Though Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro seeks to pit agricultural development against Amazonian protection, farmers stand to benefit substantially from choosing improved agricultural practices and forest conservation over deforestation and fire use. The Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) has identified numerous locally appropriate technologies, including integrated crop and livestock systems and agroforestry, which can more than triple the profits and yields of farmers, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Our research has also shown that when land becomes scarce through a strengthening of forest protection policies, farmers see these technologies as more appealing
and have substantially intensified their production
Timing and partnerships are critical
It would be naïve to think that intensification alone would solve the problem of Amazonian deforestation. Indeed, improvements in agricultural practices, when driven by market stimuli alone, can lead to more deforestation.
But when stimulated by changes in environmental policy, as has recently occurred
, intensification can go hand and hand with reductions in deforestation.
To move forward, companies need to work in partnership with local governments and farmers’ unions to provide financial resources for improved agricultural technologies alongside strict conservation policies, such as territorial approaches to market exclusion and financing based on conservation performance. These efforts need to be bold and transformative – they need to enable large groups of farmers within the same area to simultaneously eliminate fire use and adopt more sustainable practices or else they won’t work.
A window of opportunity
The recent fires in the Amazon seem devastating, but the public outrage and media interest they have generated are creating an important window for ramping up forest conservation, even in light of Brazil’s own declining federal forest governance. Companies are eager to show that they can be part of the solution.
Civil society and international governments seem poised to throw millions of dollars at the problem.
Rather than one-off pledges focused only on recent fires, these actors should invest in partnerships with local governments that aim to reconcile conservation with sustainable development in the Amazon through the transformation of agricultural practices.