The sandy soil is old and deep, acid and of low fertility, it has high levels of iron and aluminum. The development of new technologies has allowed astonishing yields in recent agricultural and livestock projects. The Cerrado today shelters 41% of the 163 million heads of cattle responsible for 55% of the national production of meat.
In the years 2002/2003, the Brazilian cerrado was responsible for 58% of the national production of soybeans. This type of yield has also extended to other crops, such as cotton, corn, rice and beans, which respectively represent 76%, 27%, 18% and 17% of national production.
This agricultural expansion already occupies almost 50% of the savannah area. Estimates show that, with economic growth, the remaining area with agricultural potential (about 20% of the total) will be deforested and harvested with soybeans. It is calculated that 11 million hectares of the savannah deforested during the 70s has now deteriorated due to inadequate exploitation.
Professor Ignacy Sachs, author, head of the International Center of Environmental Research in Paris and a consultant for the General Secretary of Rio 92, argues that future projects in the Cerrado should, “… modernize family agriculture, as much as possible towards activities that are labor-intensive. 100 million hectares transformed into soy fields will generate one million jobs, at the most. The same 100 million hectares used to grow other produce would generate 100 million jobs. If they were used for fruit growing, perhaps even more. And those same 100 million hectares cultivated with flowers would generate a billion and half jobs. It is obvious that we cannot use 100 million hectares to grow flowers, but one of the fundamental discussion points is the product mix”.
Sachs mentions an extraordinary example from China: “Between 1978 and 2000 total rural employment, in round figures, increased from 306 to 499 million, and truly agricultural jobs shrank from 90 million to 66 million. More than 200 million of the rural jobs created were, therefore, not strictly agricultural jobs.”
José Felipe Ribeiro, a researcher at Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária (EMBRAPA), says that it is pseudo-environmental hypocrisy to try to obstruct the expansion of agriculture, since it is not possible to feed the world only by gardening the land, “… but it is possible to reconcile the two forms of production.”
The Program of Conservation and Handling of the Biodiversity of EMBRAPA/Cerrado, which makes a social survey of the areas where the project is focused, aims to develop research that could guide the family farmers towards economic growth. The expected output is a ‘tripod’ of sustainability: economic growth, social development and conservation of the ecosystem.
The project stimulates the union of producers and the improvement of production methods, translated into the increase of volume and guarantee continuity of supply to consumer markets avid for exotic fruits and its derived products. It is still at an early stage, aiding about 100 families in the northern area of the state of Goiás.
According to Ribeiro, this is the most rational system of production that, at once, conserves the environment. The program seeks to take advantage of national biodiversity and to provide access to exotic genetic resources affecting agriculture, livestock, the replanting of forests and fish farming. Although small, this projects signals a crucial effort by EMBRAPA to research sustainable solutions to develop and preserve this vital ecosystem.
Over the past two decades EMBRAPA has been the major developer of the innovative technologies responsible for Brazil’s tremendously competitive agriculture. It also preserves the valuable genetic bank which supplied the Slow Food Award wining Kraho project with autocthonous corn seeds.
On the one hand EMBRAPA is currently suffering from diminishing funds for its research projects, on the other hand national demand is growing in different sectors for priority treatment to Brazil’s number one research organization.
EMBRAPA, “Fonte de Biodiversidade e Alimentos para o Mundo”, Brasília,Embrapa 30 anos, http://www.embrapa.br/embrapa
EMBRAPA, “Tecnologias mudaram a cara do Centro-Oeste brasileiro” , Brasília,Embrapa 30 anos, www.embrapa.br/embrapa
ABRANCHES, Sergio, “A inteligência da agricultura”, São Paulo, RevistaVeja – Em foco, nº 1803, 21/05/2003.
LEITÃO, Miriam, “O trabalho da Embrapa”, Rio de Janeiro,telejornal Bom DiaBrasil, 29/05/2003.
SACHS, Ignacy, “Alimentação, Agricultura Sustentável e a Importância da Pesquisa para o Brasil”, Brasília, Ciclo de Palestras da Embrapa,24/04/2003.
GESISKY, Jaime, “Cerrado perde anfíbios que guardam a história da região”,Brasília, IBAMA -Ascom/Sede, notícias, www.ibama.gov.br
NARIKAWA, Veruska “Exploração Consciente”, São Paulo, Safra Revista do Agronegócio, Abril de 2004.
BIODIVERSITY HOTSPOTS, “Conservation Action And Protected Areas-Cerrado”http://www.biodiversityhotspots.org
Homero Vianna is the leader of the Slow Food Belo Horizonte Convivium, a member of the Slow Food Award jury, and events organizer for the Ópera Comunicação agency in Belo Horizonte