Livestock Research for Rural Development 30 (8) 2018 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

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Markets in livestock ranching in southern Brazil: between vulnerable situations and reaction strategies

A Matte and P D Waquil

Program Postgraduate in Rural Development (PGDR), the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS). Porto Alegre/RS, Brazil


This article aims to analyze the vulnerable situations that affect the livelihoods in the context of commercial livestock farmers in southern Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, and what dynamics are adopted as reaction strategies to the effects of these vulnerable situations to which they are exposed. For this reason, the capability approach of Amartya Sen and the livelihoods approach of Frank Ellis were used as the conceptual and analytical basis. The vulnerability factors related to the markets are predominantly formed by factors outside the establishment, before the “gate” and after the “gate”, which implies the creation and deployment of a varied portfolio of assets, mainly social, for the structuring of reaction strategies.

Keywords: coping strategies, livelihoods, markets, livestock, risk


The contemporary rural world has starred in and, at the same time, is the protagonist of a set of changes that take place in a horizon of the unpredictability of their consequences. To make a general analysis of rural Brazil there is a scenario that follows the set of crises experienced by the global society, in which there are prominent and perverse social inequalities, constant economic crises, climate change, degradation of natural resources, conflicts over land, among other events. These are some of the characteristics of modernity, and fall on what Beck (2002) has called the world risk society. Thus, the rural world is a world of uncertainty created, in essence, by development models that expose the rural populations to unforeseen situations of vulnerability.

In the Southern part of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, extensive livestock ranching has been the prevalent productive activity since the period of colonization in the 18th century, exerted on areas of natural fields belonging to the Pampa biome. Over time, and more precisely in the context of the modernization of Brazilian agriculture, livestock ranching acquired few technological and productive innovations. However, this site has been going through many changes in the context of development strategies, which have led to changes in social, economic and environmental considerations in livestock ranching, generating, in consequence, different vulnerable situations in livestock farming.

Thus, we have seen today not only the permanence of historical attempts to commodify the productive processes of livestock ranching, but attempts at commodification began to occur from the productive innovation and the technology of new activities, as is the case that has been occurring in recent years with forestry enterprises and the cultivation of agricultural commodities. There is a dizzying replacement of natural fields with a monoculture of soybean crops and plantations of exotic trees (Bertê, 2004; Overbeck et al, 2009; Morales Grosskopf et al, 2011; Waquil et al, 2016). In other words, although the commodification of agriculture in this region is not a new process, in the current period, it has become noticeably streamlined.

In this scenario, some of the impacts of these transformations point to consequences such as the rise in the cost of the land, reduction of areas with natural fields for livestock farming, impacting and generating situations of vulnerability with activity and the livestock farming markets. Thus, the aim of this article is to analyze the situations of vulnerability that affect the livelihoods in the context of commercial livestock farming in southern Rio Grande do Sul, and which dynamics are adopted as reaction strategies to the effects of the situations of vulnerability to which they are exposed.

To this end, the article is subdivided, in addition to this introduction, into four parts. The following section includes a presentation and discussion of the theoretical analysis that contributes to the analysis of vulnerability in livestock farming. The third section of this article presents the method for conducting this study, including its tools for collection and analysis of results. The fourth section is dedicated to the analysis and discussion of the results, having the review presented in the second section as support. Finally, some final considerations around the results and prospects of making use of the results of this study are being architected into actions with these producers.

Situations of vulnerability in the livestock farming markets and the reaction strategies designed by livestock farmers

This section presents the conceptual framework of analysis that supports the analysis of results, subdivided into four subsections. A first effort consists of gathering elements that may contribute to the understanding of the diversity forms with which the vulnerability can be used for rural studies and the understandings that revolve around that concept. In a second subsection, we discuss the relationship of the approach of vulnerability in the context of the capability approach and the livelihoods. The third subsection discusses how the linking of concepts presented in the first two subsections may contribute to understanding the strategies of coping and adaptation adopted and created by individuals and families facing vulnerable situations. Finally, the fourth subsection focuses on the debate around the markets and of elements that point to some of the situations that can cause vulnerability.

Forms of approaching vulnerability and conceptualizations

The studies around the approach to vulnerability in rural areas are still poorly expressed, very different from what is observed in the international context, in which the subject has gained relevance among several studies related to rurality. Kaztman, 2000; Busso, 2001; Cepal, 2002; Cutter; Boruff; Shirley, 2003; Adger, 1999; 2003; 2006; Chambers, 2006; Hertel; Rosch, 2010; among others). The approach of the vulnerability has its origin in studies related to the natural threats developed initially in geography. Susan Cutter (1996) argues that this phenomenon has its origin in studies on natural disasters (environmental change) and in risk assessment. Since the 1990s, some studies have been directed to understanding the vulnerability of people to the impacts of environmental change, particularly climate change (Janssen and Ostrom, 2006). In addition, this decade shows that not only the environmental variables cause vulnerability, but a number of other changes - both internal and external. With the advancement of studies on vulnerability, Human Geography, Social Sciences, and Ecology have also began to take an interest in the theme of vulnerability in relation to environmental changes (Adger, 2003; Fussel, 2007).

The use of the term vulnerability varies in meaning in their research areas, which can be found in different areas of knowledge, such as in Economy, Ecology, Sociology, Engineering, and Health, among others. In general, the approach of ulnerability has been analyzed mainly in three contexts: social, technological, and environmental. In addition, another form that is being used is its analysis based on internal and external factors to the object of analysis (individual, family, or community), in a multidimensional perspective of the term, form used to conduct this study.

When defining a field of research (social, environmental, or technological), it creates a significant restriction in the diversity of ways in which the vulnerability can be materialized and impacted, masking a wide range of factors of vulnerability that could be expressed. The use of these defined alternatives of analysis can be useful for specific studies that seek answers to questions. However, it does not allow identification and comprehension of the total set of vulnerability factors for a given context. Thus, it is proposed that the analysis of vulnerability based on its diversity of factors, without the delimitation of only one set of elements, which would represent a restriction with select factors and exclude important information, which, in essence, make up the whole.

In this way, among some of the concepts that prevail in the discussion of the vulnerability, we found with relative frequency, the conception that this can be caused by various stressors. Distinguishing external and internal stressors to which a system is exposed, which are overlapping sides, determine their impacts on the system while addressing the vulnerability in a multidimensional way (Kaztman et al, 1999; Ellis, 2000; Adger; 2006; Chambers, 2006; Fussel, 2007; Kirsch; Schneider, 2016; Kirsch et al, 2016). In this sense, Chambers (2006) and Fussel (2007) stress that the external vulnerability factors (either exogenous or beyond) refer to factors outside of the system (or the family group), caused by situations of shock, stress, and risk. Internal influences (either endogenous or in the place) correspond to the ability to react to external situations and to changes within the family group. According to Cunha (2004), these dimensions relate to factors linked to the special characteristics of individuals or families, their goods and sociodemographic characteristics, and those relating to the social environment in which they are inserted. According to Ellis (2000), the shock represents changes in the sustainability of the means of family life, which can be of an individual scope as well as social one. Examples are losses in cattle (caused by diseases), in crops (because of floods and droughts), and in the individuals who make up the family group (diseases, lack of successors). The shock, in turn, directly destroys the assets, or, in other words, provokes a loss of access to assets and causes an immediate effect on the viability of individual support and of households (families) (Ellis, 2000).

In general, academic discussions and reflections on the subject of the place of vulnerability as a trivial condition, orient an initial issue: vulnerability to what? Thus, studies on the theme of vulnerability have sought a definition that meets the diverse ways in which the vulnerability can be identified and the variety of impacts that it causes to rural families. In this sense, Chambers (2006), in the study Vulnerability, Coping and Policy, presents vulnerability as a situation of “exposure to contingencies and stress and the difficulty of dealing with them” (2006, p. 33). The author points out that the study of vulnerability should take the consequences and impacts of risks caused by various situations into account, as well as the ability to recover. Corroborating the author, Marandola Jr. and Hogan (2006) consider it essential to consider the spatial and temporal dimension of vulnerability as a way to respond more precisely to the risks involved and the capacity of resilience of populations. In a general context, Berry et al (2006) defined vulnerability as a measure of human welfare that aggregates economic, political, social, and environmental exposures to a range of harmful interferences.

According to Janssen and Ostrom (2006), challenges in the research of vulnerability are developing robust and credible measures that incorporate various methods that involve the perception of risk, seeking to contribute to the mechanisms of governance that should mediate the vulnerability factors, promoting actions for adaptation.

Based on a set of factors and the speed with which the global changes are happening, as well as the speed with which they reach the society, the need to be attentive to changes, both locally and worldwide, becomes increasingly evident. Understanding the ways in which social actors in rural areas are organized and make decisions is conditioned to the responses to these changes. In general, there is a demand for a better understanding of the factors causing vulnerability, underlying the need to advance on this approach in the rural environment, with localized populations.

Given this scenario, it is possible to check that the vulnerability is directly related to the hardships to which social actors are subjected, especially due to the situations of changes and uncertainties (Sen, 2010). The aim here is not to respond to the complexity of this problem, but rather to suggest the use of an approach that allows reflections on a journey toward mitigation of vulnerabilities, and the aid to social actors to cope with the different adversities.

Capability and livelihoods approaches to understand vulnerability

Various schools of economic and social thought have been dedicated to finding and defining new development approaches that can overcome models strongly anchored in productivity perspectives. Some of these approaches are concerned with studying the actors (individuals) and the development, such as the capability approach of Amartya Sen (2010) and the livelihoods approach of Frank Ellis (2000), which have proven to be an important route for analysis of processes in social changes in the interaction of the actors with the hostile environment in which they live. In this context, particularly the capability approach developed by the Indian economist Amartya Sen, has offered important contributions over the past two decades on issues such as underdevelopment, poverty, inequality, and restrictions, treating development as the process of enlarging the capacity of individuals to make choices.

Thus, the concept of capabilities involves the idea of the opportunity to choose. This approach arises from the proposition that for the individual to develop, attention should be given to the means that are available rather than direct it only to the ends. In this sense, according to Sen (2008 and 2010), “capabilities” refer to the physical and mental characteristics of individuals, as well as the social opportunities and influences that they receive and which enable them to exercise them fully. In other words, it is not enough for individuals to be able to do and to be, they must have the conditions and opportunities to accomplish what they want, and choose the type of life that they crave. For example, we can consider a farmer who has an interest and ability to farm fish on his property, however, has no source of water for this. Thus, the capabilities are the skills of individuals to realize their potential as human beings, in the sense of being and making their own choices, involving the ability of choice and freedom to make them. In the verification of situations of vulnerability, the capability approach leads us to consider the abilities of each person to exercise their workings, these bring their real capabilities, without which there is no genuine choice (Sen, 2008).

Thus, for Sen (2010, p. 10), development consists in the “elimination of deprivations of freedom, which limit the choices and opportunities for people to exercise, thoughtfully, their condition as agents”. With this, the concept of development seeks to demonstrate the importance of the freedoms of social actors so that they can develop according to their individual or collective interests. His proposal for development is anchored in human development, having the principle of achieving social well-being composed by individual well-being (Sen, 2008).

In the context of analyzing situations of vulnerability for individuals, the notions of entitlements are an analytical category present in the capability approach of the author, who offers support for understanding how vulnerability acts on individuals and their families, as well as react to these situations. The entitlements are part of the environment (context) in which the individual is inserted, in the case of conditions that have to develop and reach a certain goal. In other words, the entitlements are pre-conditions for individuals to reach their capabilities (Sen, 2008 and 2010). In this way, the entitlements consist of a set of resources and means (assets and activities) available to individuals, them being productive (for example, availability of land and labor), of trade (for example, income), and institutional factors that may influence the entitlements (for example, customs, traditions, laws, public policies). Therefore, the governments, in their different spheres, have a fundamental role in the provision and strengthening of these elements, such as education, health, sanitation, access to land, access to food, among others.

In this way, the development, from the Senian perspective, is not just a matter of having material resources, but, before anything else, gaining access to opportunities that are governed by social actors in their respective social spheres, and that help them to break out of the situation of being vulnerable in which they may find themselves. To understand the social changes in the context of rural development from the Senian perspective, it becomes necessary to understand what causes vulnerability, considering that an individual in a vulnerable situation is also in a situation of restriction in the exercise of their capabilities, thus compromising the freedom of choices and opportunities.

According to Sen (2008; 2010), Chambers (2006), and Ellis (2000; 2006), vulnerability is linked to a failure of rights and the scarcity of resources. Thus, the presence of situations of vulnerability represents a loss of capabilities and lack of freedom that individuals have to choose how they want to live. As noted, to exercise their capabilities, individuals need a means that enable the conditions for their development. So, in circumstances in which individuals or families have their means of livelihood threatened (by uncertainties, risks, or changes), their freedom to exercise their capacities will be compromised, limiting their choices and possibilities of reaction (Ellis, 2000).

The approach of the “livelihoods” proposed by Frank Ellis (2000) considers that families develop their strategies of social reproduction by connecting between assets and the activities that the family has to survive. According to Ellis (2000, p. 10), “a livelihood includes the assets (natural, physical, human, financial, and social capital), the activities and the access to these (mediated by institutions and social relations), which together determine the life acquired by the individual or family group”. Therefore, the means that individuals have to live involves assets that they have, their activities, and the ways of access and use that determine their way of living.

The livelihoods are composed by a set of capitals consisting of several assets, where the condition in which these assets are, influences how they will be accessed and mobilized, the main purpose being to search for the support of the establishment and autonomy of the family (Scoones, 1998; Ellis, 2000). The assets comprise the basis that will give life to the alternatives of maintenance and survival of the family, allowing social reproduction and acting on the institutional structures that establish relationships with these individuals. Therefore, the similarity of the assets with the entitlements consists of the effectiveness of the means to achieve the end goal. Thus, the assets and the entitlements are the means to achieve the ends, and the availability of both allows individuals to expand or restrict their capabilities.

There is a set of five capitals that constitute the assets, forming a pentagon around the livelihoods, which are the natural, physical, human, financial, and social capitals (Ellis, 2000). The natural capital refers to the natural resource base, and is related to the quality and quantity of goods such as land, water, soil, among others, that offer products used by the human population for their survival. The tool and machinery can exemplify the material capital, and inputs available, that is, goods brought into existence by the process of economic production. The human capital is related to household work, the responsibilities of individuals, such as level of education, knowledge, capabilities and one’s own state of health. Financial capital refers to the stock of money, savings, and loans, which can be accessed in order to acquire both the production and consumption goods. Finally, social capital refers to the networks of reciprocity, trust, and associations in which people participate, and from which they can derive support that contributes to their livelihood (Ellis, 2000). This set of capitals gives life to the livelihoods of individuals, and how those assets will be deployed is on account of the individual capacity and ability of the social actors.

In this way, the assets are fundamental components of the capitals underpin the strategies created by individuals, which are “short-term responses to unplanned crises” (Ellis, 2000, p. 47). Therefore, individuals and families have different forms of access to different capitals, assigning heterogeneity in their strategies facing situations of vulnerability. This difference in access and mobilization of assets is directly related to the individual capacity and the use of entitlements, differentiating them in their use and control. Thus, understanding the diversity of family groups becomes fundamental, to the extent that it allows understanding the options that are available to individuals, as well as the strategies they adopt facing situations of vulnerability.

Construction of strategies for coping and adapting to situations of vulnerability

In Ellis´perspective (2000), vulnerability represents a change that the individual, family, or community may be experiencing, since it is a particular change in the sustainability of the necessities of life. In a situation of vulnerability, individuals can react in two ways: coping or adapting, considering the process for this and the conditions available.

Coping strategies are an attempt of survival of the family group when facing a situation of vulnerability, aiming to overcome it. They are strategies built as a response to the occurrence of crises and shocks (droughts, floods, falling prices of products, etc.) that become momentary alternatives for survival (Niederle; Grisa, 2008). These strategies adopted by households are supported by the objective to survive, creating alternatives to overcome this situation facing changing effects (Ellis, 1999 ; 2000; Adger, 2003). Therefore, coping strategies seek to promote the ability of individuals to mitigate, consisting in the promotion of measures to reduce the risks or even to reduce their impacts, even if temporarily (Cutter; Boruff; Shirley, 2003), and aim to moderate or reduce the negative impacts of situations that cause vulnerability. Facing a situation of vulnerability involves the exercise of adjusting and overcoming, improving their ability to adapt through the development of behavioral characteristics that allow them to survive this situation and reproduce.

On the other hand, adaptation strategies involve the capability of the livelihoods of “evolving” in order to accommodate the situations of risk or change, broadening the range of variability in which they can deal with situations of vulnerability (Adger, 2006). Thus, adaptation strategies are expressed as alternatives to choose to seek more stable paths, and strategies to “anticipate” possible crises and shocks and ensure greater stability when situations of vulnerability occur.

For Adger and Kelly (1999), adaptation also occurs through the actions of individuals, facilitated or limited by institutions, as well as through the action of the institutions themselves. Therefore, adaptation strategies are manifestations developed to ensure the survival of the family group in the long term. The adaptations of success mean that families are less prone to crises over time, enhancing their ability to resist change and shocks. As pointed out by Sen (2008), even though the individuals create the ability to face the same situations again, this does not mean that they are adapted to them.

It is possible, therefore, that vulnerability is directly related to the hardships that social actors are facing, where they tend to be potentiated due to the lack of assets and the consequent difficulty in exercising their capabilities. Considering the discussion until they are presented here, the study of the vulnerability from the capability approach proposed by Amartya Sen, coupled with the approach of the livelihoods proposed by Frank Ellis, represent an important benchmark of rural studies for the apprehension of how social actors build coping and adaptation strategies from the exposure to situations of social vulnerability which focus on the living conditions of these social actors. Thus, understanding the strategies adopted in situations of change is a fundamental step to making the possible forecasts regarding reactions adopted by individuals and families.

Situations of vulnerability from the markets

In the midst of academic studies, the understanding on markets varies, which tends to be seen as an interpersonal machine and that, in fact, is “an arena that gives things the character of goods in certain moments of their social life” (Conterato et al, 2011, p. 72. That are characterized as extremely uncertain and hostile environments, which requires the construction of coalitions that are able to, somehow, guide the actions in this space. Therefore, the markets are not the result of the connection of actors with the same interest, but the product of conventions, socially shared representations throughout the world (Niederle, 2013). Along these lines, the description of any market should involve the identification of social mediation and forms of articulation that give life to this structure, in order to analyze how the actors solve coordination problems to the extent that it becomes necessary to look beyond the trades carried out. Further taking the ways in which its members regulate and politicize such exchanges into account.

With respect to trading, it is assumed by Sabourin (2006; 2009) that there are societies of trades that are not mercantile, in that the practices of reciprocity and the donation between peasant communities generate forms of covenant statements that allow increasing interpersonal relations. On the other hand, there are also societies in which the trades are mercantile; this is because the markets need trades. However, not all trades are necessarily mercantile. In other words, taken as a set of social interactions, mercantile trades must be examined in a broader context, thereby, assigning a real meaning (Garcia-Parpet, 2009).

Somehow, the commodification is not a uniform and finished process, which guides and transforms the lives of farmers, but rather a large and diverse process, in which the complex intersection of temporal, cultural, and social factors causes some things to transit in the state of goods (Ploeg, 1993; Long, 2007; Appadurai, 2008). Therefore, it is assumed that there is, behind the actions of producers on the markets, a rationality that cannot always be explained by the logic of the capitalist market, but by an action consisting of a rationality composed of interactions with other actors. According to Niederle (2007), markets reflect the pressure that the market structures exert on the actors, but also may represent a deliberate strategy of their own actors. In this sense, we can say that, if not actively planned and formed by their own actors, the relations of markets are at least mediated by them, because while some distance their production processes and work from the market, others engage in them. For this reason, it is not enough to understand why certain actors make given decisions, it is necessary to understand why they do so and what the consequences of those decisions are.

Therefore, it is necessary to consider that the formation of the animal market related to livestock farming involves a hegemonic and perverse face. The trajectory of the development of capitalism that derives in the south of the state has created a structure of markets that spawned processes of exclusion and marginalization of farming families favoring mainly the medium and large livestock farmers. Said livestock farming enterprises were able to absorb, in large measure, the technological progress engendered by the modernization of agriculture, and, therefore, mobilize productive resources (inputs and services) via markets. This model of production has contributed to the restructuring of the processing industry (cold stores), which have constituted true food empires, acting in structures of monopolistic markets (only one buyer), acting on relations that link production, processing, and distribution of food.

Given this context, no matter how restricted to situations that exert marketing pressures and demands (as is the case of cold stores), the livestock farmers react to these pressures and build market strategies that aim to ensure their autonomy. In other words, the situations of vulnerability related to markets that may affect cattle are distinct, so the next section seeks to present the methods used to list the vulnerability factors relating to the markets and how to evaluate them with the livestock ranchers from southern Brazil.

Research method

The focus of analysis in this study is in the livestock ranchers of the municipalities of Bagé, Dom Pedrito, Piratini, and Pinheiro Machado located in southern Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil (Figure 1). The choice of these cities is due to the more intense and expressive occurrence of livestock farming activity.

Figure 1. Location of the municipalities of Bagé, Dom Pedrito, Piratini and Pinheiro Machado.
Source: Prepared by the authors.

The main criterion used for the definition and selection of livestock farmers was the presence of livestock farming in the respective establishment, understanding livestock farming as the creation of animals destined for the consumption of their meat, among them sheep and cattle. Thus, interviews were conducted with farmers from the four selected municipalities, where the main objective for covering the diversity of livelihoods among pastoralists was the choice of the interviewees. Thus, the definition of the interviewees in this study was the non-probabilistic intentional type. This type of definition selects elements that possess certain characteristics set out in the plan and the assumptions made, being intentional and presented as representative of the universe chosen (Richardson, 2009). The non-random choice presupposes that individuals are intentionally selected for the proposed study (Creswell, 2010).

The main instrument for collecting information was the semi-structured interview, carried out with 60 livestock ranchers distributed in the four cities studied, performed directly with the ranchers, thus obtaining a large overview and detailed information of the place of research. The interview is the semi-structured type, which occurs through a “guided conversation” with the aim of obtaining detailed information of what is being investigated (Richardson, 2009, p. 208). This tool allowed us to obtain answers to the same questions from different livestock farmers, allowing comparisons and correlations, noting the differences and similarities between the responses.

Contact with the livestock farmers was achieved with the help of key informants, which are nothing more than local and regional parties involved with livestock, especially with livestock farming. Among them, technical extension workers of the Company for Technical Assistance and Rural Extension (EMATER), researchers from the Brazilian Company of Southern Agriculture and Livestock Research (EMBRAPA) and representatives of the Union of Rural Workers of municipalities, which allowed the rough approximation and the accomplishment of the research.

Because it is an original study on the theme of vulnerability in livestock in southern Brazil, it was necessary to build a data collection tool. For such, possible factors of vulnerability for livestock farming in southern Brazil related to the market were raised, this survey occurred through revision of the literature and from the authors' experience with the reality studied. Therefore, we listed seven vulnerability factors, subsequently tested and validated with test interviews, composing the final format of the interview.

For each factor, a degree of vulnerability was estimated through the use of the Likert scale, which seeks to capture the degree of intensity assigned to each item in the response of the interviewee (Alexander et al, 2003). We used five ordinal categories organized as such 1) no importance (when they do not consider the factor in question a vulnerability), 2) little importance, 3) relative importance, 4) important, and 5) very important. As a result, the coping strategies and adaptation are adopted by the interviewees facing situations of vulnerability were identified.

After data collection, the information was organized, codified and tabulated, with its separate analysis being what gives the data quality. With regard to the quantitative data, after the tabulation and consolidation of data, a descriptive analysis was performed, mainly for the characterization of the properties. For the analysis of the degrees of importance for each vulnerability factor, we chose to point out the average and the relative results for those who consider it to be a situation of vulnerability and those who did not. The Microsoft Office Excel program was used for the treatment and analysis of quantitative data.

With respect to the qualitative answers related to the coping and adaptation strategies adopted by farmers, the content analysis, a technique in which the raw data are systematized and aggregated into units, allowing an exact description of the characteristics relevant to the content expressed in the text (Oliveira, 2008). This way, it was possible to highlight the information provided using categorization.

Mobilization of assets and creation of reaction strategies to situations of vulnerability related to the markets

The set of vulnerability factors identified involves the market relations in which the livestock farmers are inserted. The forms of integration in the markets by livestock farmers reveal different paths, forms, and intensities that identify relationships disaggregated with the markets before and after the gate. With the purpose of illustrating with clarity, the results found, the vulnerability factors and the distribution in the respective degrees of importance for each factor are presented in Table 1.

Before starting the analysis of each factor, it is worth noting that because of the diversity of factors that characterize the livestock farmers and their means of livelihood differentiating them in the way they produce and the tools they have available to do this, the process of commodification could not be different. There are different forms of integrating the livestock farmers interviewed in markets and in their choices facing the marketing channel, ranging from formal to informal markets, mostly. The formal are represented in the cold stores and brokers animal markets (a company specialized in the purchasing of animals), identified in 38% of the establishments investigated, in which the sale to cold stores is the main marketing channel present in 25% of establishments. The sales channels have formal association with the total size of the area and with the total number of cattle and sheep reared in the establishment, thus, the larger the area of the establishment and the larger the number of animals (cattle and sheep), the greater the chance that the marketing channel will be formal. It is noted that the establishments with smaller areas of land access informal markets more often. Among the livestock farmers investigated, there were establishments between five and three thousand hectares, which demonstrates the magnitude of this difference.

The informal markets, in turn, involve sales to intermediaries, other livestock farmers and neighbors, identified in 62% of establishments, with emphasis on the marketing between livestock farmers, which represents 42% of the informal sales. In general, there is still an informal trade of products made by women such as jams, jellies, cheeses, and crafts. The sale of these products are complementary to the total income of the family, and occurs infrequently, as they are traded between individuals from the local community and in urban areas.

Among the vulnerability factors related to market, the low prices received for the products (mainly animals and wool) did not represent any vulnerability for 50% of the respondents. It is worth mentioning that in the initial months of 2012, the year this survey was completed, there was a period of drought caused by the low occurrence of precipitation, which impacted the results of this study. Similarly an imbalance was found in the market with the purchase and sale of meat, due to the drought. There was a low supply of animals for sale, raising the price. However, among the 50% of respondents who showed some degree of vulnerability to this factor, 8% attributed little importance, 12% indicated relative importance, 12% considered it important, and 18% understood this vulnerability as very important to their livelihood. In a way, the difficulty of marketing found by livestock farmers related to low prices corroborates with the results found by Miguel et al (2007) and Andreatta (2009), in which this situation represents uncertainty for producers.

Table 1. Vulnerability factors and degrees of importance related to the markets of livestock farming (%)

Vulnerability factors






1. Low prices received for products of animal origin






2. Concentration of markets for the sale of products of animal origin






3. Difficulty of finding buyers






4. Difficulty in meeting the requirements of buyers






5. Difficulty finding animals for replacement






6. Late payment of refrigerators and intermediaries






7. Production costs






Source: Prepared by the authors.

The concentration of markets (formal and informal) accessed by livestock farmers for the sale of products of animal origin, such as cold stores, intermediaries, cooperatives, neighbors, also reveal a situation that does not represent a vulnerability to the establishments, because 67% of the livestock farmers do not identify problems or difficulties with the markets that access product sales. However, 33% of the livestock farmers consider this factor to have some degree of vulnerability, 12% being of little importance, 8% relative importance, 7% important, and 17% very important. However, despite most of the interviewees not considering this factor to be a threat, most sell to the same channels at once, and in many of the situations, not by choice, but because it is the only option.

In a newsletter published by the Center for Studies on Livestock Farming Production Systems and Productive Chain (NESPRO) at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), a historical series of livestock from 2010 to 2014 are presented, with price and market, herd, and slaughter indicators. According to the data in the document, in 2013, 37% of total slaughter in the state was in the hands of seven stores with state and federal inspecting, in which the largest volume of slaughter occurred in the Southwest mesoregion, where the largest refrigeration plants of the state are located (NESPRO INFORMATIVE, 2014). This situation highlights the concentration on an important link in the beef markets, slaughter. The data presented shows that there is an ongoing process of concentration of marketing channels, which directly involves the formation of prices, which is currently controlled by the interests of the industry, in which even smaller scale cold stores mark out the price paid from the large establishments.

The factor related to the difficulty in meeting the requirements of buyers has no importance for 60% of the livestock farmers, little importance to 10%, relative importance to 18%, important for 10%, and very important for 2% of respondents. The other factors related to the market, being related to the difficulty of finding buyers, difficulty in finding animals for replenishment, and delays in the payment of cold stores and intermediaries do not represent a degree of vulnerability to, respectively, 82%, 87%, and 92%. It is worth mentioning that for the 13% who consider the difficulty of finding animals for replenishment a vulnerability, the argument is the fact that these producers are fattening their profits in areas with advances in the cultivation of soy, as is the case of interviewees from municipality of Dom Pedrito, who highlight: “ The soybean is good, but it removes the cattle, and then there in nowhere to replenish them ”, for another “[…] and here there is the problem of the plants. Here they only think about tearing the field apart for planting. Then that field is there. Today are giving up cattle to rent the area for soybeans. And then what?...

What is possible to observe in the results so far revealed is that most of the vulnerability factors listed do not represent a vulnerability for a significant proportion of respondents. This is because they are established relations with the after “gate” market, and what we can learn is that these ranchers have adaptation or coping strategies that involve the creation of spaces for maneuvering that will allow them to make decisions that are aimed at ensuring their autonomy facing the impositions of the market, even if this autonomy is partial. However, there is, on the other hand, a minority group of farmers who find themselves in a situation of greater vulnerability, which, in their majority, are those who maintain a higher market bond, and, to a certain extent, end up in a position of greater dependence on relations with the market.

In the condition in which the livestock farmers find themselves in less vulnerable situations, as is the case in the vulnerability factors from Table 1, the social capital represents an important available asset, which, when constantly mobilized, ensures the ranchers the construction of adaptation strategies, but also, coping strategies to deal with the vulnerability factors from the market.

Thus, the markets accessed by livestock farmers in the marketing of products are also markets constructed by the livestock farmers themselves in a mediation process and interface with other social actors, such as neighbors, intermediaries, brokers, or even co-operatives and cold stores. This type of market, set up and structured under the social relations constructed from the available social capital and rooted (embeddedness) locally, represents, in itself, the livelihood of the livestock farmers. This is the reciprocity, constituted historically by social relations, involving processes rooted in correlation and proximity. Conditions in Brazil, especially in the northeast region of the country, Sabourin (2006; 2009) have described different experiences, of peasant communities, markets guided and organized by reciprocity, above all, of their influence on the organization of social and economic reproduction and production on rural societies today.

In this respect, it is worth mentioning that the marketing channel accessed by 25% of livestock farmers interviewed is the cold store, however, the search for best prices makes some of these livestock farmers establish a back and forth movement between channels in situations they deem appropriate, such as the passage of negotiation with cold store to an intermediary, neighbor, or fair. However, this flexibility of motion between a formal market (cold store) to an informal market (intermediary, neighbor), is only possible because there are social relations of previously existing trust between the livestock farmers and these informal markets accessed.

Thus, it is not only the price that determines the sale of animals or of wool, but the trust established between the rancher and the buyer, which creates an important decision factor, therefore, strengthening the bond reduces the risks in the process of buying and selling. In this situation, what is at stake is something beyond just the freedom of market transactions; it is the very freedom to insert themselves in the market by the paths chosen by them

This situation is similar to what has been identified by Garcia-Parpet (2003) who conducted a study on the strawberry market in the Fontaine region in France, in which the organization of this market was designed so that the social factors did not come to disrupt the “free play of supply and demand”, nor even the adjustments by means of monetary prices. However, the results found in this study demonstrate the contrary, the information that circulates in the environments of social interaction is that, in fact, they will influence on the choice and the action of the actors, both buyers and sellers (GARCIA-PARPET, 2003). Therefore, the author stated that the central element in this form of market is the information that circulates among those involved, with important action on the decision making process with respect to price. In the case of strawberries, the prices are given not by competition, but by the type of information obtained, both for buyers, as for sellers.

Another important experience with the marketing of animal origin products that was found in livestock involves the collective sale of products. The low productive scale verified between related livestock farmers often leaves them in a vulnerable situation because, as they normally have few animals to sell, individually they find it difficult to market, since they have some difficulties in meeting the requirements of certain markets. In this situation, the collective sale of animals through associations of producers was an alternative found by livestock farmers to cope with the difficulties of selling of animals and wool, mainly.

This situation was observed between livestock farming families in the Palmas reagion of Bagé, which, by means of the association of producers, and with the assistance of other actors, such as the municipal government, union of rural workers and EMATER, sell their animals at the beef calves fair with the family livestock, which happens in parallel to the autumn trade fair of calves, in April of each year, and is organized by the Center for producers of calves in Bagé. In the same way, the livestock farming families of the town of Alto Bonito, in Pinheiro Machado, sell lambs collectively to stores in the region. In addition to accessing markets that individually they could hardly access, the collective sale favors the increase in bargaining power in negotiating price with buyers, adding greater value to the animals sold.

These experiences, here recorded, of the collective sale of animals, represent successful strategies in coping with the difficulties related to the market of livestock farming, because there are strategies that have broadened the possibilities for reducing the vulnerability for family livestock farmers, mainly. In other words, if individually selling the animals originally represented a coping strategy to a situation of vulnerability, now, the collective sale has been transformed into an opportunity, which gradually turned into an adapted strategy. Thus, social capital is an asset that mobilizes, transforms and strengthens the social fabric, creating the conditions to make it possible for the exercise of individual and collective capabilities of livestock farmers.

In addition to the social capital, the improvement in physical capital, represented by investments in quality of livestock, produce, in long-term benefits, and in the process of marketing of products. The investment in purebred animals via insertion of quality breeders, and traceability, are examples of improvements in assets that will be marketed as an end product. The definition of a genetic pattern by choosing a race and the traceability of cattle herd adds value to the price paid for the animals, presenting a return compensation in investment. In this way, the quality of the squad presented itself as an adaptation strategy in the long term, in which the improvements of this strategy become perceptible in the measure in which the herd begins to present uniformity, thus meeting some of the demands of the market.

With regard to the seventh factor, relating to production costs; it is possible to show important differences in the distribution of the degree of importance of this factor as a vulnerability. At the same time in which 28% of interviewees did not see this factor as a vulnerability, more than half of the interviewees perceived it with the following degrees: important (20%), and very important (32%) of vulnerability. What is observed is a moderate correlation between this factor with the total area of the property (0.32) and the number of animals (0.30), which indicates that the larger the area and the number of animals, the greater the degree of vulnerability related to production costs. This means that these are establishments that have a strong process of externalization of the production system, which involve market relations established before the “gate”, with both markets for products and services.

Therefore, to the extent that the production costs represent a vulnerability with an important or very important degree, it also means that they are livestock farmers who are in a situation of dependence and little autonomy in these markets. This is a different situation of vulnerability factors that involves market relations after the “gate”, as already discussed, in which the livestock farmers build their spaces to maneuver so as to provide them greater flexibility to enter and exit the markets, therefore, greater autonomy.

Dealing with the vulnerabilities caused by the production cost is mainly, but not exclusively, done by mobilizing financial capital, which has highlighted various forms of coping strategies and adaptation. The livestock farmers who were vulnerable to the production costs are adapted to this situation, because they are “molded” to the economic context in which they are inserted. In this way, even exercising activities completely oriented to the market, which involve high production costs and dependency relationships with the markets for inputs and services, the adaptation occurs because the livestock farmers have financial capital for their own expenses in the activity. Therefore, no matter how often they are in a situation with a high degree of vulnerability, these ranchers are exerting their means of livelihood, but more than that, they are exercising their capabilities when opting for the choice of continuing to exercise these activities of risks, in which financial capital is the main entitlement that allows the desired capabilities to be achieved.

On the other hand, as the livestock farmers that show a low degree or no vulnerability with regard to production costs, this situation does not necessarily mean they are adapted. These ranchers are able to build spaces for maneuvering and create coping strategies that reduce outsourcing before the “gate”, thus reducing the degree of vulnerability to depend less on the market of inputs and products. In this sense, in some situations it was found that the livestock farmers buy inputs (seeds, feed, medicine, etc.) and services (technical assistance) for lower prices, accessing cooperatives or unions of rural workers.

In addition, among the forms of family production among livestock farmers interviewed, there is the example of what is observed in market relations after the “gate”, paths that are covered with the purpose of increasing the distance to markets from products and inputs. This is a behavior related to the peasant conditions, one of the main characteristics is the constant struggle for autonomy, mediated by a process of co-production between man and nature (Ploeg, 2008). Thus, the struggle for autonomy, according to Ploeg (2008), is embodied in the creation and development of a self-managed and self-controlled resource base that mobilizes natural resources and social resources.

The results identified here are similar to those found by Neske (2009), to identify that the creation of strategies aimed at reducing the externalization of the productive process necessarily passes through some important non-commodified steps, such as the reproduction of the means of production within the establishments (animals, seeds, fertilizers, strength of family labor) and natural pasture as the basis of feed for animals.

Therefore, these livestock farmers are able to produce and reproduce a set of productive resources within the establishment that allow avoiding the need to use product markets. In other words, they are coping strategies that aim to create possibilities to recommodification in some stages of the production process, seeking autonomy in the markets for inputs and services.

Final Considerations

It is possible to say that the situations of vulnerability in livestock market farming is directly related to the deprivation that social factors are, where they are potentiated facing the lack of assets and the consequent difficulty in exercising their capabilities. More specifically, the vulnerability factors related to the markets are predominantly formed by factors outside the establishment, before the “gate” and after the “gate”, which implies the creation and deployment of a varied portfolio of assets for structuring coping strategies that might be adopted for each specific situation. In general, reactive strategies, both coping and adaptation ones, go through two main routes: first, through the strengthening of traditional markets, and, second, through the construction of new markets.

Thus, in this context, the social capital represents an important means for the construction of alternative reactions, between coping and adaptation strategies, as they are, mainly, by means of social relations with neighbors, buyers, other local actors, which are structured ways to overcome situations of vulnerability. This shows that, compared to the demands of the hegemonic market, some of the ranchers interviewed sell to neighbors, relatives, intermediaries, or slaughterhouses. This is an adaptive strategy, in which it is observed that the structures of kinship play a fundamental role in the correlations governing moral principles involving the market relations. In the same way, neighbors, intermediaries (which in most cases are the neighbors), and the local slaughterhouses, structure local networks of sociability and correlation and, with it, the market trades are provided, which can be performed individually or collectively (in groups of producers or through associations).

In addition, the financial capital is also mobilized in reaction to such factors, accessed for adaptation in some situations of vulnerability, for both, with the income from other activities or retirement. Therefore, it is necessary to strengthen the capital in their different spheres, promoting equal opportunities and generating freedom of choice among individuals and families. In these conditions, this study contributes to the debate around the theme of rural development to identify the situations that cause vulnerability and the degree of importance of these for the livestock farmers, above all, to try to understand how they react to these situations, coping or adapting, and what assets are mobilized for it.

Whereas the discussion hitherto presented, the study of the vulnerability from the capability approach of Amartya Sen, coupled with the livelihoods approach of Frank Ellis, represent an important benchmark in rural studies for the apprehension of how social actors build coping and adaptation strategies from the exposure to situations of vulnerability that affect the living conditions of these social actors. Thus, understanding the strategies adopted in situations of change is a fundamental step to making the possible forecasts regarding reactions adopted by individuals and families, as well as in what manner the social and political organizations who work with such social categories can contribute and strengthen the assets that thrive between the coping strategies of the situations of vulnerability, as well as cooperate with adaptation strategies.


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Received 17 April 2018; Accepted 4 July 2018; Published 1 August 2018

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