Sustainable Agricultural Intensification and the Nexus in Brazil (SAIN)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: The Roslin Institute


Brazil is an important player in the international debate about food security, food production and the need to develop production methods that minimise climate impacts, land use changes and loss of tropical forests and biodiversity. These sometimes competing objectives and the damaging role of some forms of livestock production in particular, have led some commentators to suggest that a process of sustainable agricultural intensification is necessary to produce more outputs from less inputs, especially land, which has traditionally been abundant in Brazil. This new sustainable intensification agenda is an important element of a wider green growth debate in the UK and increasingly in Brazil and other emerging economies. This project considers the nexus of trade-offs inherent in the need for Brazil to sustainably intensify agricultural production to avoid local and global external costs in terms of greenhouse gas emissions from livestock production and direct and indirect land use change (by deforestation) and associated loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. The wider context for this imperative is the increasing global demand for food production and Brazil's ambition to maintain its pre-eminent status as a global food commodity exporter, while maintaining domestic food security and social equality. Global climate change creates an additional stressor, with a need for Brazil to understand impacts and to make incremental or transformative adaptations to allow the agricultural systems to be more resilient to climate scenarios. The project adopts a quantitative approach to understanding the interaction between these elements. We identify a number of sustainable intensification measures that can be accommodated within farming systems of different scale across the variety of Brazilian environments (or biomes). These measures include livestock feeding, grassland improvement and housing options. We then develop a numerical optimisation model that describes different production systems and allows us to illustrate the economic and environmental trade-offs in a way that helps to inform the design of policies such as those focused on greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural production and land use change (including deforestation). The project addresses the more general question of where production is appropriate and where it is not, by modelling the responses in each biome. We will also be able to address more contentious issues such as the consequences of reducing global demand (or consumption) for livestock products, which is increasingly discussed in academic and policy circles.
The project combines expertise from key agricultural research institutions in Scotland (SRUC) and Brazil (Embrapa), and a key civil society organisation (Imaflora) focussed on agricultural development and sustainability in Brazil. Our proposal builds on an existing collaboration between the scientific team members and an existing model framework that we aim to improve using additional data and qualitative research of smallholder systems. A range of different stakeholders from the public, private and civil society will be involved to help develop our model structure and comment on results. The work builds on existing experience of providing evidence to the Secretary for Agricultural Policy for the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (SPA/MAPA). This advice has been used for policy development for Brazil's offer as Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) from the agricultural sector. NAMAs are voluntary emissions reduction commitments to be offered under the United Nations Framework on Climate Change. Finally the project will target significant knowledge exchange to facilitate Brazil's ambition to inform the intensification debate in other countries in the global south.

Planned Impact

The project will help to clarify the wider debates on land sparing, sharing, sustainable agricultural intensification and green growth. We identify direct beneficiaries in academic, public (i.e. government), private and civil society. Public sector beneficiaries include the Secretary for Agricultural Policy for the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (SPA/MAPA) charged with Brazil's climate negotiations and the development of Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAS) and Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to be tentatively offered by countries (UNFCCC COP21) in Paris in December 2015. INDCs are targets as post-2020 mitigation commitments and will largely determine whether the world achieves an ambitious 2015 agreement for a low-carbon future. Our initial model has already been used to inform Brazil's agricultural contribution to this effort and we aim to continue refining this in WP3 to deliver cost-effective analysis in meeting the NAMAs and INDCs for the Ministry of Agriculture.
Beyond the climate contribution, we suggest that the model will provide a further insight into the relationship between agriculture and deforestation and hence a contribution to Brazil's zero net deforestation and biodiversity conservation commitments. Indirectly it is also possible to link this benefit to the growing debate about the link between Amazon deforestation and precipitation in southern Brazil. In this regard, the modelling will provide more substantive evidence for research prioritisation within EMBRAPA, which is the national body charged with providing for advice to government on agricultural development and innovation. We are also furthering the objective of promoting inter-disciplinary collaboration inside EMBRAPA, which is still rare.
Our research will be of interest to the livestock and soya production industries who are seeking to improve their environmental footprint including guidance on both production and consumption externalities. In this regard we have sought the collaboration of key industry groups GTPS, IMS, McDonalds Europe.
We suggest that like Nexus, the concepts of sustainable intensification and Climate Smart Agriculture need to be substantiated with quantitative evidence. In this regard our contribution is convergent with the objectives targeted by multilateral donors and international initiatives including the Climate Smart work program of CCAFS, the CGIAR focal point for Climate Smart Agriculture. Similarly we are aligned with The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB, which is currently developing case studies in a specific TEEB agriculture & Food initiative. We have received support and a commitment of time from TEEB secretariat (Dr Salman Hussain) and the coordinator of this initiative (Dr Peter May). Both CCAFS and TEEB are under close scrutiny from both UNDP and many governments seeking guidance on sustainable intensification.
Our research complements work by inter governmental development think tanks such as the OECD and World Bank, who periodically sponsor meetings and workshops (and their own research) into related topics. More immediately we will offer seminars in key development agencies including DFID, SIDA, GIZ Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation's Department for Civil Society under the Norwegian Forest and Climate Initiative. Further we add value to work of other NGOs and philanthropic groups such as the Betty Moore Foundation and Gates Foundations. These bodies are seeking technically effective, cost-effective and acceptable measures to recommend in their funding portfolios.
Finally and most generally, we see a global impact in terms of the projects influence on the conservation of global public goods (biodiversity and climate change). Conceptually we move the nexus topic from the conceptual to the practical and provide quantitative evidence


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