A tropical topic21/04/17Environment
Former minister of the environment of Brazil Izabella Teixeira summarises the country’s agricultural and environmental challenges, and its projects with the EU
In efforts to protect the environment and to combat global warming, the role of forests cannot be overstated. As the largest and most diverse area of tropical rainforest in the world, the Amazon rainforest plays a vital role in reducing atmospheric CO2, but is under threat from deforestation. Much of the responsibility for protecting the Amazon rainforest is adopted by Brazil, the country in which more than 60% of the forest is contained, and in recent years the country has stepped up its efforts to address
in the region.
Izabella Teixeira, a former minister of environment of Brazil, was in attendance at the Forum for the Future of Agriculture (FFA) 2017, which was hosted in Brussels, Belgium, in March. In 2013, Teixeira was named a UN Champion of the Earth for her work to tackle illegal deforestation in the sensitive Amazon region.
Given that environment and agriculture are intrinsically linked, we need to have all stakeholders on-board to establish a solutions-based framework. Public bodies and authorities of course need to be involved, as do civil society and the private sector. Every actor has a key part to play in committing to a single vision for the future and the goals we aim to achieve.
We have to comply with the Paris Agreement and its goals, to which we are strongly committed. Agriculture has a key role to play in this regard as we also have to implement Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) based on a common vision and ambition for the future. This convergence in agendas will allow us to strengthen the strategic links between more efficient natural resources allocation and food security.
Brazil is a huge country – almost twice as big as the European Union, with the Amazon biome alone roughly the same size as the entire EU. It is also important to recall that almost two thirds of Brazil’s land is covered with native vegetation.
If we want to bring our society fully on-board with our ambition, we need everyone, from every region, to come together, united by common values, to achieve a low-carbon economy. This is what we are trying to put into practice, and I sincerely believe we will reach our goal.
How can research and innovation contribute to better, smarter and more sustainable agriculture?
Brazil is a world leader in environmental science and agricultural innovation. Research and technology play a key role, especially given that tropical agriculture encounters different challenges to temperate climate agriculture. As I mentioned, agriculture and environment work hand in hand in Brazil.
We have reduced deforestation in the Amazon biome by 75% over the last 12 years. This is the most important contribution to climate change mitigation that has been made over recent years. Brazil is the first emerging economy to commit to an absolute reduction in greenhouse gases. We are working to restore 12 million ha of forest and recover 15 million ha of degraded pastures. No-till agriculture and cropland forest livestock integration are key drivers of sustainable agricultural practices. If you look at the past and all the progress that has been achieved, we have better practices and conditions today than those we had ten years ago. The combination of policy, investments, and dissemination of technology and knowledge is the right answer to a more sustainable agriculture.
What projects and initiatives have been implemented so far?
Brazil has made massive strides in strengthening environmental protection in its agricultural sector. Between 1995 and 2010, the Brazilian cattle herd increased by 27% and beef production by 38%. During the same period, Brazil’s pastureland area actually decreased by 2%.
The Rural Environment Registration (CAR) initiative is a big deal. It is a mandatory digital registration with integrated environmental information on rural areas and rural properties. People must contribute to a database, and all the data gathered helps us to protect the environment, combat illegal deforestation, and address low-carbon agriculture. More than 61% of Brazil is covered by native vegetation, and CAR shows that private farmers have more than 100 million hectares of native vegetation preserved on their lands.
The political ambition is to become a carbon sink, promoting low-carbon agriculture, increasing productivity, restoring degraded areas and increasing crop-livestock-forest integration.
It is important to remember that the sustainable growth of Brazilian agriculture is a key driver of the social and economic development of our country. Small farmers are essential stakeholders in Brazilian agriculture – 75% of food in Brazil comes from small farms. Because of that, they are included in the economic chain.
Can collaborating nations learn from each other the best ways of facing the coming challenges?
This is a very interesting question. First, I would say that it is not about whether we should learn from each other – we must learn from each other. This is very important, and not only in environment or agriculture, by the way.
The EU has played a key role in the negotiations to reach the Paris Agreement, and for years we have been traditional partners with shared economic and geopolitical interests. We should not only talk about our successes but about our common vision to address key challenges for the future.
Unfortunately, many in the West need to learn more about Brazil instead of spreading alternative facts about our country. I recently heard that we grow sugar cane in the Amazon and that we have a ‘green desert’ in the South. This is obviously ridiculous. The lack of true understanding of our country is also what leads me to believe that we should always be appropriately consulted when it comes to tackling the complex issues that we face. Like every country, Brazil has challenges and has to deal with them. We do not try to hide them, but to solve them.
I think data transparency and accessibility will make the difference to address these challenges. Sharing data was quite difficult in the past, but we have made technological progress that will make it easier for all to play together. The agricultural sector is an excellent sector to play this game and share our different experiences in resource management.
To conclude, I hope the partnership between the EU and Brazil will lead to progress for both parties, not only in terms of sustainability but also regarding climate change. These are complex political challenges, but I trust that when we work together, we are stronger.
Former Minister of Environment of Brazil
Career Employee of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama)
This article will appear in Pan European Networks: Smart Cities 1, which will be published in May 2017.