”Sustainable intensification” of agriculture is another buzz phrase at the COP 17 climate conference in Durban. No one really has defined what it is. Like “climate-smart agriculture” it could be taken to mean a lot. The glass half full vision is that agriculture intensifies in some places so that other parts of the landscape can be protected. Half empty? That it’s used to justify something like factory farming, particularly for pigs and chickens.
In a presentation at “Forest Day” here, Paulo Barreto, a researcher from the Imazon Institute in Brazil, said that to protect forests—e.g., the Amazon—we need to “kill those bad incentives” that are leading to the expansion of cattle ranching and soy cultivation at the expense of forests. (His research found that the link between high global prices for beef and soy and rising deforestation rates has been broken in Brazil in the last two years.) But he acknowledged how hard it’s been to involve all those with power over the incentives, including in Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture. A vote on Brazil’s controversial forest code revisions (which would open up much undeveloped land to agriculture, mostly big and corporate and resource-intensive) takes place in the next few days. Will soy be declared king and the realm of cattle be expanded? The incentives suggest most likely . . . yes, and despite the GHG and biodiversity impacts.
Image by CIFOR (Center for International Forestry Research)