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Brazil debates sustainable ag and its lack of international recognition

09 September 2022 Robert Birkett

Speakers at the Global Agribusiness Forum in Brazil in late July insisted that Brazilian agriculture was sustainable even if many of its innovations and practices were not recognised or widely known outside of the country.

Brazilian growers' association CNA technical director Bruno Barcelos Lucchi claimed that the country's farmers produced and preserved as only growers do in a few countries in the world.

Industry association CropLife Brasil president Christian Lohbauer agreed. "Brazilian agriculture is already sustainable. We work with sustainability. There are problems with our agriculture. We have illegal mining and logging, some are not employing GAP," he conceded. "But our ag business is built around sustainability, with no-till planting, carbon capture, using animal waste. But the world has not received news of this in an organised manner." President of social organisation Instituto Nova Era Vinicius Biagi insisted that agriculture was "about sustainability. It produces and conserves or it is not ag, it is mining".

Mr Barcelos Lucchi questioned how so few in the world were aware of Brazilian sustainability practices and methods. He described a picture of Brazilian agriculture ahead on sustainability from other major food producers. Some 30% of land in Brazil is dedicated to agriculture, between pasture and grain crops of which the latter is just 8%. "This is a small percentage compared with other countries. It is some 17-18% in China and the US, in Germany it is 56%, the Netherlands 66%." And almost a third of preserved vegetation land is maintained in farms, he added.

The CNA director described how Brazilian growers had moved to less urban and developed areas of the country to improve them with agricultural technologies. He said that Brazil had great potential expanding the use of available water. We use 17% for agriculture, which, he claimed was an indicator of an efficient sector.


The Brazilian government's low carbon agriculture (ABC+ acronym in Portuguese) programme since 2018 had exceeded its carbon reduction goals by 15%, Mr Barcelos Lucchi claimed.

"We're in the second phase of ABC+ programme with higher goals. We have a history of sustainable production. But how do we convey an image of having sustainable ag, especially abroad?" he repeated. He suggests three themes: improving existing systems, creating new controls and extending potential legal economic options in regions such as the Amazon.

Sustainable ag promotion

"There are many attacks on our ag abroad," Mr Barcelos Lucchi warned. On deforestation, the Nova Era president rejected the idea that the Amazon Forest was the lungs of the world. "I believe it is the seas. We have 8,000 km of coasts. Fishing with nets is more harmful than deforestation." He presented his organisation's work on regenerating areas including forested areas, and claimed that deforestation was not always a problem, but only if it is about restoring and reoccupying areas. He called on the agricultural research corporation, the Embrapa, to research the impacts or publicise studies of Brazilian fishing on the atmosphere.

However, Mr Barcelos Lucchi highlighted the threat that illegal logging was having on Brazil's reputation. He contrasted the image the world has of illegal logging and Brazilian agriculture and that "0.9% of farms" included some deforestation "according to latest figures". The CNA director demanded that those who do not follow the rules be punished and that the authorities more systematically employ technologies available to implement such work. "They must be punished as that near 1% are impacting the image and trade opportunities of other growers."

Mitigating deforestation

Available and potential technologies should be employed to deal with deforestation, Mr Barcelos Lucchi said. He claimed a lack of implementation of the Forest Code was impacting Brazil's reputation. The Code is Brazil's main tool for regulating land use change on private lands. The ten-year-old policy has seen many farmers seek registration, he claimed.

"Farmers have shown the preservation and production areas on their properties as part of their liabilities, including land that they need to recover on farms, demonstrating their intentions." The grower association leader warned that the rural environmental registration (CAR) was the basis of everything. He says that a functioning CAR would prove that Brazil follows and implements a strict environmental law.

The growers' leader reported that CAR registration had a 23% take up, but only 1% had been "validated" as such. "These are still very low figures given that growers want this fully regulated. Farmers want full regulation but initial analysis of CAR impacts other parts of the supply chain."

The UK and EU are pressuring on due diligence of the regulations and issues such as illegal logging, he warns. "If growers don't have their CAR, it is hard to ensure traceability and that impacts our incomes through trade. Traceability starts with CAR."

The CNA director says that Brazil is placed seventh among nations with the most greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), at some 2.8% of global emissions, whereas China and the US account for half of all GHGs among them. Those latter giants account for around a quarter of the global population.

"We have problems with methodologies employed to measure our agriculture. They do not account for sequestering levels in our pastures, so there is no balance on how well managed pastures sequester. We need more appropriate methodologies."


The grower association director suggested that illegal logging controls and monitoring needed more than command and control, and should integrate with regional development aspects.

On deforestation controls, he wants strengthening of firefighting. He compares the lack of resources to US with use of helicopters to control fires and even lift tractors and heavy machinery from affected areas.

Another aspect is to consider economic incentives. "If those in isolated northern regions do not have legal ways of earning income, they will find other ways to survive. That could be illegal mining, deforestation, illegal livestock raising and drug trafficking.

"So, we need to find ways for people in Amazonia to make legal incomes. We should consider remuneration solutions on environment service programmes, such as forest preservation. Give responsibility to people in Amazon," he advocates. "CAR registration will enable the identification of illegal growers", reminding the audience that only 0.9% of deforestation had come from CAR registered growers. "We can identify illegal growers and charge them."

Growers could adopt public policies, find technologies to improve their activities, and participate in official technical assistance programmes when they gain legal status from state and national governments.

The CNA director suggested funding could be collected from government-backed financing such as the Amazon Fund, a mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation. "We need to work out how to use these funds effectively, and not just on intermediate actions but holistically in order to structure programmes."

Expanding Forest Code implementation

Government provides CAR analysis, and we should do more analysis of the registration documents, using task forces as has recently been carried out in Mato Grosso state, when several private enterprises teamed up to get more people to get involved in these analyses. "We should accelerate analysis of Forest Code," Mr Barcelos Lucchi suggested.

The CNA director claimed that farmers often had not understood the employed processes in CAR registrations. "Therefore, we should make them more digital, and provide technical assistance allowing growers to understand how to verify their status."

Vinicius Biagi told how his organisation was such an enterprise that was helping indigenous and other communities in the Amazon region to adopt practices such as integrated crop forestry (ICF), in which crops such as cotton are planted and grown between lines of trees often on degraded lands, which help boost nutrient uptake and carbon sequestration. He claimed that such programmes under Nova Era were producing cotton above the national average.

Various forms of ICF or ICLF, the latter including livestock, are being adopted on at least 17 million ha in Brazil with further expansion planned.

Christian Lohbauer made a defence of "big agriculture" and its role in solving major societal concerns. "What is sustainability?" he rhetorically asked. "Resources are limited and we need to use them to maintain life, biodiversity, and nature in a regenerative condition." He lauded the analysis and diagnosis of the Embrapa and CNA speakers. But he warned about the emergency realities of nature, rising populations and demands for food. And here he turned to technology of his industry.

"This [technologies] has not been addressed in this debate," he admonished his co-debaters.

"Nova Era's tools are technology, but the technology that we offer protects crops from micro-organisms such as weeds, diseases etc. Along with that, biotech and the universe of GMOs [genetically modified organisms] and gene editing that could make better seeds and more productive plants, transforming the genetic design of plants, while biological crop protection is a new frontier."

Mr Lohbauer advocated integrated solutions and dropping the "binary conversations" that dominate.

The "significant" increase in Brazilian ag and livestock productivity is the result of technology adoption, best production practices, and sequential cropping, with the employment of second or safrinha harvests and winter crops. He called for more approvals of new technologies. "Biological products are finding more empathy, but chemical ais are proving more difficult to gain registrations."

The CropLife president presented a Ministry of Agriculture analysis showing approvals for biologicals increasing from 30 formulations in 2015 to over 90 in each of the last two years, while for "new chemicals" after a drop to only one approval in 2016, there had been between nine and 19 a year since, including 12 last year.

"Continued investment in innovation will enable our agriculture to produce more efficiently and sustainably." He highlighted Brazilian agriculture's increasing presence in global markets, saying it is the world's number one producer of soybeans and sugar cane, third in maize and fourth in cotton. "The world needs Brazil."

The grower association leader says that Brazil's tropical position has led it to develop its own technologies and practices. "They can serve as an example to the rest of the world."

• The Global Agribusiness Forum took place on July 25-26th, in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Posted 09 September 2022 by Robert Birkett, News Reporter, Agribusiness

This article was published by S&P Global Commodity Insights and not by S&P Global Ratings, which is a separately managed division of S&P Global.


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