Africa / Agriculture / Brazil / Cattle / Farming Systems / Latin America / Livestock Systems

Feeding the world without levelling the forest

Romosinuano cattle breed in South America

Romosinuano cattle grazing in South America (picture credit: ILRI/Edwin Perez)

A July 2010 article in the leading science journal Nature highlights the gains Brazil is making in its agricultural productivity. ‘With its plentiful sun, water and land, Brazil is quickly surpassing other countries in food production and exports. But can it continue to make agricultural gains without destroying the Amazon?

‘. . . By far the largest potential for increasing production is in pastures, which in Brazil cover more than 200 million hectares, according to some estimates — nearly a quarter of the country, or an area three times the size of France. Brazilian ranchers on average raise just over one cow per hectare of land, but many well-managed pastures, with better grass production, carry three, four or even five cows per hectare (see map). The situation is slowly getting better; over the past decade, pasture in the Amazon region has increased by 30% and the number of cattle has increased by 80%.

‘Luís Barioni, an agricultural modeller at Embrapa, has conducted as-yet unpublished research suggesting that Brazil would need to nearly double productivity on cattle pastures between 2010 and 2030 to accommodate future demand without clearing further forest. The numbers suggest that it is more than doable, says Sergio Salles, an agricultural economist with the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP). Squeezing the current cattle population onto half as much pasture — which is possible from a technical stand point — would free up enough land to more than double grain production, he notes, “without cutting down a single tree”. . . .’

Read more at Nature, The global farm, 28 July 2010.

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