Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Brazil could triple agricultural output without touching the Amazon rainforest

Rhett Butler in Mongabay: Brazil could triple its agricultural without the needing to clear additional rainforest in the Amazon Basin, Roberto Mangabeira Unger, Brazil's Minister of Strategic Affairs, told Bloomberg in an interview.

“For every acre under cultivation in Brazil, there are more than four acres given over to low-intensity ranching and much of that has become degraded pasture land,” Unger was quoted as saying. “If we could recover even a small part of that territory, we could double the area under cultivation and triple our agricultural output in a brief time without touching a single tree.”

The argument that Brazil can expand its agricultural production without harming the Amazon is a mantra among Brazilian officials. The country has vast tracts of pasture and agricultural land that are being underutilized or have been abandoned: by some estimates up to 50 million hectares of degraded pasture could be available for intensive crop production, including oil palm, sugar cane, corn, soy, and tree plantations. But rapidly appreciating land prices, coupled with poor governance and inconsistent enforcement of environmental laws, means that it is often more profitable to clear new forest land — using timber sales as a subsidy — than to rehabilitate pasture. Cleared land is worth more than four times standing forest in parts of the southern Amazon in the states of Mato Grosso and ParĂ¡….

Logging in Brazil, around 1930

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