Agriculture, Brazil, Environmental Conservation

Back to the Brazilian Bush


The Latin American political front has been blustering with activity these past few weeks. We’ve see a new Paraguayan president set to bust a 60-year political machine, yet another flair in the saga of parapolitica in the Colombian highlands, Mexico’s divisive prospects of foreign investment in Pemex amid an escalating drug war, and Bolivian civil strife, all while Argentina braces for ‘round 2’ of economic standoff with agribusiness in hopes to stave off further domestic inflation.

Though, this past weekend the plight of the Brazilian Amazon upstaged other regional debacles in the press. Both the Washington Post and the Financial Times ran feature length articles on sustainable development in the Mato Grosso region at the country’s Amazon basin fringe. The topic has seen the light of day much before, but now stands against the backdrop of swelling food prices and surging demand for raw commodities. So begs the question, is the rapid growth of Brazilian agribusiness a perverse or venerable force?

In terms of environmental capacity, the excessive clearing of land in outlying rural sectors of Brazil devastates in the long term when one considers that each vegetated hectare emits a potential of 200 tons of carbon dioxide; in the country considered the ‘world’s lungs’, that amounts to an estimated 298 million tons respectively. Beyond implications for global climate change, the Amazon’s biodiversity is unparalleled in both flora and fauna. It houses the A-Z of pharmaceutical elements, alongside species seen nowhere else on the planet. Bottom line— expansive clearing of rainforest would prove to only exacerbate the decline of natural resources and the onset of climate change in years to follow (and we think this food crisis bites hard now).

So then, could there be any redemptive value in the surge of Brazilian agricultural industry? The Financial Time‘s Jonathan Wheatley argues so with aims to meet global food demand:

“The country has enormous reserves of unused arable land, most of it currently serving as under-productive pasture, that could easily and cheaply be turned over to production of grains and other foods. The problem is that much of Brazil’s farm produce continues to face prohibitive tariffs and other barriers to developed markets in Europe and the US.”

While this is a definite reality, it move still fails to address the carbon footprint voided to once make way for these pastured swaths. In any case, would the lands’ transformation be enough to quell rapid clearing in the ill-governed districts of rural Brazil?

The plausible solution outlined in both print articles this week? The carbon credit, organic certification standards, and conservatory incentives- at least in the long term. Nonprofit organizations such as Aliança da Terra are aiming to bridge the gap between environmental vanguards and responsible farmers by kick-starting reforestation of cleared lands with perks to those following conservation laws. In short, use economic leverage to thwart deforestation, while facilitating the real need for farmers to make a viable living in lieu of global market demands.

As Jack Chang of McClatchy Newspapers informs us however, the international spotlight on land management has rattled the bees’ nest domestically in the southern powerhouse:

“Brazil has entered one of its occasional panics about the Amazon and what it sees as foreign designs on the immense biosystem… It all goes to show how any international effort to save the forest needs to take account these real sensitivities. Sure, the Amazon is a global treasure, but before anything, it’s Brazilian.”

In any case, it’s refreshing to see that the issue is drawing some forum of critical debate, even if it required a global food crisis to brush upon the complexities of this Amazonian dilemma.