Cornell University

Americans in Soylandia: Building soil, growing soy, and making better farmers in the Brazilian Cerrado - Andrew Ofstehage, Development Sociology

Friday, December 6, 2019 at 3:00pm to 4:30pm

Warren Hall, B73

Speaker: Andrew Ofstehage, Development Sociology, Cornell University

Abstract: In the early 2000s dozens of young farmers migrated from the U.S. Midwest to the Brazilian Cerrado in search of cheap fertile land, cheap labor, and adventure. They courted investors, purchased massive tracts of land, and hired teams of local workers. In Brazil they pursue a flexible farming livelihood in which they have minimal connections to farmland, farm work, or crops and yet even in this case of land grabbing, tied to dispossession, deforestation, and exploitation, farmers engage with the socio-material life of farming and generate new life. 

This paper traces farmers’ engagements with land, landscape, and soil through four parts: land inaccessibility in the United States, dreams of value and waste in the Brazilian Cerrado, “building” the soil to make it fertile, and creating new farming models and model farmers. These encounters with land demonstrate how farmers construct the Cerrado socially through discourses of waste and value and physically by clearing Cerrado and modifying soil chemistry and biota. It also shows how the Cerrado constructs farmers as they adopt new farming practices suited to the climate, soils, and life of the region and create new models of good farming and good farmers.

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Event Type

Lecture, Seminar


Department of Development Sociology (DSOC)


dsoc, devsoc



Contact E-Mail

Contact Name

Sarah Day


Andrew Ofstehage

Speaker Affiliation

Cornell University

Dept. Web Site

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