Soy Plantation Expansion in Mato Grosso, Brazil

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Summary:

Agricultural expansion has been eating away at the Amazon rainforest in Mato Grosso for many years. While loggers, subsistence farmers, and cattle ranchers have been major causes of this loss in forest cover, the recent intensification and mechanization of agriculture due to rapidly rising demand for soybeans has accelerated the amount of farmland expansion. Current government policy and high demand for soybeans mean agricultural expansion will continue to accelerate into the foreseeable future.

Critical Statistics:
  1. The Brazilian Amazon contains 10% of the country’s population, many of whom live in severe poverty. The government is reluctant to go against the economic needs of these people, especially as it relates to agriculture and ranching. Also, the government has little desire to move residents away from the vulnerable Amazon because many had been initially relocated to there by the Brazilian government beginning in the 1960s (Economist 2009a).

  2. Brazil is the second largest producer of soybeans in the world, and Mato Grosso is one of its largest producing regions (Kassai 2009).In 2007, over 57 million metric tons of soybeans were produced in Brazil. Brazil is second only to the United States in soybean production (FAO 2007).

  3. From November 2008 to January 2009 alone, the Brazilian Space Research Institute recorded a loss of 105 square miles of forest in Mato Grosso due in large part to soybean expansion.Fluctuations in the rates of deforestation caused by agricultural expansion and cattle ranching in Brazil tend to follow the prices of beef and soybeans with a delay of approximately one year (The Economist 2009a).

Causes:
  1. Demand for soybeans from China has contributed to the rapid expansion of intensified agriculture in Mato Grosso (Kassai 2009).Mechanized agriculture has concurrently risen dramatically over the past decade, further increasing the amount of agricultural expansion (Morton et al. 2006).

  2. In 2003, the election of a new governor of Mato Grosso rapidly increased the level of agricultural expansion in the state. The governor's family owns the largest soybean producing company in the world.However, he has recently shown an interest in preventing agricultural expansion by encouraging improvements and increases in efficiency in the use of existing land (The Economist 2009b).

  3. Cattle ranchers are also a major contributing factor in the loss of forest (Phillips 2009).Ranchers tend to follow loggers into recently cleared areas, where grass is sowed and utilized until the soil is exhausted (The Economist 2009a).

Impacts:
  1. The Amazon is one of the richest biodiversity hotspots in the world and provides vital ecosystem services. The loss of this resource will likely disrupt water flow, introduce more extreme climates, and increase the prevalence of infectious disease (Foley et al. 2007).

  2. Carbon emissions have risen as a result of agricultural expansion into rainforest. Besides direct emissions from slash and burn clearing, the loss of the forest may have global repercussions in terms of the loss off carbon sequestration potential (Foley et al 2007).

What is Next:
  1. Soybean demand and prices are will continue to rise due to increasing demand from China.Despite a recent slump in prices due to the recession, a rebound is expected as China continues its strong recovery (Kassai 2009).

  2. Developed nations have begun to contribute large amounts of money towards preventing further deforestation in the Amazon.Some funds have been targeted at ranchers to encourage local reforestation. However, these efforts may not be sufficient to ensure the long-term health of the forest (Phillips 2009).

  3. Plano Amazonia, an initiative of the Brazilian government, will increase the number of roads and hydroelectric power plants in the Amazon rainforest.The Brazilian government also argues that land reforms associated with Plano Amazonia will reduce reckless deforestation and agricultural expansion. However, while more roads will benefit the local people, the roads will likely increase agricultural expansion and the resulting deforestation in the Amazon (The Economist 2009b).

Citations:
  1. Foley, J. A., G. P. Asner, M. H. Costa, M. T. Coe, R. DeFries, H. K. Gibbs, E. A. Howard, S. Olson, J. Patzi, N. Ramankutty, and P. Snyder. 2007. Amazonia revealed: forest degradation and loss of ecosystem goods and services in the Amazon Basin. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 5(1): 25-32.

  2. Kassai, L. 2009. Soy May Rise to $11 a Bushel in 2010 on Demand, Maggi Says. Bloomberg.com. 2 October. http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601086&sid=aXJZbfz7fVXA (last accessed 25 October 2009).

  3. Morton, D. C., R. S. DeFries, Y. E. Shimabukuro, L. O. Anderson, E. Arai, F. del Bon Espirito-Santo, R. Freitas, and J. Morisette. 2006. Cropland expansion changes deforestation dynamics in the southern Brazilian Amazon. PNAS 103(39): 14637-14641.

  4. Phillips, T. 2009. Redd in the Amazon: 'We have the chance to set an example for Brazil and to make money from this'. Guardian.co.uk 5 October. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/oct/05/brazil-amazon-reforest... (last accessed 25 October 2009).

  5. The Economist. 2009a. The future of the forest. 11 June. http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=E1_TPRNQQQG (last accessed 25 October 2009).

  6. The Economist. 2009b. Brazil and climate change: Dancing with the bear. 16 April. http://www.economist.com/world/americas/displaystory.cfm?story_id=E1_TPQ... (last accessed 25 October 2009).

  7. United Nations Food and Agriculture Program. Top Production - Soybeans - 2007. 2007. http://faostat.fao.org (last accessed 25 October 2009).