January 6, 2011

Sustainable Development Promoted by Governor of Mato Grosso

Author: Michael Cordonnier/Soybean & Corn Advisor, Inc.

Sustainable development is the key factor for agricultural expansion in the state of Mato Grosso as well as other regions of northern Brazil. This is according to the governor of Mato Grosso, Silval Barbosa. By putting emphasis on sustainable development, Barbosa feels that the state's agricultural production of grains, fiber, and even cattle could triple without ever having to clear another hectare or forest or cutting another tree.

The entire strategy revolves around restrictive zoning and the use of degraded pastures to increase crop production. Only about 8% of the land area in Mato Grosso is dedicated to grain or fiber production, but 26 million hectares of land in Mato Grosso is designated as degraded pastures. The average carrying capacity of the pastures in Mato Grosso is one head per hectare (2.5 acres), which of course is very low. According to the governor, the technology now exists to recuperate those pastures in order to increase the carrying capacity and to convert some of those pastures into additional gain and fiber production.

After ten years of effort, the state legislature has finally approved a plan for what is called Social-Economic and Ecological Zoning (ZSEE) that designates the "where and how" of future agricultural expansion in the state. Even though the bill has been passed by the state legislature, various aspects of the legislation are expected to face court battles to test if the measure is constitutional or not. Environmentalists have roundly criticized the measure for placing too much emphasis on agricultural expansion and not enough on environmental preservation.

The basic goal of the legislation is to better control the agricultural expansion in the state. This is not an easy task after decades of break-neck and helter-skelter expansion.

The vast majority of land clearing in the Amazon Region of Brazil is for the expansion of cattle ranching. Recent studies have concluded that less than 1% of the recent deforestation has been for expanded grain production and over 90% has been for cattle ranching. With that in mind, the Brazilian agricultural research service, Embrapa, has been placing additional research efforts on the use of degraded pastures to expand grain production. The scientists feel they have good data demonstrating that grain production and cattle production could both be increased through a long term rotation of pasture and grain production.