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Industrial infrastructure in the Pan Amazon

Amazonian pastures are notorious for their low productivity and frequently show signs of overgrazing and soil degradation. Crredit: © Pelizzeri /

  • Mongabay has begun publishing a new edition of the book, “A Perfect Storm in the Amazon,” in short installments and in three languages: Spanish, English and Portuguese.
  • Author Timothy J. Killeen is an academic and expert who, since the 1980s, has studied the rainforests of Brazil and Bolivia, where he lived for more than 35 years.
  • Chronicling the efforts of nine Amazonian countries to curb deforestation, this edition provides an overview of the topics most relevant to the conservation of the region’s biodiversity, ecosystem services and Indigenous cultures, as well as a description of the conventional and sustainable development models that are vying for space within the regional economy.
  • Click the “A Perfect Storm in the Amazon” link atop this page to see chapters 1-13 as they are published during 2023.

Packing plants are important to producers because the construction of a modern facility will stimulate the growth and diversification of the livestock sector. Modern packing plants must be located on a good (preferably paved) road to avoid wear-and-tear on refrigeration trucks that transport the meat to urban markets.

The number of modern industrial-scale packing plants is a good measure of the productivity and sophistication of the beef sector: Mato Grosso has forty packing plants that slaughter about 100,000 head per week, followed by Rondônia with 22 packing plants processing 50,000 head per week. In contrast, Pará has only thirteen modern industrial-scale plants but still manages to harvest 45,000 head per week, mainly in smaller-scale packing plants. Acre, far removed from urban markets, has only three industrial plants that slaughter about 5,000 animals per week.

Packing plants must be operated at or near capacity to be profitable, and their construction will change the cattle market in the surrounding landscapes. Having a slaughterhouse nearby increases the production options for ranchers. They can pursue a fully integrated production model (A+B+C), but many opt to specialize in fat-cattle operations (C), which are less risky and more profitable. Increased profitability will motivate most cattlemen to increase production, either by increasing herd productivity using technology or by expanding pasture area or both.

As of 2001, there were no industrial slaughterhouses along the entire length of the Transamazônica or in the municipalities of São Felix de Xingu or Novo Progresso, where cattle ranchers only have the option of pursuing the A+B production paradigm. Still, these remote communities play an essential role in the beef supply chain because they export their gado magro to producers near slaughterhouses specializing in the production of fat cattle. The municipality of São Felix de Xingu is home to the largest herd of cattle in Brazil, with more than two million head grazing on approximately 1.8 million hectares of pasture. Coincidentally, this municipality has suffered the highest annual deforestation rate in Amazonian Brazil since 2001.

Another type of industrial infrastructure is the feedlot, known as confinamentos in Brazil. These industrial facilities increase daily weight gain and shorten the time-to-slaughter, two key metrics that track improvement in beef productivity. The use of feedlots has increased in Brazil from 500,000 head in 2003 to 4.5 million in 2016 and 6.2 million by 2020. In 2019, Mato Grosso led the nation in feedlot development with more than 175 facilities and an installed capacity for 800,000 head. Since feedlots shorten time-to-slaughter, the total number of animals fed in confinamentos exceeded 1.2 million.

Deforestation adjacent to BR-163 over three decades. There was no respite after 2000, following the implementation of the Plano BR-163 Sustentável, a high-profile project managed by the Casa Civil da Presidência da República; or the Cattle Agreement in 2010. Source: Google Earth.

The impact of feedlots on land use is complex. Their growing popularity has contributed to the improvement in land-use intensity of the beef supply chain; however, the expansion of the feedlot model is dependent on the soy-maize production paradigm, which also has an expanding spatial footprint. Simultaneously, feedlots increase the demand for gado magro supplied by ranchers from the forest frontier. Feedlots are also a source of pollution, due to the concentration of nitrogen-rich runoff from manure, which contributes to the hydrological degradation of the southern Tapajós, Xingu, Araguaia, and Tocantins rivers.

“A Perfect Storm in the Amazon” is a book by Timothy Killeen and contains the author’s viewpoints and analysis. The second edition was published by The White Horse in 2021, under the terms of a Creative Commons license (CC BY 4.0 license).

Read the other excerpted portions of chapter 3 here:

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