Production and conservation side by side in Brazil’s Cerrado
Cristalina municipal district is a large agribusiness center, home to some 1,500 monoculture irrigation plots and a dozen settlements of families who came from all over Brazil to grow vegetables and cereals to supply large consumer markets.
William Souto is in charge of the local farmers’ union in Poço Grande settlement, where plots measuring up to 20 hectares yearly produce nearly 15,000 tons of corn, beans, cassava, sorghum, rice, soy, honey, milk, squash, vegetables and herbs. These products are sold in supermarkets in the Federal District (Brasilia and its surroundings) and other states; some of the organic production goes to local schools and kindergartens.
In this farming settlement, conservation regulations limit the amount of vegetation that can be removed and how much water can be extracted from the nearby São Marcos River. “Green areas are needed, and they do not hurt farm production. They provide shade, recreation and rest. And they improve the climate. The forest is conserved by every one of the 800 families who joined the union. There is no competition between production and conservation,” emphasizes Souto.
Even as things change, there is opportunity to protect nature and all the services it provides. Part of the forest in Poço Grande settlement will soon be flooded by the Batalha hydropower dam, located 100 kilometers to the south. “There will be impacts, and that means work for us, to replant what is degraded. But it also means the opportunity for us to sell food directly to hotels and other new business to be established after the lake is full,” says Souto.
Meeting new standards
Rubens Valentini is an economist and agronomist from São Paulo who has been farming in the central Federal District since the 1970s. He achieved commercial success through pig farming, and today runs an operation with 3,700 sows birthing some 200 piglets a week. An operation of this size is a huge economic benefit for the 100 employees, but it can have serious environmental impacts.
The farm is now being expanded, following European criteria for friendlier animal breeding. Feeding is entirely controlled by computers and the effluents flow to large tanks where they are dissolved and cleaned. By the end of the year, there will be up to 2,000 cubic meters per day of methane gas captured and used to produce power and heat for the nurseries. The nearby forests shelter vigorous native Cerrado vegetation and important headwaters, and are protected by fence to keep away some 400 head of beef cattle. “Today it is no longer necessary to destroy in order to produce. Keeping those areas caused me no loss and they have been preserved for 30 years now,” says Valentini.
Legislation key to conservation
According to WWF-Brazil’s Cerrado-Pantanal Program Officer, Michael Becker, complying with legislation is possible and necessary for farming. “Native vegetation and healthy ecosystems provide services that farmers depend on – pollination, water protection and climate control. Nature does this for free, but only if we protect it. That’s why it’s necessary to strengthen the Cerrado land-use legislation, which presently offers too many opportunities for legal deforestation,” he says. “We want businesses, farmers and governments to work together to connect and protect forest fragments and create sustainable landscapes for the benefit of the country.”