Brazil could boost agriculture without destroying forests

December 03, 2013

Brazil could substantially boost its agricultural output while increasing protection of its native ecosystems, finds a new analysis published by the Climate Policy Initiative (CPI), an international think tank.

The study, titled Production and Protection: A First Look at Key Challenges in Brazil, analyzes agricultural productivity, trends in land use, and policies governing rural lands in Brazil. It concludes there is "ample scope for enhanced protection of natural resources and growth of agricultural production in Brazil."

"From a protection standpoint, the country would benefit from developing mechanisms that significantly drive up the private cost of clearing native vegetation, as well as through the advancement of market-based incentives that promote sustainable practices," states the report. "From a production standpoint, there is room to increase Brazilian agricultural production via productivity gains, at no apparent cost to environmental conservation."

CPI says there are several opportunities for expanding both protection and production, including improvements in monitoring and law enforcement as well as policies to improve access to rural credit, technical assistance, and education.

For example, the report argues that improving monitoring of small-scale forest clearing that currently evades the government's satellite-based deforestation detection system could help address the 70 percent of Amazon deforestation presently caused by smallholders. Monitoring of ecosystems outside the Amazon, like the cerrado and Atlantic Forest, would support better law enforcement to protect those less-appreciated, but still important habitats.

Chart: deforestation by small-holders in the Amazon rainforest

CPI says a policy framework for protecting native vegetation is already in place, but needs to be better enforced via its land registry for private properties and other tools.

On the agricultural production side, the report states that Brazil's farm sector currently suffers from substantial variation in terms of productivity. Most of this variation can be chalked up to access to finance, technology, infrastructure, and land tenure. Improving this access, in the context of a overarching framework that also aims to conserve native ecosystems, could both boost production and protection, according to CPI.

"The implementation of a Production and Protection strategy in Brazil therefore presents itself as a practical means to realize social, economic, and environmental gains, enabling the country to achieve growth of its rural economy alongside enhanced protection of its natural resources," says the report.

Chart: land use in Brazil

Izabella Teixeira, the Minister for the Environment of Brazil, said the research may help offer a path forward for Brazil to continue reducing deforestation while increasing farm output.

“Brazil’s natural resources are the foundation for our country’s future,” said Teixeira in a press release. “Climate Policy Initiative’s analysis identifies challenges to, and opportunities for, increased productivity of existing agricultural land and protection of native vegetation. It shows that if Brazil pursues the right strategy, we can both grow our economy and protect our natural resources.”

CPI previously published analyses looking at the effectiveness of various policy measures in reducing Amazon deforestation. A study published in January concluded that 15 percent of the drop in deforestation between 2007 and 2011 could be attributed to a rural credit law that ties loans to environmental compliance. A May report credited 60 percent of the decline in deforestation to satellite monitoring and law enforcement.

  • Climate Policy Initiative (2013). Production and Protection: A First Look at Key Challenges in Brazil December 2013

  • AUTHOR: Rhett Butler founded Mongabay in 1999. He currently serves as president, head writer, and chief editor.

    mongabay.com (December 03, 2013).

    Brazil could boost agriculture without destroying forests.