Food Security vs Environmental Conservation: Brazilian Cerrado’s example

In the face of farm crises and fear of not being able to import enough food in the 1970’s, Brazil, stepped up to the challenge and established itself as an agricultural miracle as the total value of the country’s crops increased by 365% in ten years from 1996 to 2006. Some regard the agricultural revolution as a model of how to feed the world.  Brazil is considered to be the first tropical agricultural giant challenging the dominance of ‘big five’ food exporters – the United States, Canada, Australia, Argentina and the European Union. This success is mainly attributed to “Embrapa” i.e country’s innovation capacity in agricultural research and development.

However what is ignored is that rapid agricultural advancement came partially at the cost of exhaustive destruction of the “Cerrado”. Brazil’s natural resources include not only the famous rain forests of the Amazon but the extensive grasslands of the Cerrado. The latter is the world’s largest and most biologically rich Savannah that covers more than one fifth of Brazil. It contains 5% of the world’s biodiversity as it is home to 935 species of birds, nearly 300 mammals and over 10,000 species of plants, of which 45% are exclusive to the Cerrado. The Cerrado also feeds three of the major water basins in South America: the Amazon, Paraguay and São Francisco Rivers.

Capital intensive farming is viewed as the crux of agricultural development to avoid food crises but the costs have to be recognized as well. The world was concerned about the deforestation of Amazon. Though deforestation was stabilized, the Brazilian Cerrado has been destroyed at a rapid rate due to the expansion of soy agriculture along with being fueled by Brazil’s economic growth and foreign investments.

Food production and food security are dependent upon the genetic diversity  of cereal, seed, vegetable and fruit crops. Thus it is important to conserve diversity and administer use in a sustainable manner.

Brazil’s agricultural success has to be viewed carefully especially if the system is to be exported to the African savannah. Agricultural measures and effective application of environmental protection laws need to operate in tandem to ensure food security and environmental conservation.

For more details on the Cerrado, please view the following video in The Guardian.

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