Technical assistance

Improving carbon storage in pastures requires both training and support for livestock keepers, study finds

Training cattle ranchers in Brazil to reclaim degraded pastures could reduce carbon dioxide emissions, reduce deforestation for agriculture in the Amazon and Cerrado biomes and boost their incomes, says a recent study.

Posted in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesthe study found that farmers in the Cerrado Savannah who received group training and personalized technical assistance were able to increase the productivity of their livestock and increase their income by 39%, a model that the researchers believe could be replicated in the Amazon.

The two-year training program was also linked to a reduction of 1.19 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions through a combination of carbon sequestration and the sum of direct and avoided emissions.

“If you just improve pasture quality, it will help both productivity and the environment,” lead study author Arthur Bragança of the Pontifical Catholic University of Barcelona told Mongabay by phone. Rio de Janeiro. “Reclaimed land will have more organic matter for livestock to eat and for carbon sequestration. More organic matter absorbs more carbon.

Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of beef, a third of which come from medium-sized ranches such as those involved in the study. Agricultural expansion is the main source of deforestation in the Amazon, with up to 70% of land deforested would have been used for raising cattle.

Two ranchers on horseback lead a herd of cattle on a ranch in Brazil’s Cerrado. This ranch did not participate in the study but is implementing more sustainable management practices. (Photo courtesy of Peter Newton)

Land degradation can lead to lower productivity, loss of vegetation cover and less organic matter in the soil, according to Bragança. Until 100 million hectares (247 million acres) of rangeland in Brazil is considered degraded – an area larger than Venezuela – which is an environmental concern as land degradation is one of the biggest contributors to climate changeaccording to IUCN.

The research focused on a government-led credit initiative in Brazil known as the Low-Carbon Agriculture Program (known by the acronym ABC in Portuguese). The program aims to reduce carbon emissions by providing low-interest loans to farmers who wish to implement sustainable agricultural practices, such as crop-livestock-forest integration, biological nitrogen fixation and pasture recovery.

The study analyzed the impact of pasture restoration training under the ABC program for 1,369 livestock keepers. One group received no training, 395 producers received 56 hours of training, and 311 received the training course plus additional personalized technical assistance, which included monthly visits from field technicians.

The data revealed that only farmers who received both training and technical assistance showed significant improvements in productivity, income and carbon emissions. The course alone had no impact.

“Most of Brazilian agricultural policy is focused on providing subsidies and credits to producers,” Bragança said. He added that while credit is important, his research found that breeders only made lasting changes to their ownership when they received personalized training. “It suggests that the problem is not a lack of money, but a lack of information,” Braganca said.

A herder on horseback rounds up and moves cattle. This cattle ranch in Brazil’s Cerrado is currently implementing more sustainable management practices. (Photo courtesy of Peter Newton)

Environmental Benefits of Pasture Salvage

Just 20% of Brazilian producers currently have access to technical assistance that can help them implement sustainable management of their ranches, according to the study. “Having policies that improve access could be one of the ways to increase productivity and help the environment, as well as ensuring food security and more income,” Bragança said.

Experts have also highlighted the negative effects of compensation programs for degraded land.

“Throughout the country, but essentially in the Amazon, the traditional way to compensate for production losses caused by degraded or abandoned pastures is to extend the border to new pastures at the expense of deforestation,” said Rafael Feltran-Barbieri. , senior economist at the World Resources Institute (WRI) in Brazil, told Mongabay via email. His researchindependent of the Bragança study, found that 15 million hectares (37 million acres) of the Brazilian Amazon were deforested between 2010 and 2020 to compensate for degraded and abandoned land.

Ricardo Rodrigues, a professor at the University of São Paulo who was not involved in either study, said restoring pastures could help reduce deforestation and free up land for the recovery of native vegetation, without affecting the Brazilian agrifood sector. “Using livestock technology, we could free up to 32 million hectares [79 million acres] of degraded pastures to be restored for other uses, while maintaining the same amount of livestock,” he told Mongabay by phone.

Peter Newton, of the University of Colorado Boulder in the US, co-author of the study with Bragança, agreed that restoring pastures could reduce the need for deforestation for agriculture and reduce pressure on habitats natural.

“Cattle ranching in the Amazon and the Cerrado has a relatively low stocking density with few heads of cattle per hectare,” Newton told Mongabay by phone. “If you can graze more cows on the same acreage, that leads, in principle, to less need for deforestation,” he said, adding that this “can only be true if combined with policies to prevent agricultural expansion”.

Cattle ranching is one of the main causes of deforestation in Brazil. Experts say restoring degraded and abandoned pastures could help reduce deforestation rates. (Photo by Marizilda Cruppe/Greenpeace)

But degraded pastures and the need for more land are not always driving agricultural expansion, according to Celso Manzatto, a researcher at Embrapa, the agricultural research branch of Brazil’s agriculture ministry. “Although livestock is normally associated with deforestation, this is actually a strategy for people to illegally cut wood,” Manzatto told Mongabay by phone. “After getting timber, they are looking for a way to legalize land that is in designated public areas. Breeding is the cheapest way to occupy an area.

Logging activities contribute significantly to deforestation in the Amazon. Between August 2019 and July 2020464,000 hectares (1.15 million acres) of rainforest have been cleared, most of it illegally. WRI Research shows that the conversion of forests to pastures can be a form of land security or land speculation, rather than a profit motive.

“[Deforestation] is a complex problem that requires many solutions,” Newton said. “Agriculture has a huge global land footprint. And in places where land use is inefficient or environmentally damaging, like the Amazon and the Cerrado, sustainable intensification may well be part of the solution.

Pasture restoration could also help reduce the climate impact of global beef consumption, which Newton says isn’t likely to end soon. “It’s important to reduce consumption of environmentally intensive products like beef, but at the same time that doesn’t mean we can’t do things simultaneously on the production side,” he said. “It’s part of a wide range of practices that farmers around the world, both crop and livestock producers, could adopt to produce more on less land.”

Cattle herds in the Amazon and Cerrado tend to have few head of cattle per hectare. Restoring pasture can increase the number of cattle in the same space, which the researchers say could reduce the need for deforestation. (Photo by Tommaso Protti/Greenpeace)

Prioritize pasture recovery

The original ABC plan ended in 2020 and was replaced by ABC+, which will run until 2030. It aims to reduce carbon emissions by 1.1 billion metric tons by 2030, seven times more like the original ABC plan, and includes the recovery of degraded areas as a key way to promote sustainable agriculture.

However, pasture recovery is still in its infancy, especially in poorer regions and in areas where agricultural frontiers stretch, WRI’s Feltran-Barbieri said. Moreover, the budget allocated to pasture restoration suggests that it is not a priority.

“Over the past nine years, less than $7 billion has been contracted for pasture recovery, which represents less than 0.2% of the total rural credit contracted during this nine-year period,” said Feltran-Barbieri. “This amount is insufficient to reclaim 5% of the pastures that must be reclaimed annually.”

He added that the technology to recover degraded pastures in Brazil is already widely available and that recovering even a fifth of degraded pastures could help Brazil meet the climate goals of the Paris Agreement, known as the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). “This would increase production, allow the country to reach its NDC and break the cycle of deforestation of primary forests with high biodiversity.”

This article is republished from mongabay, is a non-profit environmental science and conservation news platform that produces original news stories in English, Indonesian, Spanish, French, Hindi, and Brazilian Portuguese. The organization has more than 800 correspondents in some 70 countries and is dedicated to factual journalism.

Quotes:

Bragança, A., Newton, P., Cohn, A., Assunção, J., Camboim, C., de Faveri, D., … Searchinger, TD (2022). Extension services can promote pasture restoration: evidence from Brazil’s low-carbon agriculture plan. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 119(12). do I:10.1073/pnas.2114913119

Feltran-Barbieri, F., & Férès, JG (2021). Degraded pastures in Brazil: improving animal husbandry pforest production and restoration. Royal Society of Open Science, 8(7). do I:10.1098/rsos.201854