Amazon destruction woes overshadow Brazil’s farming advances

In addition to traditional commodities such as coffee, cocoa, cotton, citrus, and sugar, the South American nation has become the world’s largest exporter of soyabeans and beef as a result of a dramatic increase in agriculture in the 21st century. Agricultural exports from Brazil totalled $125bn last year and the sector now accounts for nearly 30 per cent of GDP.

Since the 1970s, Brazil has supported the agricultural sector by promoting farm exports and favorable credit policies, as well as by funding research into higher yields and more efficient use of technology. Destruction of the Amazon rainforest jeopardizes efforts to improve the efficiency and sustainability of agricultural practices.

The victory of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in the presidential election held last month has sparked hopes for a significant shift in policy. Lula pledged during the campaign to achieve zero deforestation in Brazil, although he did not specify a date, and has vowed to restore funding for environmental enforcement, which was cut by President Jair Bolsonaro.

Many in the agribusiness sector argue that Brazil’s success in using technology to boost yields proves it has no need to burn down rainforest.

“The gains in productivity have been very substantial,” says Walter Schalka, chief executive of pulp and paper producer Suzano. “We do not require additional farmland.”

The Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock (CNA) reports that only 30% of the country’s total land area is used for agriculture, compared to 71% in the United Kingdom and 52% in the United States. A strict forestry code obliges farmers to set aside at least one-fifth of their land for native vegetation without compensation, and 80 percent in the Amazon.

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