The role of informal contracts in the growth of small cattle herds on the floodplains of the Lower Amazon

14 de janeiro de 2004

jan 14, 2004

Frank D. Merry. Pervaze A. Sheikh, David G. McGrath

In the absence of access to formal credit, informal contracts with independent investors give the small ranchers of the Lower Amazon an acceptable means through which to surmount the high investment hurdle of starting a cattle herd. These contracts – called sociedades – allow small ranchers to raise an outside investor’s cattle in return for a portion of the offspring and are commonplace in the cattle production systems of the Amazon.

But, notwithstanding a vast literature on cattle production in the Amazon, informal contracts have been largely overlooked. This paper presents the results of a field survey and financial analysis for informal contracts on small ranches in the Lower Amazon. In the results, we suggest that informal contracts are an important means of cattle herd start-up and herd production for small ranchers. Internal rates of returns in cattle production under these contracts are in the range of –7 to –12% for the small rancher and 12% for the investor. The net present value of the contract to the small rancher ranges from –R$1219 to –R$8599 and from R$1681 to R$8845 for the investor, for a 10-year period, depending on herd size. Financial returns contracts are sensitive to the contract design – e.g., to who pays health costs – and to beef prices. The small ranchers have a negative IRR, lose money, and bear all the risk of loss, yet persist in using this form of herd development. We surmise that this is due to the non-financial benefits of cattle ownership and the lack of access to formal credit structures. In conclusion, although outside the formal economy and apparently financially unrewarding, these contracts are an important mechanism by which the small ranchers on the Amazon Floodplains create cattle herds.

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