Water profile of Brazil

July 12, 2012, 3:02 pm
Source: FAO
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Source: Jason Auch

Geography and population

Brazil is politically divided into twenty-six states and one federal district, in five regions: north, northeast, southeast, south and center-west. The total area of the country is 854.7 million hectares (ha), out of which the extension of cultivated land area was 49.1 million ha in 1996. A large amount of land is still available for further agricultural production, especially in the center-west of the country in the so-called "cerrado" areas. The annual population growth in 1997/98 was close to 1.3%. The average population density varies according to region: the north has 3.3 inhabitants/km2, the northeast 29.8, the southeast 73.8, the south 41.0 and the center-west 6.76 inhabitants/km2.


caption Map of Brazil. (Source: FAO-Forestry)


Agriculture in the 1980s played a significant role in the country's economy, but no longer did a single crop dominate in the way sugar, coffee or rubber had at their peaks. Between 1980 and 1992 farm output grew (38%) more rapidly than population (26%). In the mid-l990s Brazil was the world's largest producer of coffee and sugar (from sugar cane), second among the cocoa producers, fourth among tobacco growers, and sixth in cotton growing. Under the various programs undertaken in the last two decades to promote diversification of crops, the production of grains has grown consistently, including wheat, rice, maize and particularly soybeans. Forest products, especially rubber (once a vital element in Brazilian exports), as well as Brazil nuts, cashews, waxes and fibers, now come mostly from cultivated plantations and no longer from wild forest trees as in earlier days. Thanks to its wide climatic range, Brazil produces almost every kind of fruit, from tropical varieties in the north (various nuts and avocados) to citrus fruit and grapes in the temperate regions of the south.

In March 1991, the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUL) was created when Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay signed the Treaty of Asunción. The trade pact took effect as a customs union and partial free-trade zone in January 1995. The aim of MERCOSUL is to allow for the free movement of capital, labor and services among the four countries. With the introduction in July 1994 of a new currency, the real, the annual inflation rate fell from 5,136% (1993-1994) to 31.1% (1994-1995), and all quantitative restrictions to trade were eliminated. The gross domestic product (GDP) in 1997 was 820.3 US$ thousand million, with 13% due to the agricultural sector.

Climate, Water Resources and Water Use


Brazil has a very wide diversification of climate. The agro-climatic regions with their characteristics are described in Table 1 and their implications for irrigation are explained below.

(i) The south is below the Tropic of Capricorn in the temperate zone, with cool, relatively dry winters and warm, relatively moist summers. It has two well defined characteristics: one is its homogeneous rainfall within the region and the other is the uniform climate, the prevalence of the mesotermic climate. Due to frost, there are few opportunities for out-of-season winter irrigation, and although supplementary summer irrigation can save farmers from crop failures in a dry year, on average it gives only a small increase over the rainfed yields of the typical summer crops of the south: maize, beans and soybean. It has a highly developed, commercially-oriented agriculture which both large and small farmers share. As a result, irrigation development in the south has instead focused mainly on summer flooding of lowlands for rice production (Rio Grande do Sul). Most of this is large-scale and mechanized, and is closely integrated with cattle production, largely for reasons of weed control. Lowlands are typically only planted with rice once every three years and kept under non-irrigated pasture for the other two. From 1978 to 1988 the Government promoted conventional lowland rice irrigation on a smaller scale, under the Provarzeas program that is now suspended.

(ii) The southeast region, stretching approximately from the Tropic of Capricorn to 14 degrees south is, like the extreme south, dominated by technically advanced, commercial farmers. Although it also receives most of its rainfall in the summer, winters are milder. Hence, winter irrigation allows the farmer to crop twice instead of once, rotating winter plantings of wheat, peas or beans with rainfed summer crops, which include cotton and sugar cane. There is also supplementary irrigation of summer crops when necessary. Although there is less of the extensive flooded rice typical of the south, the Provarzeas program has made considerable progress in the last ten years, also in the southeast. Here it encouraged the growth of beans and other crops using supplementary irrigation in winter, in rotation with the main crop of summer flooded rice.

(iii) The center-west stretches from the fringes of the Amazon basin in the west to the state of Goiás in the east, and from 8 degrees to 24 degrees south. At its westerly extreme it has a relatively well-distributed rainfall of up to 2,500 millimeters (mm)/year and there is little need for irrigation. Further to the east, rainfall decreases to some 1,000 mm and irrigation is required during a six-month dry season. However, most of the center-west is cerrado (savanna) land, potentially productive if the soil's natural acidity and low phosphates are corrected. Since cerrado soil management techniques are newly developed, only over the last decade has much of the region been opened for cultivation, mainly by advanced farmers from further south. Increasing numbers of farmers are taking advantage of the region's many perennial rivers and streams to complement their rainfed cereal, soybean, bean and cotton production with dry-season irrigated cropping. The large properties and level land are well suited to center-pivot and self-propelled irrigation systems, which have expanded in the last years. Free of winter temperature constraints, irrigation in the cerrado can greatly increase the intensity of this vast, recently occupied area.

(iv) The northeast includes Brazil's semi-arid lands, which have an irregularly-distributed annual rainfall averaging from 750 mm to less than 250 mm. The region contains the country's poorest farmers and large numbers of landless people. Many farmers cultivate for subsistence only. Unlike other regions water resources in most of the northeast are a severe constraint to agriculture. One major river, the São Francisco, dominates the region, but the topography generally requires that its water be extracted by pumping. There are a few other naturally perennial rivers like the Parnaiba (Piauí/Maranhão), and although regulation structures have been built on some seasonal rivers by the Government, many now run dry due to uncontrolled water extraction. There are some lowland areas suitable for flooded rice mainly in the humid coastal strip. Where water constraints can be overcome, the warm northeastern climate favors maize, beans, cotton and sugar cane, as well as year-round multiple fruticulture and horticultural cropping and seed production. Large public-sector irrigation schemes have been constructed and allocated both to entrepreneurs and small-scale settlers, with the aim of overcoming intermittent regional food deficits while creating employment and benefiting the rural poor. Increasing use is being made of drip and sprinkler irrigation in water-scarce areas with fruit trees that are now receiving special attention from the federal and state governments.

(v) The north region covers almost the whole Amazon Region, being the largest extension of hot and humid forest in the world. It occupies almost half of the Brazilian territory. The climate is hot and humid. Irrigation needs are few, and development is limited to a small area of lowland rice.

Table 1: Main characteristics of the agro-climatic regions of Brazil
Average values South South-East Center-West North-East North
Temperature (°C) 14-18 24-18 26-22 20-28 24-26
Annual rainfall (mm) 1,250-2,000 900-4,400 1,250-3,000 250-2,000 1,500-3,000

Water resources

caption Figure 1. River basins of Brazil. (Source: FAO-Forestry)

For general purposes, Brazil can be divided into:

  • (i) three river basins namely the Amazons, Tocantins and São Francisco; and
  • (ii) two basin complexes:
    • the Plata river that has three Brazilian sub-river basins (Paraná, Upper Paraguay and Uruguay);
    • the remaining rivers flowing into the Atlantic that are divided into several basins.

The Amazon and the Tocantins-Araguaia basins in the north account for 56% of Brazil's total drainage area. The Amazon River, the world's largest river in volume of water and second longest after the Nile, is navigable by ocean steamers as far as Iquitos in Peru. The Paraná-Paraguay river system drains the south-western portion of the state of Minas Gerais. Brazil's two southernmost states are drained through the Uruguay River also into the Plata River. The São Francisco River is the largest river entirely within Brazil, flowing for over 1,609 km northward before it turns eastward into the Atlantic. The last 277 km of the lower river is navigable for ocean-going ships.

The internal surface water resources, understood as the average water production within Brazil, are 5,323 km3/y. The inflow of the Amazon to Brazil is 2,807 km3/y, so that the total surface water resources in the country reach, on average, 8,172 km3/y. The outflow from Brazil into the Plata River is 518 km3/y. The data shown in Table 2 illustrates the great hydrological diversity of the Brazilian territory. It also shows that the lowest water availability ratio, both per person and per area, is in the semi-arid region of East Atlantic 1 and in the São Francisco River Basin.

The annual recharge of groundwater is estimated at 95 km3/y. The volume of stored groundwater in Brazil less than 1,000 meters (m) deep and with good quality for human uses is estimated at 112,000 km3, with very variable extraction rates. These range from less than 5 m3/h in the metamorphic rocks of the semi-arid northeast and recent deposits to 1,000 m3/h in the sedimentary rocks. There are around 200,000 wells being exploited, with drilling of about 10,000 wells a year. Approximately 61% of the Brazilian population is supplied for domestic purposes from subsurface water.

Table 2: River basins in Brazil
Basin name AREA (km2) P (mm/y) E (mm/y) Q (m3/s) q (l/s/km2)
1 Amazon in Brazil 3,935,000 87,357 49,188 37,844 308
2 Tocantins-Araguaia 757,000 12,566 8,842 3,721 156
3 North and Northeast 1,029,000 15,330 12,396 2,854 88
4 San Francisco 634,000 5,807 4,907 899 45
5 East Atlantic 545,000 3,210 2,462 1,372 80
6 Paraná-Paraguai 1,245,000 21,399 16,567 3,876 99
7 Uruguai 178,000 2,789 1,481 1,309 233
8 Southeast Atlantic 224,000 3,123 1,767 1,356 192
TOTAL 8,547,000 151,581 97,610 53,231 ---

The northeast region deserves special emphasis because of (i) its semi-arid climate with low precipitation (average of 600 mm/y) and high potential evaporation (2,000 mm/y) and (ii) predominance of metamorphic rocks with low capacity to accumulate groundwater. The rivers have intermittent flow, except for the São Francisco and Parnaíba. The limited surface water availability has resulted in over-exploitation of the aquifers since early this century. In the last 30 years, however, there has been much concern to survey, evaluate and use the water resources of the region better. The region has a surface of 1.6 million km2 (20%), comprises nine federal units and had a population of 43.9 million (27%) in 1996. The region is divided into 24 river basins, the water resources of which vary between 820 and 850 m3/inhabitants/year in Pernambuco and Fortaleza to 30,000 m3/inhabitants/year in Gurupi.

The Treaty of the River del Plata entered into force in 1977 and worked for several years as a political interconnection among the countries of the southern cone (Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay). Its main objectives are the wise use of water resources; regional development with preservation of flora and fauna; physical, fluvial and terrestrial integration; and promotion of greater knowledge of the basin, its resources and potential.

The Amazon Cooperation Treaty (TCA) was signed in 1978 by Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Surinam and Venezuela and entered into force for Brazil in 1980. The basic scope of the TCA is to promote the harmonic development of the Amazon, in order to allow an equitable distribution of the benefits, to improve the quality of living of its peoples and to achieve the full incorporation of their Amazon territories to the respective domestic economies.

Other treaties include: (i) the Cooperation Agreement for the Use of Natural Resources and Development of the Quaraí River Basin; and (ii) the Treaty for the use of Shared Natural Resources of the Bordering Stretches of the Uruguay River and its tributary, the Pepiri-Guaçu River, between Brazil and Argentina.

Lakes and dams

The consumption of electric energy stood at 258,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) in 1996. The installed capacity is 57,640 megawatts (MW), 93% of which is from hydroelectric power stations and 7% from thermoelectric power stations. The percentage contribution of the hydroelectric power stations for energy generation (97%) is greater than the percentage of the installed potential (93%) because thermoelectric power stations are inoperative for long periods of time, only being activated mostly during dry periods, when reservoirs become dangerously low. The Itaipú power plant, the largest hydroelectric plant in the world (power production is 12,600 MW divided equally between Brazil and Paraguay), is located on the Paraná River on the Paraguay-Brazil frontier, not far from Iguaçu Falls. New hydroelectric power stations are to be built in several of already inventoried places, making a total of 107,307 MW of installed generating power in the next few decades. The Brazilian hydroelectric potential is around 258,686 MW, of which only 21% is being exploited.

Water withdrawal

caption Figure 2. Water withdrawal by sector in Brazil 1996. (Source: FAO-Forestry)

Theoretically, the country has ample water resources in six of its eight major water basins to supply all foreseeable long-term irrigation requirements. In 1996, the average consumption of irrigation water was 12,629 m3/ha per year. Only in the northeast and in the eastern tributaries of the São Francisco basin is irrigation development constrained by water availability. Already, 0.04 km3/of desalinated water are used for livestock and domestic purposes in the northeast region. Local water shortage also occurs in some small watersheds in the southeast and south where irrigation development and water consumption for industry and municipal use have been relatively uncontrolled. In these areas, as well as on some rivers in the northeast and along some tributaries of the São Francisco River, water use would have to be controlled and regulated if economic losses and degradation of quality are to be avoided.

Irrigation and drainage

The irrigation potential of Brazil is estimated at 29.3 million ha (see Table 3). This includes only areas where irrigation can be developed and excludes the areas of high ecological value in the northern region (Amazonas and Tocantins basin). In the savanna areas (cerrados) of the center-west region, the potential for irrigation has expanded substantially in recent years, following recent advances in soil management and irrigation techniques applicable in that region. The irrigated area in 1998 was 2.8 million ha, which represents 5.7% of the cultivated area.

Table 3: Irrigation potential (in thousand hectares) by region
  Lowlands "Varzeas*" (1,000 ha) Highlands (1,000 ha) Total Area (1,000 ha)
North 8,000 5,300 13,300
Northeast 100 900 1,000
Southeast 750 3,400 4,150
South 1,500 2,200 3,700
Center-west 3,000 4,200 7,200
Total 13,350 16,000 29,350
*Varzeas are seasonally-flooded or flood-prone lowlands.

Irrigation started in Brazil in the last century, in Rio Grande do Sul and in the semi-arid region of the northeast. By the end of the 1960s, the Group for Integrated Studies on Irrigation and Agricultural Development (GEIDA) was created to enlarge the overall knowledge of natural resources. It created various programs such as the Pluri-annual Irrigation Programme (PPI) in 1969, and the National Integration Program (PIN) in 1970. Many opportunities were given for private investments on irrigation and drainage: (i) the National Program for Rational Use of Flood Plains (PROVARZEAS); (ii) the Program to Finance Irrigation Equipment (PROFIR); (iii) the conception of "entrepreneurial lots" in public irrigation projects; and (iv) the implementation of the sub-sectoral Irrigation I Project. In 1984 a new period started characterized by the establishment of important programs such as the Northeast Irrigation Program (PROINE) and the National Irrigation Program (PRONI), both in 1986. In that period, the Government's role was limited to the accomplishment of large works (transmission and distribution of electrical energy and macro-drainage) while the private entrepreneurs were in charge of the other investments. In 1995, the new Government started preparing the National Policy on Irrigation and Drainage. Figure 3 shows the evolution of irrigation areas in Brazil. The area under irrigation was estimated at 2.87 million ha in 1998.

caption Figure 3. Irrigation evolution in Brazil. (Source: FAO-Forestry)

Irrigation techniques differ within Brazil (Figure 4). In the south, southeast and center-west, rice paddies, as well as some vegetable and orchard crops, are irrigated by simple flooding or using furrow irrigation. Over 790,000 ha of paddy rice are grown with basin irrigation in Rio Grande do Sul. Water is diverted from numerous small streams and conveyed to the farm-gates through earth canals. At least 1.5 million ha in Brazil are estimated to be under traditional systems of this sort. They are used where water availability is ample. This technology, together with proper land preparation and some mechanization, yields a good return. Modern irrigation technologies, which have a higher water-use efficiency and require less labor, are preferred by large farmers in the cerrados, for crops such as wheat, soybean, maize, and cotton, and by the producers of vegetables and fruits near the metropolitan areas in the northeast. These technologies, which are increasingly used in private and public irrigation schemes, range from mobile sprinkler lines to state-of-the-art modern center-pivot and other self-propelled irrigation equipment. In the northeast there is a strong increase in the use of micro-irrigation equipment, due to the water scarcity in the area. In recent years, the area with surface irrigation has decreased and that with sprinkler irrigation for grain production and micro-irrigation for fruit and vegetables has increased. Total efficiency of water use is estimated, on average, at 40-65% for surface, 60-85% for sprinkler and 78-97% for micro-irrigation methods.

caption Figure 4. Irrigated area in 1996 by irrigation techniques for the main agro-ecological regions of Brazil. (Source: FAO-Forestry)

Irrigated agriculture can be divided into public and private schemes:

  • Public schemes that represent 160,000 ha (6% of the total irrigated area in 1996). Most of these public irrigation schemes are in the northeast region, 107,115 ha in 1996. The size of the irrigation schemes varies between 42 and 22,000 ha. Most of the investments are made by Government, which then allocates plots from 4 to 8 ha to poor or landless farmers (settlers). In addition, there are some medium-size plots (from 8 to 32 ha) usually for professionals (agrarian technicians) and large-size plots (from 25 to 500 ha) for enterprises. Public irrigation systems depend on water supplies that have been developed using Government (usually Federal Government) funds. The total cost of development of public irrigation projects in the northeast is approximately US$8,600/ha, US$9,650/ha and US$10,150/ha for surface, sprinkler and micro-irrigation, respectively. The water charge in 1998 according to the Company for the Development of the São Francisco Valley (CODEVASF) had two components: one to recover the investment cost of the irrigation and drainage system and the other to cover the operation and maintenance costs. The first depends on surface area and values range between US$2 and 9 per ha. The second depends on water consumption and values vary between US$1.5 and 15 per 1,000 m3. CODEVASF has experienced that it is easier to cover operation and maintenance costs in the irrigation systems with larger plot areas than in ones with smaller plot areas.
  • The rest of Brazil's irrigation (94%) has been developed by private individuals or companies. Private development has received technical support from the Government, especially under the PROVARZEAS program and financial assistance through targeted credit lines. It comprises many forms of irrigation ranging from small- to large-scale, and from simple to highly sophisticated irrigation. Investment costs of private irrigation are considerably lower than in the public sector, ranging from US$1,600/ha for surface irrigation to US$2,650/ha for sprinkler irrigation and US$3,150/ha for micro-irrigation. Generally, investment costs of private irrigation are higher in the northeast than in the other regions due to the difficulty for accessing perennial sources of water. Average costs of operation and maintenance range from US$35 to 95/ha. Costs can also be broken down into off-farm investment costs (water pumps, electrical support, conveyance, roads), that vary from US$4,500/ha to US$7,000/ha, and on-farm investment costs that vary between US$650/ha for simple surface irrigation methods to US$2,500/ha for micro-irrigation.

In 1997, irrigation contributed an estimated 18% of total crop production in weight, and some 29% of total farmgate value (since irrigated crops are relatively high-value). Average yields of rainfed and irrigated crop are given in Figure 5.

caption Figure 5. Average crop yields for irrigated and rainfed farming. (Source: FAO-Forestry)

The range of crops grown under irrigation is diverse. In addition to basic commodities such as wheat, maize, rice, beans, soybeans and cotton, high-value crops are also grown whenever markets permit, like vegetables (some of them on a semi-industrial scale) near the important urban markets of the industrial southeast. The same markets are supplied off-season with fruits, onions, melons and other vegetables from the northeast. Expansion of tomato paste and other vegetable processing factories in the arid zones of the northeast has created market opportunities for large-scale and small-scale irrigators, who increasingly export their fruit and off-season vegetables to Japan, Europe and the United States. Yields of crops vary widely throughout the country.

There has been a great diversity of performance between the public and private irrigation sectors. Public irrigation generally tended to progress slowly and fall short of performance expectations while private irrigation, especially in recent years, has expanded fast and often given high profits. However, direct comparisons are difficult due to regional differences in irrigation needs and opportunities, the special social needs of the impoverished northeast and the different institutional arrangements for public and private development. In 1990 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Bank and the Government of Brazil undertook in a detailed study to estimate the economic efficiency of Brazil's irrigation. On the basis of information collected, eleven different models of irrigation farming were defined to represent irrigation in Brazil. The results showed that public schemes were systematically less economically efficient than private schemes, and that basic commodities (cereals, cotton, beans, soybeans) would give a much lower return than fruits and vegetables. Under these conditions, the public schemes of the northeast, growing staple food, yielded a very low return. Net economic benefit generated per 1,000 m3 of water averaged around US$20 for low-value crops and US$50-400 for high-value crops, while net economic returns per year were, on average, around US$250 for low-value crops and US$2,000/ha for high-value crops.

Little information is available in drainage, salinity and waterlogging in Brazil. The surface with drainage equipment is around 1.28 million ha, mostly in the areas with irrigation equipment. Within the framework of the PROVARZEAS program in the 1980s, around 400,000 ha were drained. Average costs of drainage development in 1996 range between US$1,600 and 1,800 per ha for open drainage, and from US$2,300 to 2,700 per ha for subsurface drainage.

The natural saline areas in Brazil are quantified on average at 86 million ha, located especially in the driest areas with average precipitation below 1,000 mm/y. The area salinized by irrigation is estimated at 15,000 ha, mostly in the northeast.

The extension of the areas with natural waterlogging, called "varzeas", is 13.35 million ha. Up to now, waterlogging problems caused by irrigation practices have only been recorded in the Nupeba project for an area of 170 ha. CODEVASF is in the process of designing and implementing a drainage system to prevent waterlogging.

Institutional Environment

In 1965, the National Department for Water and Electrical Energy (DNAEE) under the Ministry of Mines and Energy was entrusted with the management and control of the country's water resources. In 1979, the Ministry of the Interior (MINTER) assumed water resources planning and control functions and delivered irrigation permits. In 1986, the federal irrigation functions of MINTER were consolidated under the direction of a special Minister of Irrigation Affairs. Two programs were created: the Northeast Irrigation Program (PROINE) and the National Irrigation Program (PRONI). Their mandate was essentially the planning, coordination, promotion and monitoring of irrigation activities in collaboration with the newly established state-level Irrigation Coordinating Committees (ECEs). In December 1988, PROINE and PRONI were merged into a single irrigation program (new PRONI).

From 1995 to 1998, the Ministry of Environment, Water Resources and Amazon Affairs (MMA) was responsible for:

  • Water resources through the Water Resources Secretariat (SRH). A National Program for the Development of Water Resources (PROAGUA) was launched in December 1997. In addition, the National Council of Water Resources (CNRH) was created in January 1997.
  • Irrigation affairs. Field implementation of federally-funded irrigation infrastructure is carried out by the Company for the Development of São Francisco Valley (CODEVASF) and the National Department for Anti-drought Works (DNOCS). CODEVASF's original mandate was to work in the São Francisco Valley, yet today it also operates outside its geographical boundaries. DNOCS is mandated to operate in the northeastern drought polygon. The Public Irrigation Schemes are designed and constructed by CODEVASF and DNOCS.

The National Policy on Irrigation and Drainage (Projeto Novo Modelo de Irrigaçao) was launched in December 1998. In addition to MMA, the Minister of Agriculture and Supply (MAA) and the Minister of Planning and Budget participated in the program. Since January 1999, a new Ministry of Environment (MMA) has been created. It is still in charge of the management and control of the country's water resources. The irrigation affairs, though, including DNOCS and CODEVASF, have been transferred to a Special Secretariat for Regional Policies, which falls directly under the Government Council. Various responsibilities in support of irrigation projects have been transferred also to the MAA.

At national level, agricultural research is carried out by the Brazilian Agricultural Research Company (EMBRAPA). EMBRAPA has a number of research and experimental stations throughout Brazil, many of which are involved in irrigation. Several universities also carry out irrigation research. The National System for Technical Assistance and Rural Extension (SIBRATER) and the Brazilian Technical Assistance and Rural Extension Agency (EMBRATER), which was responsible for formulating national agricultural extension policies and for coordinating SIBRATER, were both dismantled in April 1990. Field-level extension work continues to be carried out by state (EMATERs) or territorial extension agencies (ATERs).

The Water Act, established in 1934, is the background for Brazilian legislation on water. Considered by legal experts to be advanced, especially considering the period in which it was enacted, it now needs updating to be adapted to the Federal Constitution of 1988. This Act ensures the free use of any water current or spring for basic life necessities and permits everyone to use any public waters, observing administrative regulations. It further highlights that the work towards cleaning of waters be carried out at the expense of the transgressors (polluter-payer).

The 1988 Constitution defines federally-controlled public waters as bodies of water or rivers which flow through, or border on, several states or a foreign country, and as state-controlled public waters those bodies of water or rivers which rise and end within the territory of a single state. This definition of state-controlled waters complicates the effective management of some of the country's important rivers since the main stem of a federally-controlled river cannot be effectively managed without controlling water resource development on the state-controlled tributaries of the river.

An Irrigation Law was promulgated in 1979. It sets government policies for irrigation development dealing inter alia with: (i) utilization of land and water; (ii) research and planning; (iii) implementation of public projects; (iv) water tariffs for public projects; (v) preservation of water quality; (vi) expropriation of land for irrigation construction; and (vii) promotion of private projects. The Irrigation Law and its regulations provide for the cost recovery of investment and operation and maintenance (O&M) costs of Government-supported irrigation projects through water charges on beneficiaries.

A Federal Law of 1997 establishes the National Water Resources Policy, and creates the National Water Resources Management System. It states that water is a public good and a limited natural resource with an economic value; in situations of scarcity the priority use for water is for human and animal consumption; water resources management should always assure the multiple use of waters; the river basin is the territorial unit for water management; and management of water resources should be decentralized and participatory. The National Water Resources Council (CNRH), to be created shortly, will be the highest normative and body with the mandate to promote the co-ordination of water resources planning, monitor the execution of the National Water Resources Policy; establish criteria for granting of water usage rights and pricing mechanisms. It is the strict competence of the Federal Government to legislate on water. The States should approve and set up complementary legislation to assure that the water resources management is adequate for the local features and to enforce the national guidelines.

Trends in Water Resources Management

At present there is a tendency for developing basins and State water master plans. This is done in order to secure the use of water in the various sectors and reduce future risks in water use. Up to now, fourteen states have advanced their plans for water resources management and river basin management: São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Espirito Santo, Goiás, Mato Grosso do Sul, Mato Grosso, Distrito Federal, Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte, Bahia, Alagoas, Sergipe, Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina. Furthermore, a large number of committees, consortium and associations at water basin level have been created. Various Master Plans at water basin level have been elaborated and others are in the process of preparation.

The main trend with the "Novo Projeto de Irrigação" is towards increased private participation and privatization of public schemes. SRH of MMA initiated in 1999 a complete study of irrigation, which intends to map the actual sites of the irrigation schemes and select potential areas for irrigation projects without risk of water conflict.

Further Reading

  • Water Profile of Brazil, Food and Agriculture Organization.
  • World Factbook: Brazil, Central Intelligence Agency.
  • Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística. 1997. Anuário Estatístico do Brasil, 57.
  • Ministério da Minas e Energia, Departmanento Nacional de Águas e Energia Eletríca. 1992. Disponibilidade Hídrica No Brasil. Brasilia.
  • Ministério do Meio Ambiente, dos Recursos Hídricos e da Amazônia Legal, Secretaria de Recursos Hídricos. 1998. Política Nacional de Irrigação e Drenagem. Brasilia.
  • FAO-ODI-IIMI. 1990. Estimating the Economics Profitability of Irrigation: The Case of Brazil. FAO Investiment Centre, Overseas Development Institute, International Irrigation Management Institute, Irrigation Management Network Paper. Rome.
  • Ministério do Meio Ambiente, dos Recursos Hídricos e da Amazônia Legal, Secretaria de Recursos Hídricos. 1998. Water Resources of Brazil. Brasilia.
  • Ministério do Meio Ambiente, dos Recursos Hídricos e da Amazônia Legal, Secretaria de Recursos Hídricos. 1997. Papel do Governo e da Iniciativa Privada no Desenvolvimento da Agricultura Irrigada no Brasil. Bernardes L., Programa Nacional de Irrigação (PRONI). Novo Modelo De Irrigação. Brasilia.
  • World Bank. 1990. Brazil.Irrigation Subsector Review. Report nº 7797. Washington D.C.



Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the Food and Agriculture Organization. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the Food and Agriculture Organization should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.






(2012). Water profile of Brazil. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/51cbef2b7896bb431f69cde3


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