Climate Change in Brazil:
Follow the Meat

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Climate Change in Brazil:
Follow the Meat

By Raymond Colitt from Alternet.org

Environment group Greenpeace said in a June report that consumers around the world were unwittingly fueling destruction of the Amazon by buying hamburgers and shoes linked to illegal deforestation. That spurred a wave of pledges by big meat processors aimed at reducing deforestation by farmers who supply them.

At an experimental government farm in the western Amazon's Rondonia state, researchers analyze grass seeds under microscopes, shake soil samples in test tubes, and measure the milk production of a new breed of cows.

While high-profile police raids targeting illegal ranchers and loggers in the Amazon grab more headlines, these scientists may produce a more important solution in the long fight to save the greatest rainforest.

Their aim is to reduce the pressure for forest destruction by raising the productivity of pastures through fertilization, better choice of grass, and planting trees.

Brazil's ability to meet its ambitious 2020 target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent from 2005 levels depends largely on the ability of its agriculture sector, and particularly its huge cattle industry, to meet growing world demand without destroying more forest.

The cattle industry is the main culprit of deforestation, which accounts for around 75 percent of carbon emissions in Brazil, one of the top global emitters.

"Brazil's emissions targets hinge significantly on its cattle industry," said Paulo Barreto, senior researcher with Imazon, an environmental institute in the Amazon city Belem.

At stake is not only Brazil's role in climate change but also the competitiveness of its agriculture in a global market increasingly demanding eco-friendly products. Its beef exports account for $5.3 billion each year. Major importers of Brazilian beef products include Russia, China, Iran and the United States, as well as Britain and Italy.

Environment group Greenpeace said in a June report that consumers around the world were unwittingly fueling destruction of the Amazon by buying hamburgers and shoes linked to illegal deforestation. That spurred a wave of pledges by big meat processors aimed at reducing deforestation by farmers who supply them.

"Our producers know if they try to expand their land, they won't have a market anymore. They'll have to use the area they have better," Agriculture Minister Reinhold Stephanes told Reuters.
Near the town of Ji-Parana in southern Rondonia, farmers on their own initiative have planted trees on pasture land, giving cattle and pasture shade from the scorching sun and introducing nitrogen into the ground through the trees' roots.

The richer pasture and healthier cattle will allow the cooperative to raise 5.2 animals per hectare, nearly triple its previous rate.

Brazil's 200 million head of cattle, more than a third of which is in the Amazon, occupy an area nearly three times the size of Texas, or on average 1 per hectare (2.47 acres).

"We have the land and technology today that allows us to expand cattle ranching without chopping down a single tree," said Luiz Carlos Balbino, senior Embrapa researcher.

He says Brazil can double or triple beef production without deforesting by boosting the productivity of existing pastures, recovering degraded grass lands, and developing as much as 50 million hectares (123.5 million acres) of unforested savanna.