Agricultural Expansion Into The Amazon Is A No-Win Situation, Research Finds

The large-scale conversion of the Amazon rainforest into agricultural land is a no-win situation for all involved, according to new research from the Woods Hole Research Center and a collection of Universities in the region. If deforestation in the Amazon continues it will result in greatly reduced agricultural productivity in the region, via climate feedbacks.

Image Credit: Amazon Deforestation is Wikimedia Commons
Image Credit: Amazon Deforestation is Wikimedia Commons

The research was done by using model simulations “to assess how the agricultural yield of the Amazon would be affected under two different land-use scenarios: a business-as-usual scenario where recent deforestation trends continue and new protected areas are not created; and a governance scenario which assumes Brazilian environmental legislation is implemented.”

The researchers predict that by the year 2050, “a decrease in precipitation caused by deforestation in the Amazon will reduce pasture productivity by 30% in the governance scenario and by 34% in the business-as-usual scenario.”

And perhaps even more importantly, rising temperatures could cut into soybean yields by around 24% in a governance scenario and by about 28% in a business-as-usual scenario. That’s is a significant decrease in productivity for what is perhaps the most important agricultural product in the region.

“Through a combination of the forest biomass removal itself, and the resulting climate change, which feeds back on the ecosystem productivity, the researchers calculate that biomass on the ground could decline by up to 65% for the period 2041-2060.”

Brazil is in a tough situation, there are huge economic and political pressures in place that pushing for the conversion of the forests in the Amazon into agricultural land and cattle pasturelands. “A fine balance must be struck, however, as the natural ecosystems sustain food production, maintain water and forest resources, regulate climate and air quality, and ameliorate infectious diseases.”

Lead author of the study, Dr Leydimere Oliveira, said: “We were initially interested in quantifying the environmental services provided by the Amazon and their replacement by agricultural output.

“We expected to see some kind of compensation or off put, but it was a surprise to us that high levels of deforestation could be a no-win scenario — the loss of environmental services provided by the deforestation may not be offset by an increase in agriculture production.”

The most heavily hit regions, according to the researchers, will be in the eastern Pará and northern Maranhão regions. “Here the local precipitation appears to depend strongly on forests and changes in land cover would drastically affect the local climate, possibly to a point where agriculture becomes unviable.”

“There may be a limit for expansion of agriculture in Amazonia. Below this limit, there are not important economic consequences of this expansion.. Beyond this limit, the feedbacks that we demonstrated start to introduce significant losses in the agriculture production,” continued Dr Oliveira.

Realistically, deforestation in the Amazon isn’t likely to stop short of an economic meltdown in the region… The region’s forests likely face a fate much like the old-growth forests throughout most of the rest of the world. It would be nice to think that alerting people to the downsides of environmental destruction, especially in “no-win” situations such as this, would result in changed behavior. But knowledge is very rarely what results in behavioral changes, especially on the mass social scale.

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