How Brazilian agriculture is offering sustainable solutions

Brazil Agri-Food Facts

By Brazil Agri-Food Facts

Brazil Agri-Food Facts is an initiative from a broad alliance of associations across Brazil's agri-food sector

25 Jan 2023

Andre Nassar, executive president of Abiove, and Ricardo Silva, a Brazilian farmer, discuss how the Brazilian agriculture sector is not only increasing productivity, but protecting biodiversity, reducing carbon emissions and can also help Europe with its current food security challenge

How do you respond to allegations that Brazilian agriculture is a driving deforestation?

Ricardo: Yes, we are increasing production because we are more productive per hectare. We are producing more in the same area by growing a second crop because of our tropical climate. We can also grow a third crop; bringing cattle into the equation. The area of grain production in Brazil is expanding over degraded pastureland and not forest. 12 to 15 years ago, we produced around three tonnes of soy per hectare. With new technology and innovation, we are now growing 3.6 tonnes per hectare, a 20 per cent increase. By adding the second crop, a total of 10 tonnes per hectare is now raised in the same area in the same year. Tripling production just by using the same land.

Andre: In the Amazon biome, 5 million hectares of soybean is growing, a big region comprising the rain forest. Since 2008 only 100,000 hectares of soybean was planted in deforested areas. After 14 to 15 years only 2 per cent of soybean in the Amazon biome was planted in these parts, a tiny part of overall production. Soybean is not driving deforestation. Over the last 20 to 30 years production has grown 400 per cent, compared to the farming area of grains which grew 60 per cent. Productivity is the key driver of this growth.

How does the EU deforestation bill affect the Brazilian agriculture sector and what is being done to protect biodiversity?

Andre: The EU deforestation bill has the potential to bring a lot of change. It's a set of procedures, where companies buying soy in Brazil need to supply the EU with proof that it was not grown in deforested areas. Changing the way business is done in terms of logistics, as we will need to know exactly from which batch and farm, each soybean is coming from. To carry this out costs will probably grow the main problem of this legislation. Also, it only focuses on deforestation and not other aspects of sustainability where Brazil is doing well.

Regarding protecting biodiversity our buyers and the industry have several policies in place to guarantee farmers and our suppliers comply with the law. For example, they are not allowed to grow in indigenous lands, conservation areas, or parks available to the public. We check several environmental, social, and economic indicators before we buy the soybeans. To check if the farm is compliant, we have policies to guarantee biodiversity, legality, respect of labour rights, among other safeguards.

Ricardo: Additional costs like certification or segregation will fall on us farmers. If we lose competitiveness in the market, we'll produce less. This is not good for food security, not just for Brazilians but for everybody else.  We need and like a good market for our produce.  All Brazilian farmers, have a part of their farm dedicated to protecting biodiversity. Legally we must reserve 80 per cent of our land to protect biodiversity if it is in the Amazon rain forest region.

In a native vegetation area that belongs to my family farm, I cannot clear trees to sell or cultivate the land. I must keep the native vegetation which is good for biodiversity. Carbon storage is guaranteed every time you buy from Brazil. I can assure you that out of the 2850 hectares I have, 20 per cent of our farm (570 hectares) is dedicated to protection. This is what we would like to tell Europeans, but all they talk about is deforestation, biodiversity protection is here, it’s just different from other producers.

What is the Brazilian Agricultural sector doing to reduce the carbon footprint?

Andre: There are several practices in Brazil that are helping either to store or capture more carbon. For example, we do no-till planting, and the growing of two crops in the same area and year. Helping soil to recover, increasing its organic matter, and capturing more carbon. It increases productivity and uses fewer fossil fuels. Emissions in the production cycle is reduced with this strategy. Also decreasing any emissions associated with deforestation and land use change, and with increasing production cycles of crops, so capturing more carbon in the soil.

Ricardo: Another innovation developed in Brazil is the use of bacteria, allowing us to produce soybeans without using nitrogen in the soil. The bacteria takes nitrogen from the air and delivers it to the plant. EMBRAPA, our national research company has just created other bacteria that will do the same for corn, which is one of the crops that demand most nitrogen. Brazil right now is producing corn as a second crop in 12 million hectares in the same year. If we were not in a tropical climate and hadn't developed this technology, we would need to clear additional land. But by producing a second crop in the same land we have saved millions of hectares.  

How can Brazil help countries tackle the current food supply crisis caused by the Ukrainian war?

Andre: Brazil has the capacity to increase its production of food. For example, wheat production is rapidly growing. We used to import around 50 per cent of our wheat consumption, now this is reduced to 30 per cent, as we are increasing our own production. It is now being grown in new areas of the country. Traditionally cultivated in the south, it is now produced in the central Cerrado region. Like how we grow soybean and then corn as a second crop, we believe we can increase wheat production.

Ricardo: As farmers, we are very concerned about our fellow farmers in Ukraine because it's not easy to plant a crop with war raging. They also have the challenge of getting their stock to market. It's a big issue and I appreciate how this affects Europe. We are really trying to use all our potential in Brazil to meet this demand, increasing our production per hectare and using wheat as another option as a second crop.


Andre Meloni Nassar is an Agronomist Engineer. He is Executive President of the Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oil producers, ABIOVE. He worked at the Ministry of Agriculture as Secretary of Agricultural Policy. He was founder and partner of AGROICONE.  

Ricardo Arioli Silva has been an agricultural engineer and a soybean, corn, sunflower, and beef cattle farmer in the state of Mato Grosso since 1987. He holds the position of President of the Grain, Fibre and Oilseed Commission in the Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock (CNA).


About ApexBrasil and Brazil Agri-Food Facts

The Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (ApexBrasil) coordinates the activities of Brazil Agri-Food Facts, an initiative from a broad alliance of associations across Brazil's agri-food sector. They are working together to pool their collective knowledge, speak with one voice and share fact-based information about Brazil's role in the global food system.