April 5, 2004

Amazon Rainforest and Cattle Production

Interesting point from Back40 at Crumb Trail. The general public and the environmental groups point to increased cattle grazing as the thing that is causing the precipitous decline of the Amazon Rainforest basin when it is actually Brazil's exports of soybeans to Europe that is causing the most damage to the land. bq. One of the world's most alarming environmental controversies appears to be worsening. Rates of forest destruction in Brazilian Amazonia exceeded the previous year's rate by about 40%. In total, 6.4 million acres were felled and burned, an area nearly the size of Belgium... bq. Soybeans are big business in Brazil, which looks set to overtake the US as the world's largest soybean producer. The area of land under soybeans has grown sharply, increasing from 25 million acres in 1990 to over 45 million acres today. Most soybean production is concentrated along the southern margin of the Amazon, in drier woodlands and savannas, but each year the soybean farmers are encroaching further into the rainforest... bq. Much of Brazil's burgeoning soybean crop is exported to Europe, where it is used as feed for cattle and pigs. And the solution is a relatively simple one but not well suited to the slash and burn mindset -- one needs to take the long view for this to work: bq. hmmm, another Belgium's worth of beans every year grown for export to Europe. No wonder the cattle have no place to graze, their grasslands have been plowed up for beans and now they're cutting down the forest for even more bean fields. The problem isn't cattle, it's beans and the demented notion of development through export of low value agricultural commodities. The key to development is to export valuable products. Brazil should keep its beans and grasslands for cattle forage and export beef, dairy products and manufactured leather goods. These products are worth more and they get to keep the manure rather than exporting their soil fertility to Europe. bq. Generating greater revenues per acre means fewer acres will be developed. But the principle must be followed repeatedly. Plow the profits into further development of higher value activities. Instead of exporting soya, export packaged tofu. Fewer beans will need to be grown for greater profits. More and better local jobs will be created. To develop they need to move up the value curve. Lather, rinse, repeat. This is where the effort should be spent - educating the farmers and the financial backers that they will get more $$$ out of their operation if they stick with one area, farm better, train their workers and invest in the factories to make a finished product instead of shipping the raw materials out of country. Value-added merchandise is the only way to go. Posted by DaveH at April 5, 2004 9:28 PM