By Jen Dawes
Cattle farming has been recognised as a major contributor to GHG emissions and key driver of deforestation, yet could there be a solution for this?
Today, the National Wildlife Foundation (U.S. NGO) gave an interesting talk about cattle ranching in Brazil, with particular focus on the significant deforestation caused by farming practices.
As context, Brazil is the largest beef exporter in the world with 210 million cattle in the national herd – 60 million of which are located in the Amazon biome. The expansion of cattle ranching has been a key driver of deforestation, resulting in a 24% increase in deforestation last year alone in Brazil. For those cattle located on recently deforested land, they have a GHG footprint 25 times higher than cattle on established pasture. Not only is this destroying forests, but leads to reduced precipitation, increased land temperatures, a longer dry season, and reduced pasture productivity.
The Foundation’s research has found that with sustainable intensification (defined as an optimisation of production while considering and enhancing the environment), these impacts can be reduced. This can include grazing rotation, improved and more frequent grass planting, and fixing soils to unlock more nutrients. While not an exhaustive list of improved production methods, they all contribute to a reduced need for chopping down trees.
On the whole, sustainable intensification of cattle ranching has a number of benefits, including:
- increased productivity and profitability
- shorter calving cycles
- reduced loss of soil carbon
- more resilient ranches
- increased demand for labour, extension services, fencing, water, pumps etc.
- improved livelihoods
While this is all well and good, it cannot exist alone and needs to be coupled with zero deforestation commitments. A number of Brazilian initiatives are already taking place including the Low Carbon Agriculture Plan and the Roundtable on Sustainable Livestock yet there is more work to be done. This is particularly due to the high capital start-up costs involved and the need to de-risk capital flow to actually allow the facilitation of adopting such practises. Further to this, the Foundation noted the need for enhanced strategic coordination of private sector commitments and supply-chain interventions which can help catalyse the transition to sustainable production.
Overall, it was encouraging that cattle ranching has been acknowledged in the climate change arena. I was also happy to hear the positive outlook for utilising sustainable intensification so I can still eat burgers yet not be worried that a forest was destroyed because of it.