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Improving land management in Brazil: A perspective from producers

Latawiec, Agnieszka E., Strassburg, Bernardo B.N., Silva, Daniel, Alves-Pinto, Helena Nery, Feltran-Barbieri, Rafael, Castro, Ana, Iribarrem, Alvaro, Rangel, Márcio Cordeiro, Kalif, Kemel Amin B., Gardner, Toby, Beduschi, Francisco
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2017 v.240 pp. 276-286
administrative management, cattle, correlation, credit, deforestation, extension education, farmers, farming systems, farms, fertilizers, focus groups, forests, good agricultural practices, income, indigenous species, interviews, issues and policy, labor, land use, livestock and meat industry, meat, motivation, pasture management, pastures, poverty, rangelands, rotational grazing, socioeconomics, stocking rate, sustainable land management, Amazonia, Brazil
The low productivity of many tropical pasturelands is a major driver of deforestation and other negative environmental and socio-economic impacts. In Brazil, the second biggest meat producer in the world, 85% of cattle farms remain within extensive pasture systems, and cattle farming is by far the most important proximate driver of deforestation. It is possible to expand Brazilian agriculture with zero deforestation through improvements to rangeland productivity yet understanding of the challenges and motivations of the actual cattle farmers in the face of such a transition remains sparse. To better understand the importance of the underlying factors that lead to or inhibit improvements to land management, we used focus groups and semi-structured interviews (N=250) with farmers from the state of Mato Grosso in the Brazilian Amazon. We found that the majority of the respondents (60%) claimed that the principal benefit of adopting good agricultural practices was increased productivity, followed by increased income (43%) and better farm administrative management (34%). The adoption of improved pasture management techniques was positively correlated with stocking rates (p<0.005, r=0.48). Farms that adopted improved pasture management, most often through rotational grazing had, on average, lower levels of forest cover (p<0.05, r=0.22). We found that scarcity of labour was the major issue affecting the adoption of improved techniques (36%), followed by financial constraints (18%). We also identified a shortfall in access to technical extension services to be a significant problem because 40% of the technical assistance is currently provided by vendors of fertilizers and other chemicals. To our knowledge, this is the first study to systematically assess the barriers to and the conditions surrounding the adoption of good agricultural practices in Brazilian pasturelands from the perspective of the farmers from the Amazon involved in the implementation of these practices. It is critical that decision-makers involved in the design of technical assistance schemes, education and credit programmes consider these factors if sustainable land management is to be realised at scale. In particular, the lack of skilled and available labour contrasts with the widespread assumption that new credit lines for sustainable agriculture will automatically result in better land management. A failure to consider factors discussed in this paper may contribute to the continued clearance of native vegetation and the environmental degradation of existing pasturelands, in addition to the persistence of widespread poverty among cattle-farmers. These results can assist the large scale implementation of sustainable land use policies in Brazil and elsewhere.