Deforestation is not helping farmers in Brazil. So what could?
Brazil’s agribusiness loses up to $ 1 billion a year as increasing deforestation reduces rainfall in the southern Amazon – a problem expected to spread if forest loss continues, a group warned. Brazilian and German researchers.
In a study published in the journal Nature Communications in May, they found that smaller-scale forest losses can increase rainfall on nearby farmland – but once losses exceed 55-60%, rainfall drops.
Losses of tree cover in particular seem to delay the onset and shorten the length of the rainy season, they noted.
As the destruction of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest continues, drier conditions could put a strain on the region’s predominantly rain-fed agriculture industry, the authors said.
Brazil is the world’s largest producer of soybeans and its second largest producer of beef, as well as the world’s largest beef exporter.
In parts of the country, Brazilian farmers are already grappling with unusually dry weather this year, with government agencies warning of threats of drought in late May as the country faces its worst drought in 91 years.
In the southern Amazon state of Mato Grosso, Brazil’s main soybean producer, erratic rainfall is reducing potential harvests, according to the Mato Grosso Institute of Agricultural Economics.
Aprosoja Brasil, the country’s main soybean production association, also said farmers faced drought during planting last October and November, followed by excessively heavy rains at harvest time this year, reducing the harvest. expected.
The new study looked at changes in rainfall between 1999 and 2019 in the southern Brazilian Amazon, an area of 1.9 million km² that has so far lost about a third of its forests, as a model for future changes in precipitation.
The researchers predicted what could happen until 2050 if Brazil’s conservation policies continue to weaken and strong political support for agricultural expansion versus effective enforcement of forest protection laws.
Co-author Britaldo Soares told the Thomson Reuters Foundation the difference was stark.
Unless the Brazilian government quickly changes its pro-development policies, which promote economic growth rather than conservation, agribusinesses could fall victim to the measures many of them support.
The effect would be like “shooting yourself in the foot,” said Soares, project coordinator for the Remote Sensing Center at the Federal University of Minas Gerais.
Environmentalists say President Jair Bolsonaro’s policies have weakened conservation efforts and his rhetoric has encouraged ranchers, loggers and illegal land speculators to cut down the Amazon rainforest to expand their businesses.
Mr Bolsonaro’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
No more forest losses
Amazon rainforest losses have peaked in 12 years since Mr Bolsonaro took office in 2019, with deforestation up 43% in April from the same month a year ago, government data shows published in May.
Removing trees to plant crops and raise livestock reduces the forest’s ability to trap and store the carbon dioxide that heats the planet in the atmosphere and can contribute to emissions if forests are burnt.
But a more fragmented forest, as losses increase, is also less able to produce the same volume of water vapor that rises to become rain, and can make the forest drier and more vulnerable to burning.
Less rainfall can mean lower yields and force farmers in the southern Amazon and beyond to adapt by moving to new areas or growing more drought-tolerant crops, the study notes.
He did not discuss the prospects for irrigating crops in the region.
Amazonian farmers also typically benefit from the double harvest or growing at least two crops per year.
But it could become more difficult or impossible if continued tree losses delay and shorten the rainy seasons, the study notes.
The researchers said that if the Brazilian government does not act against deforestation, international responses – including potential sanctions and Brazil’s exclusion from international treaties – could also result in lost income for Brazilian agricultural businesses.
Stopping the loss of forests in the Amazon is vital not only to protect biodiversity and the global climate, but also to protect agribusiness itself, they said.
As part of their study, the researchers used mathematical modeling to predict the economic losses that southern Amazon agribusiness is expected to suffer if current policies continue and rainfall in the Amazon continues to decline.
By 2050, the beef industry could lose more than $ 180 billion and the soybean industry up to $ 5.6 billion in total due to the effects of reduced precipitation, according to the study.
Mr Soares said that for long-term economic prosperity, the Amazon region needed to find a more sustainable economic model that was not dependent on land-hungry products such as soybeans and beef, the expansion of which resulted in a significant loss of forests.
A study by him and other researchers in 2018 found that landowners could potentially earn more than $ 700 per hectare each year in international payments to maintain climate stabilizing forests as well as through processed products created from them. forest species such as Brazil nuts.
Raising cattle on deforested land, by comparison, earns a landowner about $ 40 per hectare each year, he noted.
Brazil also needs better enforcement of its forest protection laws to preserve conservation areas and indigenous territories, he said.
Plus, other countries need to put more pressure on the current Brazilian government to boost forest conservation, said Paulo Barreto, a researcher who has studied the Amazon for three decades and works at the research institute for the purpose. nonprofit Imazon.
This should include “immediate and concrete measures” such as refusing to buy beef, soybeans or other products from deforested land, he said.
Argemiro Teixeira, one of the study’s co-authors and an environmental systems modeler, said profitable agriculture and forest protection in the Amazon don’t have to be at odds.
Agribusiness can be profitable without continued expansion at the expense of the forest, he noted, calling it “possible and necessary to improve the industry while preserving the environment”.
This story was reported by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.