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Paraguay Table of Contents


Food Crops

Manioc (cassava), maize, beans, and peanuts, the four basic crops of the Guaraní Indians, were still the country's major food crops in the 1980s. Manioc, the staple of the Paraguayan diet, had been cultivated in nearly every area of the country for centuries. Called mandioca in Paraguay, the root crop was the main starch of the diet. Manioc did not experience the rapid explosion of cultivation that cotton, soybean, and maize did. Nevertheless, manioc yields ranked as some of the best in Latin America. In 1986 about 220,000 hectares produced 3.4 million tons of manioc. These figures compared favorably with 1976 data, which recorded 106,500 hectares producing 1.6 million tons.

Maize, or was Paraguay's most rapidly growing food crop. From the early 1960s to the late 1980s, corn output multiplied rapidly, covering more hectares than any crop except soybeans. After the doubling of both hectares cultivated and total output in the 1970s, corn production accelerated even further in the 1980s, mostly because of continued agricultural colonization. In 1980 approximately 376,600 hectares yielded 584,700 tons of corn, compared with an unprecedented 547,000 hectares of corn in 1987, which harvested 917,00 tons. Like manioc, maize was grown throughout the country, but the departments of Itapúa, Paraguarí, Caaguazú, and Alto Paraná were responsible for most of the harvest. White corn was the traditional corn of Paraguay, but yellow, highyield hybrids were increasingly common, especially on larger farms. Most corn went to domestic human consumption; roughly a third of domestic corn consumption took place in the form of feed grain for the livestock sector. In addition, some surplus corn was exported to Brazil and Argentina, depending on weather conditions and annual output.

Other principal food crops included beans, peanuts, sorghum, sweet potatoes, and rice. Many types of beans were grown in Paraguay, including lima beans, french beans, and peas. Since the 1970s, however, bean production had been declining because of the profitability of other crops. Peanuts, a traditional though marginal crop, expanded in the 1970s and 1980s and often were intercropped with cotton. Peanuts also were processed as an oilseed. Sorghum, a drought-resistant crop, was grown primarily as feed for livestock and was considered a potential crop for the arid Alto Chaco. Sweet potatoes, another main staple crop, like many other food crops, did not expand significantly in the 1970s, and harvests contracted measurably in the 1980s. Rice production, by contrast, expanded after high-yield varieties were introduced in the 1960s. Rice is not a dietary staple in Paraguay as it is in many Latin American countries, but it is popular and consumed in ever-greater quantities. Self-sufficient in rice, Paraguay showed potential as a regional exporter because of its rich soils and irrigation potential along the Río Paraná.

After attempting for twenty years to become self-sufficient in wheat production, Paraguay reached wheat self-sufficiency in 1986. For two decades, the government's national wheat program had encountered numerous obstacles: seeds inappropriate for Paraguay's climate, skyrocketing prices for alternative crops, poor weather, blight infection, and a lack of proper farming practices. From 1976 to 1986, however, the number of hectares covered with wheat multiplied some sixfold, from 24,200 to over 140,000. Wheat output reached 233,000 tons in 1986, 33,000 tons above national consumption. In 1987 approximately 175,000 hectares of wheat fields yielded 270,000 tons, a record high. Over half of all wheat was grown in Itapúa, where most soil testing, tractors, and fertilizers were used. Despite the rapid expansion, wheat production in the 1980s was hurt by floods, droughts, and cheap contraband, all of which caused flour mills to operate at about half of capacity. Smuggled Brazilian flour sometimes was half the price of Paraguayan flour. Future growth in the wheat industry was constrained by a lack of adequate grain-cleaning and storage facilities.

Paraguayans cultivated numerous other fruits, vegetables, and spices for both domestic consumption and export. Most common were citrus fruits, which were ideal for Paraguay's subtropical and tropical climate. Paraguay also produced pineapples, which according to some sources originated in Paraguay, and peaches, which were farmed commercially by fruit companies from the United States. Bananas, plums, strawberries, pears, avocados, guavas, papayas, mangoes, grapes, apples, watermelon, and other melons were cultivated to varying degrees as well. Vegetable production included gourds, squash, tomatoes, and carrots. Onions and garlic were widely grown and commonly used in cooking.

A uniquely Paraguayan crop was the yerba maté plant. Yerba maté was grown throughout the country--especially Eastern Paraguay -- for both domestic and regional markets. Large-scale production was traditionally dominated by Argentine and British interests. Despite its popularity, yerba maté output fell significantly in the 1970s and 1980s, as farmers switched to more lucrative crops.

Paraguay was also believed to be an expanding producer of marijuana in the 1980s. One United States Congressional report in the 1980s estimated annual production at 3,000 tons.

Data as of December 1988

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Paraguay Table of Contents