European and UK legislation on deforestation is a ‘huge opportunity’ for Brazilian agriculture with the industry confident it can increase production and efficiency without damage to the Amazon.
But industry leaders, speaking at a round-table by Apex-Brasil, the Brazilian trade and investment promotion agency, said communicating its sustainability credentials would be key.
Celso Moretti, president of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), said Brazil had made a ‘fantastic transformation’ over the past 50 years driven by science and technology.
And they were looking to new technologies and precision agriculture to continue to increase production into the future.
“[We are] increasing the efficiency of our systems and producing more tonnes per hectare,” he said.
He gave the example of a tropical variety of wheat. Wheat in Brazil was typically only yielding about 2.9-3t per hectare. But with the tropical variety it could yield 8.5t/ha.
He added there was also more land which could be utilised for agriculture, without deforestation.
“Brazil has 50mha of degraded pasture. We annually crop 62mha of land. We can incorporate that into production,” he said.
He said more than 95 per cent of agriculture was outside the Amazon biome.
“We are developing technology to support growers to produce in a sustainable manner in other parts of Brazil,” Mr Moretti added.
Coffee, sugar and cattle farmer Marcelo Viera added the real issue with deforestation was ‘illegal logging’ rather than agriculture.
Professor Dr Marcos Fava Neves, expert on global food and agribusiness, said: “European legislation is a huge opportunity for Brazil.
He added it would affect other countries much more than Brazil.
“We have our forest code and tough labour laws. The spotlight will be given to the whole supply chain,” he said.
“Suppliers will be able to match the demand coming from Europe. For Brazil, the spotlight will be good.”
But communication would be the big issue and getting the information on Brazilian agriculture out to consumers.
The Forest Code requires landowners to reserve a proportion of land as forest, with 80 per cent of land to be reserved in the Amazon.
Integrated crop, livestock and forest systems were also allowing Brazilian farmers to reduce greenhouse gasses, utilise livestock to fertilise land and restore degraded pasture.
Marcelo Vieira highlighted the coffee industry had managed to reposition itself in the market by showcasing the reality of its production.
He said farmers had a very strong incentive to keep improving their yields and efficiency as the industry did not receive subsidies.
“Only the efficient will survive,” he said.
There was focus on ‘square metre management’, using technology such as drones and GPS to only apply crop protection and fertiliser exactly where it was needed.
But they also faced similar challenges to those in rural areas across the world when it came to connectivity with only 30 per cent of farms in 2017 connected to broadband or high speed internet.
However, there were also solutions with technology not needing to be connected to the internet in the field or connecting to satellites.
Brazil was also keen to trade with post-Brexit Britain.
Prof Dr Neves said he was ‘very positive’ on the possibility of increasing trade between the UK and Brazil.
“Who wins? It is the consumer. They have more choice and more competition,” he added.