Brazilian agriculture makes progress in reducing environmental impacts

Brazil made several commitments during the 26th edition of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP-26), held last November, in particular with regard to the reduction of gas emissions associated with the greenhouse effect. . And agro-industry, one of the country’s most important economic sectors, plays a direct role in achieving these goals. Target of strong criticism regarding the negative environmental impacts generated by the activity, Brazilian agriculture is indeed one of the world leaders in the preservation of native vegetation and has put into practice several technologies and production models that make the sector more and more sustainable. .

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Science and technology brought to the field by institutions such as Embrapa and research institutes, agricultural science-focused universities and other organizations related to agricultural research are the main driver in promoting sustainable practices. in Brazilian agriculture. This network of entities, linked to the National Agricultural Research System, provides knowledge and sustainable production models at low technological cost to small, medium and large producers in the country.

Experts interviewed by the report point out that the increasing use of new technologies in agriculture and animal husbandry, such as integrated crop-livestock-forest systems (ILPF), no-tillage, biological nitrogen fixation , the use of organic inputs, including biological pest control, among others – which have been practiced in the sector for years and remain under study and improvement – have put the country in a position more in the pursuit of international objectives.

The slowness of land and environmental regularization and the absence of public policies linked to the sector, as well as the difficulty of access to credit for small producers to obtain new technologies, are however pointed out as obstacles to the achievement of Goals.

Sustainable models in Brazilian agriculture

Decarbonizing agriculture is the number one goal the sector has sought when it comes to reducing environmental impacts, and enteric fermentation – the digestive process that occurs in animals such as cattle, sheep. and goats – is one of the main components of the release of greenhouse gases into the activity. With Brazil having the largest cattle herd in the world (with 218 million animals according to 2020 IBGE data), the country has a greater challenge in terms of reducing these gases.

To address decarbonization, researchers have developed technologies that range from changes in livestock feeds to the development of integrated systems that seek to balance carbon emissions. One of these systems, already present in 10% of beef cattle farms in the country, is called Integração Lavoura Pecuária Floresta (ILPF).

Thanks to this model, which integrates agricultural production, animal husbandry and tree planting in the same area so that all activities are mutually beneficial, there is an increase in productivity by using the same space. This not only makes it unnecessary to open new areas for crops or ranching, but also helps mitigate gas emissions, mainly due to growing trees with the herd. Trees also contribute to animal welfare due to the permanent shaded areas available.

“When you integrate farming and ranching in one place, you harvest the soybeans in the first harvest, and in the second harvest, the grass. Then you have high quality weed with high nutritional value at the worst time of the year, which is the dry season. This allows for a greater weight of the animals and a higher stocking rate, that is to say the number of animals in the same area, ”explains rural producer Daniel Pereira Wolf, who manages a property in Nova Canaã do. Norte, Mato Grosso. His farm was the first in the Amazon biome to receive ILPF.

In addition to offsetting greenhouse gas emissions, the ILPF system increases productivity in livestock and agriculture (Photo: Gabriel Resende / Embrapa)

The system also emphasizes the quality of animal feed in order to reduce fermentation (and therefore methane emissions) and improve animal development.

The implementation of the ILPF is positive for the environment and for the producer who obtains productivity gains. “When you promote this integration, you increase productivity thanks to the filling rate [número de animais por área] of the farm. We have already produced 84 arrobas per hectare in 225 days, compared to the national average of four arrobas in 365 days, ”says Wolf.

As Guy de Capdeville, Director of Research and Development at Embrapa explains, integrated systems promote a balance between the gases released and absorbed. “Based on these models that Brazil has adopted for raising livestock, intensifying degraded pasture areas and providing more productive pastures with a higher content of protein and energy compounds, it is possible to fix the CO2 of the ‘atmosphere with plants and trees planted, which offsets the emission of carbon by livestock,’ he said.

Technology for the field

One of the main elements that contributes to reducing deforestation is the increase in productivity in the field. According to Capdeville, the use of sustainable technologies in agriculture has saved cultivated land in the order of millions of hectares – a so-called “land-saving” effect.

In the case of soybeans alone, the use of these technologies has generated savings of 71 million hectares of planted areas, or the equivalent of the sum of the territories of Ireland and France. “By adopting the technologies we had in the 1970s, to produce the volumes of soybeans we produce today, we would need 70 million hectares of additional land, which is 195% more than what we need today. ‘hui, with current technologies “, explains Capdeville. According to the director of Embrapa, the intensification of production by area avoids having to expand more areas for agricultural production.

As for cotton cultivation, in four decades, production has more than tripled – from 1.2 million to 4.3 million tonnes between 1976 and 2019 – while the area planted has decreased by less than half, from 4 million hectares to 1.7 million. In this crop alone, production technology has avoided the use of 18.5 million hectares, the equivalent of the territories of Portugal and Hungary.

The native vegetation preserved in Brazil is 66.3%, an average higher than that of most countries in the world.

“We have the same impact that happens in fruit growing, in the field of pork and poultry, in the field of coffee. The adoption of technology and science in agriculture saves the volumes of surface that we would need to plant and produce the volumes that we produce today ”, reinforces Capdeville.

The existence of illegal fires, responsible for deforestation in the Amazon, is reported by the agronomist and president of the Brazilian Agribusiness Association in Ribeirão Preto (Abag / RP), Mônika Bergamaschi, as an environmental crime disowned by rural producers. Such crimes damage Brazil’s image, which negatively affects the export of agricultural production.

“Deforestation in the Amazon exists and it is illegal. Agro does not defend any illegality. You have to go there, inspect, fine, put in jail whoever does wrong, whether it is a farmer, a land grabber, who runs a mine, whatever. The industry cannot stand this. It’s a police matter, ”says Mônika.

Role of public authorities

New changes related to the genetic improvement of plants, the production and use of biofuels and biofertilizers, and the reduction of synthetic agricultural pesticides are ongoing developments in the sector and will permeate the path that Brazil will follow to this day. ‘in 2030, a period during which the objectives assumed at COP -26 must be achieved.

However, as Mônika explains, despite the fact that Brazilian agriculture is going through changes linked to sustainability, there are public policies that must be implemented so that producers are better able to achieve the objectives. “One thing is what is discussed at the negotiating tables, which are government parameters, another is what will actually be done, which is by the private sector. We have conditions, but there are a lot of things that depend on governments and Congress, that agriculture cannot do on its own, ”explains the agronomist.

By way of example, she cites the need to accelerate the progress of land and environmental regularization processes – without making these processes precarious, she underlines; conduct international negotiations with an emphasis on opening up markets; and promote improved infrastructure for the movement of goods.

“Soybeans were born in Mato Grosso, Paraná, Mato Grosso do Sul, for example, but to be shipped we don’t have good cabotage, good railways, so it goes by road, which consumes a lot of diesel. Regarding the opening of markets, we are outside the major plural agreements and we have not concluded bilateral agreements like other countries have done, ”he said. “To talk about these goals, we need the development of the country. You can do it, we can produce more and better. But we have to talk about the decor, “he continues.

Brazilian agriculture is among those that preserve the most

According to a large survey by NASA, a US government agency, based on satellite mapping and the calculation of cultivated areas across the planet, while most countries use between 20 and 30% of their territory for agriculture, Brazil only uses 7.6%. When it extends to agriculture, 60% of the European territory is used for activities. Denmark, for example, uses 76.8%; Ireland, 74.7%; the United Kingdom, 63.9%; and Germany, 56.9%, reveals the study published in 2017.

Brazil uses only 30.2% of its territory for agricultural production, putting the country ahead of European countries (Photo: Wenderson Araujo) | Wenderson Araujo

For Mônika, decarbonization linked to agro must be treated as a long-term trajectory and there must be a reasonableness in the definition of each of the criteria determined between the countries. “We have to discuss with everyone how everything will be calculated. It is not possible for other countries to adopt a rule and start counting now, having already deforested everything they had, having emitted huge amounts of gas. It can’t be like that; It must be the same currency for everyone.

For the director of research and development of Embrapa, in addition to the high range of preserved vegetation, elements such as the strict environmental legislation that Brazilian producers must comply with – in some regions of the country only 20% of the property can be used, and the producer must maintain 80% preservation – place the country at a different level of sustainability than the world.

“We only receive criticism from the international productive sector, which competes with us. Scientific agencies, research institutes and international universities know our production and understand that it is highly sustainable, ”says Capdeville.

“Even with all the rigidity required in Brazil, our producer understands the need to do it, embraces it and embraces it. There is a huge movement in the scientific community to help Brazil fulfill these commitments and I am absolutely sure that we, more than any other country in the world, will achieve these goals, ”he underlines.

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