Agriculture in Brazil is increasingly a tale of two regions. Competitive high-tech agriculture in the developed South and Central and a surge in deforestation in the Amazon to clear land for soybean and beef farming.
Agriculture has grown dramatically in the South American country this century, making it the world’s largest exporter of soybeans and beef, along with traditional commodities such as coffee, cocoa, cotton, citrus fruits and sugar. Agricultural exports from Brazil totaled $125 billion and the sector now accounts for nearly 30% of GDP.
Since the 1970s, Brazil has funded research on increased yields and better use of technology in agriculture, and supported the sector by promoting agricultural exports and favorable credit policies. But progress towards making farming practices more efficient and sustainable risks being undermined by the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.
The victory of Luis Inacio Lula da Silva in last month’s presidential election raised hopes for a major shift in policy. Lula pledged a goal of zero deforestation in Brazil during the campaign, but gave no date. He also vowed to restore funding for environmental measures that had been cut under President Jair Bolsonaro.
Many in the agribusiness sector argue that Brazil’s success in using technology to increase yields proves that Brazil does not need to burn down its rainforests.
“The productivity gains have been huge,” says Walter Schalka, CEO of pulp and paper manufacturer Suzano. “We don’t need new land for farming.”
Statistics from the Brazilian Federation of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry (CNA) show that Brazil still uses only 30% of its total land area for agriculture, compared to 71% in the UK and 52% in the US. Strict forestry laws require farmers to set aside at least one-fifth of their land for native plants without compensation and 80% in the Amazon.
Suzano maintains 900,000 hectares of native forest alongside commercial plantations and has set sustainability goals, including reducing emissions and improving water use. “Brazil is always portrayed as the bad guy, but the agricultural sector has actually made great strides in terms of sustainability,” says Sharka.
But there are also land grabbers who destroy rainforests and clear land for agriculture. Under Bolsonaro, Brazil’s stringent environmental law enforcement has been significantly curtailed, and the Amazon has lost more forest area than Belgium.
Deforestation rates have risen, fallen, and risen again this century. Overall, however, Amazon agricultural output is steadily increasing. The region is home to 30% of the country’s cattle, and the USDA said 42% of Brazil’s soybean production comes from the Amazon, according to the country’s latest agricultural census, conducted in 2017. I’m here.
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Some Amazonian farming is legal, but a significant percentage takes place on illegally harvested land. Many rural lands are not properly registered, complicating enforcement.
Marina Silva, who pioneered measures to reduce deforestation as environment minister from 2003 to 2008 and is expected to play a major role in Lula’s new government, said that a small part of the agribusiness sector He understands sustainability but says it needs to be more vocal. part of it,” she explains.
Cattle live in 70% of the deforested Amazon region, according to the non-governmental organization Global Witness. Marfrig and JBS, two of America’s top three meatpackers, will use tracking technology to keep beef from newly deforested areas out of their supply chains by 2025. (a third Minerva promised his 2030 date). But campaigners say the controls aren’t perfect and haven’t gone far enough down Brazil’s beef farming complex supply chain, where calves can move between farms multiple times before reaching the slaughterhouse. say.
Plagued by years of criticism from Europe, many Brazilian farmers instinctively seek to brush off their environmental concerns, but the Dutch-Brazilian sustainable agriculture advisory firm ReNature Founder Felipe Villela thinks it’s irrelevant. “Many people in Brazilian agribusiness are very defensive,” he says. “Some argue that agribusiness in Brazil is already sustainable.
Growing up in a citrus family in the southeastern state of São Paulo, Vilera saw how poor farming practices degraded the land. Cultivation is of particular importance to ReNature. According to Villela, tillage damages soil microbes and leads to large carbon emissions. Instead, “seeders can now plant directly into uncultivated soil,” he says.
Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture is also promoting a low-carbon agriculture initiative. The so-called ABC program, launched in 2012, claims to have reduced emissions by, for example, encouraging restoration of degraded fields, no-till farming, and planting trees along cattle pastures. The program currently aims to reduce carbon emissions by 1.1 billion tonnes by 2030.
Guilherme Lobato, from the southern agricultural state of Rio Grande do Sul, runs the startup ConnectFARM. ConnectFARM uses data analytics to provide farmers with land- and crop-specific growing advice, such as the type of seed to use and how to optimize. Fertilizer use. “Fertilizer makes up 60% of a farmer’s total cost, so accurate measurements are very important,” he says. “We help farmers make better decisions.”
Ultimately, however, no matter how much Brazilian farmers clean up for their deeds, it means little if the country’s president can’t figure out deforestation. say. “Brazil fights for the living Amazon. A standing tree is worth more than thousands of logs,” he said in his victory speech. “That’s why we do . . . promote sustainable development.”
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