INTERVIEW: Brazilian soybean production and environmental preservation go hand in hand, says CONAB
Soybean acreage expected to reach 45 million hectares by 2028-29
Production will reach 152 million tons
Millions of hectares of forest cover lost to soybean cultivation in 30 years
Technological push to increase productivity, reduce deforestation
Farmers must move away from forests and favor degraded pastures
Brazilian soybean production and environmental conservation initiatives should develop simultaneously, contrary to the general perception that the rampant expansion of soybean acreage has endangered Brazil’s flora and fauna due to the deforestation, climate change is also a major concern for the country’s agricultural community, Sergio De Zen, director of agricultural policy and information at the supply management company of the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture, or CONAB , told S&P Global Platts in an interview.
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“Brazilian farmers are most concerned about the possible environmental impacts of deforestation,” Zen told Platts. “Farmers, who constantly have to endure volatile market conditions and financial risks, have come to realize that they need to conserve natural resources (flora and fauna) to induce regular rainfall and improve productivity.”
Brazil is the world’s largest soybean producer and exporter, and with 138 million tonnes in the 2020-21 crop year (September-August), it accounted for around 38% of global bean supplies.
If that’s not all, the South American agricultural powerhouse is expected to reach an unprecedented level of bean production in the years to come.
According to CONAB, Brazil’s soybean production is expected to reach 152 million tonnes by 2028-29, up 10% from 2020-21 levels, with planted area expected to increase by 15% to nearly 45%. million hectares.
More importantly, over a 20-year period between 2008 and 2028, the area planted with soybeans is expected to grow by 109%, the highest rate of any crop, while the second fastest rate of area expansion belongs to maize at 30%, said CONAB.
While CONAB maintains that soybean acreage expansion is mostly degraded pasture, it also admits that some of the acreage will come from new lands, which could eventually include tropical forests and savannahs.
The expansion of soybean acreage is expected primarily due to the conversion of degraded pasture to soybean acreage, although the clearing of new land for production will also contribute to greater planted acreage, CONAB said. Much of the growth in bean area is expected in Mato Grosso and the Matopiba region (Maranhao, Tocantins, Piaui and Bahia), he said.
Incidentally, these states include the eastern border of the Amazon rainforest, called the greenhouse of the world for its rich and unique biodiversity. The forest has become extremely fragile amid widespread deforestation over the past three decades on the rapid expansion of industrial and agricultural sectors.
According to various scientific research, the destruction of the Amazon is likely to accelerate global warming by 55%.
Environmental groups believe the rapid expansion of soybean cultivation in Brazil is straining fragile ecosystems such as rainforests and savannahs. They believe soybean cultivation is interfering with the natural habitat in central Brazil, leading to soil erosion and degradation.
But CONAB insists the laws are in place to protect the ecosystem and act as a deterrent against illegal farming practices.
“Brazilian laws mandate a conservation area in each biome, as 80% of the Amazon (rainforest) and 35% of the Cerrado (tropical savannah) are protected areas,” Zen said. “Farmers who don’t comply with this law can be fined and even lose their land,” he said.
“In Brazil, environmental legislation determines that only 20% of the areas of the Amazon biome can be deforested, and that too with the proper authorization from local authorities, which is expensive and difficult to obtain,” Zen said.
That said, CONAB accepts that there may be some degree of deforestation associated with the cultivation of soybeans.
Research indicates that more than 20 million hectares of Brazil’s forest cover have been lost to soybean cultivation over the past 30 years.
“Reducing or completely ending deforestation is a matter of debate,” Zen said. “This (deforestation) is one of the main reasons that led to the introduction of technologies to improve soybean productivity in Brazil,” he said.
According to CONAB, rather than deforestation, the Brazilian soy farming community is now focusing on converting degraded pastures to bean farmland.
“The potential for pasture productivity is enormous and has no impact on animal production,” Zen said. “Brazil aims for increased productivity, the use of degraded areas, new production technologies, and above all the planting of second and third crops,” he said.
There has been a widespread call for sustainable agriculture in the Brazilian soybean sector and CONAB recognizes this.
“A great example of sustainability in Brazilian agriculture is the land use cycle over the 12 months of the year,” Zen said. The production cycle begins with soybeans in late September, turns into corn in February and later into pasture in July,” he said.
“It increases land availability and reduces the pressure to search for new areas,” Zen said. “It also reduces soil loss due to the action of tropical rains, optimizes fertilizers and patches, and reduces the use of pest control chemicals,” he said.
There have been talks of greater collaboration between the Brazilian government and major agricultural conglomerates active in the country, such as Bunge, Cargill, ADM and Louis Dreyfus, on climate change issues.
CONAB sees this as an opportunity to lead conservation initiatives.
These companies are encouraged to take advantage of CONAB’s resources to make agriculture more sustainable in Brazil, Zen said.