Brazilian cattle ranching policies can reduce deforestation


April 30, 2014 |

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.

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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.

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