Agriculture and Environment: Soybeans

Better Management Practices: Zoning to Restrict Agricultural Expansion

In Brazil, where soybean production is expanding rapidly and on a large scale, there is little reason for expansion into natural habitat.

First of all, many of the natural habitat areas are not suited for sustained soybean production. If the price of soybeans continues to decline, the area suitable for competitive production will decline even more.


Such areas should be zoned so that they will not be used for soybean production. Appropriate financial analyses showing the mid-to-long-term financial costs of farming such areas could help generate the political will (both with producers and, more broadly, with civil society) to zone such areas from soybean production.

Identifying zoning areas
In addition, Brazil should identify areas that should be zoned for production. Brazil has less than 14 million hectares in soybean production. However, more than 5.5 times that amount of land is abandoned or degraded agricultural land or pasture. Not all of this land is suited for soybean production.

Some is hilly or badly eroded, and some was not cleared well. These lands would be more expensive to bring back into production. However, much of the land could be made productive again with up-front investments that are no larger than those required for clearing land.

Regenerating land
Producers in the cerrado have shown that degraded pasture and agricultural land can become productive soybean lands within 2-5 years. Furthermore, such land is cheap to buy and within as little as three years can be worth 3 times the purchase price. The financial case for rehabilitating such lands, however, has not yet been made. A few case studies could be very useful to convince producers, government officials and even lenders that such strategies are not only viable but profitable and creditworthy.

Credits

Extracts from "World Agriculture & Environment" by Jason Clay - buy the book online from Island Press

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