Deforestation for cattle ranching in Mato Grosso, Brazil. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Brazil could reduce more than a quarter of emissions linked to deforestation worldwide by intensifying cattle production in the Amazon, argues a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The research is based on an economic model that evaluates two potential Brazilian policies: a tax on cattle raised on conventional low-intensity pasture and a subsidy for cattle produced on semi-intensive pasture. The authors find that either policy would significantly reduce the area of forest cleared for cattle ranching, which is overwhelmingly the largest cause of deforestation in the Amazon. The study estimates the policies could cut deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon by up to 50 percent between 2010 and 2030, translating to a global 26 percent reduction in deforestation emissions.
“Our study shows that greenhouse gains from pasture intensification policies considerably exceed the losses,” said study co-author Aline Mosnier of UC Berkeley. “Brazil could act alone and still make a major dent in global greenhouse gas emissions.”
The study says that adopted together, the two policies could offset each other, effectively providing a revenue-neutral way for the Brazilian government to cut greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation without sacrificing agricultural output.
Cattle in the Brazilian Amazon. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
“A revenue neutral combination of tax and subsidy policies could help to balance agricultural growth, land use conservation, and global GHG mitigation,” the authors write. “Such an approach, when combined with land conservation policies, holds promise for sustainable development.”
A case for factory farms in the Amazon?
Intensification of cattle production often connotes a shift toward industrialized “factory farms” seen in the United States where livestock is kept densely packed, pumped full of hormones, and fed foods not meant for consumption by cattle. But the intensification modeled in the study is a far cry from that approach, says lead author Avery Cohn.
“Most of the improvements we model come from adoption of systems to manage cultivated pasture more efficiently,” Cohn told Mongabay.com. “We’re talking about the use of improved pasture seeds, more frequent replanting, pest and weed management, more liming and a little fertilizer, and rotational grazing. None of this is far fetched—we see it in practice a little already. It requires more know-how, labor and capital.”
“In our model, there’s also some increased productivity from improvement in animal breeding, feeding, and management. The better pasture management practices trigger the subsidy payments or allow producers to avoid the conventional tax. Often, the best use of the better-managed pasture systems is to combine them with better animal management.”