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Low-carbon farming: a strategic challenge for Brazil

As one of the world’s largest food producers, Brazil can set an example in the industry, combining increased productivity to the reduction of greenhouse gases. The engagement of producers, businesses, governments, and especially consumers are important so the low-carbon agriculture becomes a major practice.

São Paulo, November 28, 2015 — The deepening of the relationship between agriculture, forests and climate is a promising challenge for Brazil to fulfill its contributions to the climate agreement (INDC) and move towards a new agrarian economy. Low-carbon practices bring the reduction of greenhouse gases (GHG).

In agricultural context, such practices may be linked to forest preservation and valuation of the so-called ecosystem services with real productivity growth. This formula requires two essential changes in the sector: modernization of rural activities management and technological investment. The new horizon is perfectly feasible. However, it demands planning, public policy and the participation of producers, companies, investors, government and consumers.

“Brazil is a major world producer of food and it can be an example for the entire planet that it is possible to promote and reconcile agricultural productivity to climate and environmental agendas”, says Gustavo Junqueira, Chairman of SRB (Brazilian Rural Society). “We need to be aware that the costs for the implementation of low-carbon practices are high. For this reason, the society needs to be more aware and understand that we are facing an unprecedented opportunity, either to increase the efficiency in agricultural activities or to bring vital improvements to the climate and society.”

In 2005, GHG emissions from agricultural sector were about 460 MtCO2e (million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent), considering direct emissions resulting from activities and carbon balance in the soil. It is estimated that this amount can be reduced to 280 MtCO2e or 23% of the national projected emissions for 2030, i.e., 40% reduction compared to 2005. Therefore, the industry has an important role in meeting the Brazilian INDC, which is to reduce total GHG emissions by 37% by 2025, reaching 43% reduction by 2030.

For its size and scale — agribusiness represents about 25% of the Brazilian GDP — the challenge of transforming agriculture into a low-carbon activity involves restructuring the agricultural policy in the country, in particular financing, participation of the government and producers administration. “This change needs legal security to lower regulatory and institutional risks, so that the farmer can have greater assurance of investment return and attract investors”, says Luiz Carlos Corrêa Carvalho, Chairman of the Brazilian Agribusiness Association (Associação Brasileira do Agronegócio, Abag).

In addition, there would be benefits such as increased jobs and tax collection. It is also necessary to involve small farmers by offering them technology and management training so that they can integrate to the new model. “Although in low scale, agriculture without adequate technology and management is harmful to the environment and cannot attain social benefits”, says Rodrigo Mauro Freire, Forest and Climate Coordinator of The Nature Conservancy (TNC). “One possible way is to integrate them through cooperatives, ensure better qualified technical assistance, foster good management of pastures and genetic improvement, and promote the traceability of animals that are sold to medium and large producers, ensuring the complete integration of responsible livestock chain”, he concludes.

The future under construction

Brazil has already started the transition project for a low-carbon economy in the countryside, but it still needs to be closely monitored by society. The Forest Code, approved in 2012 and under implementation, ensures the protection of Permanent Preservation Areas and Legal Reserve in properties. The law also provides another important mechanism: all landowners must complete the Rural Environmental Registry (Cadastro Ambiental Rural, CAR). Through this database, it is possible to understand the exact economic activity of each property and how much of its area must be preserved. “Continuous monitoring, control of deforestation and effective protection of environmental reserves will become easier with the CAR”, says Miriam Prochnow, Executive Secretary of the Brazilian Forest Dialogue (Diálogo Florestal) and Counselor of the Association for the Preservation of the Environment and Life (Associação de Preservação do Meio Ambiente e da Vida, Apremavi).

Another key instrument being implemented in the Brazilian context is the ABC Plan (Sectoral Plan for Mitigation and Adaptation to Climate Change for the Consolidation of a Low-Carbon Economy in Agriculture, Plano ABC), created by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply. Its main difference compared to traditional financing and management mechanisms is that it encourages the farmer to assume a businessman posture, with a more holistic vision: to access the credit provided by the program, they have to pay attention to all aspects of their production, from social, financial and environmental perspectives.

The problem is that the producer still faces obstacles to take part in the ABC Plan. “Producers need qualified assistance for the preparation of low-carbon technical projects”, says João Paulo Capobianco, from the Institute for Sustainable Development (Instituto para o Desenvolvimento Sustentável, IDS). “At the same time, financial institutions, which offer credit, have difficulty evaluating variables in a low-carbon project.” These are crucial aspects that need to be reevaluated and sorted out.

Climate and trade

For Brazil to meet goals and overcome challenges, another elementary point is to bring the role of trade in climate talks during international negotiations, in order to add value to decarburised agricultural products. “Without the recognition by the international community of the value of food produced in sustainable systems, investment in a low-carbon structure will not be feasible”, says Gustavo Junqueira. “The international trade forums need to create clear criteria that can be compared between countries so products grown with sustainable practices will have priority over other forms of production. Gradually, the consumer will also realize that sustainable products are important and necessary for the new world order”, he adds.

The Brazilian Coalition points out that agricultural activities and environmental and climate issues are complementary and do not compete for the same space. Thus, agriculture will be decisive to regional development only if the country respects the new parameters that integrate environment, food production and quality of life.

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