 1925-1930,” in Cueto, ed., Missionaries of Science, pp. 23-51.




How to Cite

Downes, E. R. (2022). Transforming Brazilian agriculture: the experience of the Brazilian-American Commission for the Production of Foodstuffs, 1942-1945. Diálogos Latinoamericanos, 30. Retrieved from