Maciel Silva: “Growing green: how Brazil’s agriculture sector is making strides in sustainability‌”


The Brazilian Forest Code is widely considered to be one of the world’s most strict environmental laws, owing to its requirement for legal reserves and permanent preservation areas. The Rural Environmental Registry (CAR) is a database that contains information on rural properties and their environmental assets, such as forests, wetlands, and water sources. Through CAR, it is known that 66.3% of the national territory is assigned to the conservation of native vegetation. However, it is even more impressive that 33.2% of the national territory contains native vegetation within rural properties. What it means is an area with native vegetation of approximately 282 million hectares surpassing conservation units and Indigenous lands in terms of conserved forest area. Did you know this data?

Despite these impressive numbers, this article invites readers to consider the sustainability of Brazilian agriculture beyond the conservation of native vegetation. In the current pursuit of enhancing competitiveness in the global market, Brazilian farmers have incorporated science-based practices into their agricultural methods, such as no-till farming and integrated crop-livestock-forestry systems, which are becoming increasingly common in Brazil. Currently, Brazil has more than 33 million hectares of no-till farming and more than 17 million hectares in integrated crop-livestock-forestry systems.

What is the limit of science in providing tools for sustainability in agriculture? Brazilian farmers have not reached this limit yet, as they continue to seek out new ways to improve agricultural sustainability. Precision farming, for instance, has increased in the country and is estimated to be used in at least 64% of the area cultivated with cotton, 34% of soybean, and 14% of sugarcane. This approach allows farmers to respond to temporal and spatial variability to improve agricultural production sustainability.

The use of bio-inputs is another area where Brazilian farmers have taken a leadership role. Biological products, such as microorganisms, are used to improve soil fertility and mainly in pest and disease control as an alternative to chemical inputs. The most remarkable example is the use of inoculants for biological nitrogen fixation in soybean cultivation, which involves using bacteria to extract nitrogen from the atmosphere and transfer it to the plants. This not only sounds great but also saves Brazilian farmers around US$ 17 billion annually by eliminating the need for nitrogen fertilizers. Environmental and economic sustainability go hand in hand in this example.

Currently, the agribusiness sector not only promotes sustainability through climate-smart agriculture but also through forestry. Brazil has now more than 9 million hectares of planted forests, which results in the sequestration of approximately 1.88 billion tons of CO²eq¹ from the atmosphere.

Moreover, in addition to producing food, fibers, and ecosystem services, the agricultural sector also plays a significant role in generating renewable energy. The biomass of sugarcane and planted forests alone is responsible for approximately 25% of the energy generated in the country. What’s even more remarkable is that the agricultural sector consumes only 5% of the total energy used in Brazil. This is yet another example of how the agricultural sector provides valuable services to society in general.

The cost of environmental services provided by Brazilian agriculture is a crucial factor in accelerating the sector’s sustainable development. Brazil contributes only 2.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions (GEEs), which is much lower than the emissions of developed countries, but the country still maintains one of the most ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in the Paris Agreement with robust participation from the agricultural sector. Understanding and paying for these services is one of the essential pillars for ensuring the sustainable growth of Brazilian agriculture. Fortunately, Brazilian farmers have already shown their competence in this area, making it all the more achievable. Are you up to helping and paying for it?

Maciel Silva is an agronomist engineer and Deputy Technical Director at the Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock (CNA).