Brazilian cattle ranching policies can reduce deforestation

There is a higher cost to steaks and hamburgers than what is reflected on the price tags at grocery stores and restaurants. Producing food – and beef, in particular – is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, which are projected to grow as rising incomes in emerging economies lead to greater demands for meat.

But an encouraging new study by UC Berkeley researchers and international collaborators finds that policies to support sustainable cattle ranching practices in Brazil could put a big dent in the beef and food industry’s greenhouse gas impact.

The new study, published today (Monday, April 28) in the journalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that by subsidizing more productive use of pastureland, and by taxing those who stick with less sustainable practices, Brazil could cut its rate of deforestation by half and shave off as much as 25 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation.

The researchers used an economic model of global land use to assess the effects of encouraging “semi-intensive” cattle ranching practices in Brazil. These practices include better management of pastureland by rotating where animals graze, planting better grasses more frequently, and amending the soil to unlock more nutrients. The authors noted that better land management could double productivity of pasturelands compared to conventional practices, thereby reducing the pressure to cut down more trees.

“These practices are already used commercially on some ranches in Brazil, but they’re not yet cost-competitive because of higher upfront costs, so subsidies can provide a needed boost to make the investment worthwhile,” said study lead author Avery Cohn, an independent fellow at the UC Berkeley Energy Biosciences Institute and a graduate of the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management. “We found that it’s possible to put policies in place that help good behavior outcompete bad behavior.”

Local changes, global impact

Over the past several decades, Brazil has risen to become the largest beef exporter in the world. More than 200 million cattle occupy upward of 494 million acres (200 million hectares) of land in Brazil, an area almost a quarter the size of the continental United States. Brazil is also second, behind the United States, when it comes to the production of beef.

While the growth of cattle ranching has been blamed for 75 to 80 percent of Brazil’s deforested areas, particularly in the Amazon rainforest, the study authors emphasize that many factors beyond beef production cause deforestation. These include mining, logging and the production of other agricultural crops.

The researchers point out that roughly 200 million acres of cattle pastureland could be used more efficiently, either for higher yield cattle ranching or to grow other crops.

“Our study doesn’t just ask whether policies affecting beef production will impact deforestation. We’re the first to look at Brazil’s national policies in an international context by asking what would happen if Brazil did this even if other countries did nothing,” said Cohn, now an assistant professor of environment and resource policy at Tufts University. “Can the world see benefits from what Brazil does? Our findings indicate that the answer is yes.”

Exploring options and tradeoffs

Because beef is such a greenhouse-gas intensive food, the researchers looked for unintended impacts, such as lowering beef prices to the point where people want to consume more, or raising beef prices to the point where beef production is increased elsewhere.

“We did find that there was some increase in beef consumption with the policies, but one of the big takeaways from this study is that the effect is overshadowed by other gains in reducing deforestation and greenhouse gases,” said Cohn, who was supported by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis while he was a UC Berkeley student.

The study authors say the subsidy and tax policies present a cost-effective method for Brazil to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets.

“There’s this notion that fighting climate change requires a stark tradeoff for emerging economies, that they must forego development to meet their emissions target,” said Cohn. “This paper suggests that there is a pathway where that compromise may not be needed.” Michael O’Hare, UC Berkeley professor of public policy, also co-authored this study. The study team also includes researchers from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization and the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences in Vienna.

26 Responses to Brazilian cattle ranching policies can reduce deforestation

  1. 14153972 N Mankganoto May 8, 2014 at 1:37 am #

    Brazil accommodates such a large percentage of the world’s cattle ranches, any reduction in deforestation and greenhouse gas production there should be significant. Also, should the agricultural authorities of other countries notice the positive results brought about by Brazil’s new policies, they might be encouraged to use similar methods. Even if this is not the case, I believe that many livestock farmers, those in the drier regions of Southern Africa in particular, should be keen on learning about new methods of sustainable farming, since pasture land and water sources are especially precious to them. Overall, I believe that the use of these policies in Brazil should have a very positive outcome.

  2. Mlangeni ME May 8, 2014 at 1:32 am #

    This is the good thing done by Brazil.Deforestation will not solve their problems but will only make them worse.If you look at Amazon,soil their can’t be used for farming,the is shortage of nutrients in the soil because of those plants that have been their used most of these nutrients.

  3. MW Mahlalela 14222036 May 4, 2014 at 11:03 am #

    Cutting down more trees to make way for pasture land is just a really bad idea as whilst you are in the process of cutting down trees, you are causing more global warming with the use of big machines and not in any way reducing global warming instead it will escalate to a point where you can not rehabilitate the area leaving behind costs regarding maintenance whilst you will be making money from beef you at the same time be spending it on keeping your area clean e,g Beijing is so polluted right now it costs more to treat their lung related sicknesses than their development gains.To what good will it be if the people are too sick to enjoy it?

  4. Sunika Sullwald (u14012040) May 4, 2014 at 6:48 am #

    Global warming is not a myth and is seen as a serious concern for life on Earth. Since the beginning of time our Earth was constantly changing. There has been 5 mass extinction of species and scientist and biologist are wondering if global warming will be the 6th extinction of species. The causes of global warming are greenhouse gasses and CFCs. Cattle ranching does contribute to greenhouse gasses in a number of ways.The transport of extra nutrition, supplements and salt licks for the cattle uses fuel and CFCs are then produced into the air. Also the transportation of the cattle to the slaughterhouses and meat to factories where meat products and pack-edge meat are produced should also be brought into account. It might seem strange but cattle does produce methane as normal digestive process. Methane traps radiation from the sun more effectively than carbon dioxide and Methane’s contribution to global warming is 20 times more than that of carbon dioxide.

    Forests help against global warming and by slopping down trees to create more land for cattle ranching the carbon dioxide levels in the ozone are increased. Wetlands also prevents global warming and cools down the Earth’s surface and fills the underground rivers with filtered water. Cattle ranchers fill up wetlands with sand because it attracts pests and diseases that can be harmful for the cattle and crops. It is therefore important that cattle ranches do not expand so quickly, since it has a negative impact on global warming. It is important to protect forests from further deforestation. I do think the implementing of cattle ranch policies is a step forward in reducing global warming and deforestation.

  5. A.R.D. u14044456 May 4, 2014 at 4:38 am #

    It is encouraging to see that policies are being made. More importantly, this study shows that many factors, as opposed to just one, were taken into consideration when analyzing the effects of cattle grazing and control in terms of deforestation.

    Despite the policies put into place, however, it is always difficult to implement. Therefore I think that Brazil has a good intention and has moved one step of the way by implementing this cattle ranch policy, but it will require determination to implement the policy seeing as Brazil is one of the largest beef exporters in the world.
    I think that it is of paramount importance for the Brazilian government to follow up on this policy and prevent any problems that could occur. This policy addresses a very serious issue and the gravity of it’s importance should be understood by all.

    A simple way to initiate change in terms of climate change and environmental sustainability, is to start small local projects with farmers. This will be beneficial and contribute to the reduction of deforestation if farmers are informed and aware educationally.

    This article provides crucial information in the steps that Brazil will be taking, but one must not forget that policies need to be implemented and enforced otherwise the strategy will not prove to be successful. Because deforestation is such a drastic and dire problem in the 21st Century, it must be addressed.

  6. Thabiso Ntsele (14174759) May 2, 2014 at 11:23 am #

    cattle cannot account for so much of an impact in the greenhouse effect. This is just absurd. it is just an act by big logging companies so that they can just shift the blame on the cattle.

  7. Lara Deysel 14101077 May 2, 2014 at 10:22 am #

    I acknowledge and appreciate Brazil’s initiative in trying to tackle greenhouse gas production, but it just occurred to me: What contribution to global warming does cattle farming and deforestation make, compared to mines, factories and vehicle exhaust fumes?

  8. Max 14165644 May 2, 2014 at 9:48 am #

    In the current accelerated climate change the world is experiencing the information this article puts forward solutions that could help extremely in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, if this kind of sustainable practice of farming could be implemented around the world imagine the exciting implications; less land will be needed for farming, more fertile land will be available and it would be more eco-friendly than the current ways of farming. If rural farmers and commercial farmers were to implement these techniques it could save them money by not having to use expensive fertilizers to keep the land healthy and emit less greenhouse gasses. It would be interesting to see if other countries will follow this example or just disregard it because they are afraid of change. It all comes down to the willingness of man to save the only home they have versus the greed of man to have more than they need.

  9. Cliffort Matabane 13405897 May 2, 2014 at 7:00 am #

    Brazil is doing a great thing by introducing new methods to reduce deforestation. This will benefit them economically. But I think that if it is the only country trying to reduce deforestation, which is a major cause of global warming, this will not benefit the whole world in the reduction of global warming because all other countries contribute a lot in the increase in global warming.So it will be more beneficial if other countries does the same,if not better as Brazil.

  10. Mashabela P 14092353 May 2, 2014 at 3:37 am #

    I agree with the topic because the Brazil policy will bring positive impacts across the world and will help avoid more climate changes which lead to mass extinctions and cause more planet effects. Deforestation is a nightmare because it contribute a lot on greenhouse gases as more CO_2_ gas is released to the atmosphere. This process kills most important plants which is a source of everyday breath for animals and humans. If more plants get affected that means the production of cattle will be low and thus the yield of beef production get affected.

  11. 7wKCi17E4Rfd May 2, 2014 at 2:57 am #


  12. Ramavhoya Rofhiwa (14348315) May 2, 2014 at 2:22 am #

    Deforestation is a serious matter that is continuosly growing in many contries.Sometimes people tend to forget actually that the source of the food that they consume everyday, it might be depleted because of how we tend to treat our sources with less careness even though it provide us with good outcomes.

    As stated in the article,they are trying to implement different solutions,but as long as the main aim is producing surplus for economic purpose,deforestation will always be a problem in this country. As the population is increasing rapidly they must try to figure out another source of food that will replace the present source of food to them, sustain them and also cover the entire society because the source that is available now will not last forever but will be depleted.

  13. 14048371 May 2, 2014 at 12:49 am #

    I think its great that Brazil is doing something big to lessen the amount of deforestation occurring in their country, but I’d like to look at this from a more social and economical standpoint. For example if these concepts are used, how will it affect the overall economic stability of Brazil, as well as the individual cattle farms? And how many farm workers and field hands will lose their meager weekly wages, which they depend on to feed and clothe themselves as well as their families? I do believe that we need to take bigger steps in countering climate change, and that their will have to be sacrifices made, but if that is the case i think it should fall to first world, developed countries to help the lesser developed world in fighting climate change, as well as helping them recover from possible negative aspects that could arise from these implementations.

    My final point i guess is that we need to implement ideas like the one discussed in this article, but we need to be careful and prepared of what these implementations may lead to. It should not be left to individual countries to solve these problems. The whole world should work together so that the less fortunate don’t get left out in the cold, while we try to save the planet

  14. 14303273 May 2, 2014 at 12:11 am #

    The effects of greenhouse gasses has more of an impact than previously believed. to implement the research done by UC Berkley researchers will definitely help Brazil and the rest of the world to reduce their carbon footprint.

  15. Melissa Repton May 1, 2014 at 11:10 pm #

    It is a step in a very good direction that these policies are put in place as they bring many advantages. Reducing deforestation is one of the most important actions to take when addressing climate change. Once forests have been removed, younger trees that have been replanted, according to studies, don’t produce as much oxygen as the older trees do. Therefore trying to fix the situation by planting more trees isn’t always the most efficient solution. Preventing deforestation is the more efficient solution, and it seems Brazil is stepping up to the plate. I think other countries, first world countries that is, should also take up this initiative. We cannot consume and pollute and destroy and not pay the consequences. Governments should try to be as economical and environmentally friendly as possible. In the long run, “going green” will matter and one day global warming will pose the greatest threat to the economy, if we do not address these problems directly. Another advantage of Brazil’s policy is giving developing countries a chance to develop normally. South Africa should take up this initiative in more effective farming as desertification is another threat to this country. Our scarce water supply would also benefit in better and more environmentally friendly farming practices.

  16. Thabiso Ntsele (14174759) May 1, 2014 at 1:52 pm #

    I really do’t agree with this study. I don’t believe that beef production can carry so much weight in the greenhouse effect. We need to look at this matter clearly. When the cattle feed they don’t feed on trees, but they feed on the grass. This is because cattle are grazers not browsers so this means that they can only feed on grass.

    I know for a fact that the Amazon Rain-forest is classified as “the lungs of the world”, so cattle grazing cannot have that much of an impact. also most of the Oxygen produced is produced by the trees and not the grass. This means that what we should really be concerned about is how we treat our trees.

    I strongly believe that logging and cutting down of the trees is our main concern. If more and more trees are cut down, our Carbon footprint will increase because, there will not be enough trees to absorb the harmful gas.

  17. 14064040 May 1, 2014 at 9:03 am #

    I found this article and the research done on this subject, to be very intriguing. This new policies can truly be helpful to reduce deforestation. Brazil is now taking the first step, so if other countries can also follow their lead, then this change in ranching can have a major positive effect. Not only will there be more trees that can reduce the CO_2_ levels in our atmosphere, but also will this lead to less destruction of habitats, and so conserving our nature. A lot of endangered species like the gorilla in the amazon is currently decreasing in numbers. Man is hell bent on destroying the environment in the name of ‘development’ without realizing that it’s leading to the extermination of several species from our forests. It has been stated that over half of the globe’s animals are living in rain forests.
    Us humans need to act fast, and if Brazil can change then so can others. It’s a good feeling knowing that there are countries implementing changes in order to conserve our nature.

  18. C.A Segura(14015902) May 1, 2014 at 5:28 am #

    As much as we would love to reduce climate change and global warming, econom some ies benefit greatly from these greenhouse emitting activities and truth be told these economies need to grow and develop. What can be done is to counter, rather than stop these greenhouse emissions e.g for every tree a company cuts down it must plant 3. That way the greenhouse effect can be cancelled out by Nature. For gases that cant be taken out by nature, scientific methods or technologies can be implemented to irrradicate those gasses. We live in an innovative and technologically advanced society this can’t be such a huge task.

  19. 14017564 - Brett Muirhead May 1, 2014 at 5:16 am #

    This article can raise many solutions and arguments at the same time. Personally i do agree with the new methods that could be implemented as i find more positives than negatives as it contributes to solving on of the worlds longest and largest problems. If this method of sustainable farming will help to decrease the deforestation and it will in turn decrease the emissions of greenhouse gasses, this will contribute more to the world as the current policies and methods being applied are only increasing our problems. i find it will not hurt to try something new as it may also encourage other developing countries to choose the same path that Brazil will be implementing. Since Brazil is also the largest beef exporter in the world, by helping out the farmers with new policies it will therefore also increase these statistics.This means not only helping solve global warming problems by not destroying the forests, but also implementing a new error of farming policies which promises great improvements in sustainable farming.

  20. 14026083 (S.S.M Nkabinde) May 1, 2014 at 4:18 am #

    Brazil is the world’s top exporter of beef, but demand within Brazil is also growing rapidly. This is seeing more and more forest burnt down to clear land for ranching. Rotation of where animals graze and management of pasture land I’m sure is in the mind and daily routine of every farmer, therefore, the problem at hand is that there is always a growing increase in demand. Farmers face a large cost in production with this increase in demand and try to cut cost else where. The subsides are a good idea as farmers will have more resources to cope with the demand in a sustainable way. The question now that arises is will there be funding for these subsides when the policies come into action?

  21. Nomonde (13344260) May 1, 2014 at 2:57 am #

    finally there’s something that is working toward the massive deforestation. i believe Brazil is setting a very good example to developing countries especially as a developed country because most developing countries are destroying vegetation because of infrastructure and even if they do plant trees it is not the same as before every forest had been cut off.

  22. Shivaar Chuturgoon- 14032768 May 1, 2014 at 12:50 am #

    It is very encouraging to see that steps are being taken to reduce the impact of our actions on the environment. Being one of the largest exporters of beef in the world, Brazil has recognised the need to introduce more environmentally friendly methods of farming. This will undoubtedly have a significant effect in reducing the amount of greenhouse gasses that are emitted into the atmosphere. The new farming methods are also aimed at reducing deforestation which is a major step in the right direction as deforestation is one of the major contributors to global warming.

    By addressing the agricultural sector, Brazil has addressed the root of the problem rather than simply putting measures into place that will try to address the problem of global warming. For this reason, I believe that this initiative will be successful and the impact of cattle farming on the environment will be greatly reduced. I do,however, believe that the demand for non-renewable sources of energy such as wood is still very high and therefore more research and development needs to be spent on finding practical renewable sources of energy because until a practical alternative to current sources of energy is found, the crisis of deforestation will always be present.

    I believe that similar approaches should be taken by other countries throughout the world in the war against global warming. If every country does their bit in the fight against global warming, there is no doubt that the effects of global warming will be curbed. South Africa should also do their best to combat global warming by adopting a similar approach to Brazil. We have an abundance of farmlands in South Africa and government should invest in programmes and initiatives to incentivise the use of more environmentally friendly methods of farming.

    Brazil needs to be commended on their efforts in the fight against global warming.

  23. Robert Duncan April 30, 2014 at 1:47 pm #

    Your site seems to indicate that I can no longer print you article.
    That is too bad. If I cannot print articles, I will not be visiting this site anymore.

  24. 14079667 April 30, 2014 at 12:55 pm #

    As mentioned in the article and by the previous two comments made, this positive approach lead by Brazil will undoubtedly reduce greenhouse gas emission and deforestation and may even be employed by other countries who acknowledge the benefits of Brazil’s efforts.

    However, we need to consider that there is a high demand for wood nowadays and that deforestation will be present always. One way to ensure these methods in Brazil remain successful and become successful in other countries is to ensure proper funding. As mentioned in the article subsidies are needed. The Amazon Fund, already implemented in Brazil, of $1 billion in results-based compensation has made a huge positive impact on deforestation in Brazil, but where will greater subsidies and funding be obtained for continuing efforts and to implement these beneficial methods in other countries?

  25. Ross Schwartz April 30, 2014 at 9:07 am #

    Ross Schwartz (14091136)

    Found this article very interesting and informative. Global warming is a huge crisis we face and procedures and methods need to be put into place to help reduce the effects of global warming. Sustainable cattle ranching is the right step in the correct direction especially since Brazil is the largest beef exporter in the world, if procedures put into place in Brazil work other countries will be interested to follow their methods.

    Deforestation can be reduced in Brazil by practicing sustainable farming methods, this will allow farmers to use pasturage more efficiently and therefore a smaller area of land can be used and less trees will need to be cut down. Some of the sustainable farming methods would include land rotation so the grass in these areas has time to regenerate before being grazed again. If the farmers land is split up and cattle are moved to different sections of land to graze more cattle will be able to graze on a smaller area of land. Therefore reducing the need to cut down and clear areas of land for grazing.

  26. Lara Deysel 14101077 April 30, 2014 at 8:10 am #

    I agree that the world would be able to see benefits from the changes made in Brazil, even if other countries did not implement their same policies initially. Firstly, because Brazil accommodates such a large percentage of the world’s cattle ranches, any reduction in deforestation and greenhouse gas production there should be significant. Also, should the agricultural authorities of other countries notice the positive results brought about by Brazil’s new policies, they might be encouraged to use similar methods. Even if this is not the case, I believe that many livestock farmers, those in the drier regions of Southern Africa in particular, should be keen on learning about new methods of sustainable farming, since pasture land and water sources are especially precious to them. Overall, I believe that the use of these policies in Brazil should have a very positive outcome.

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