Jason Barton

Professional Information and Energy News

Archive for the ‘deforestation’ tag

Biofuel expansion would send cattle into the rain forest

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Interesting stuff, directly related to my doctoral research, which provides a cost benefit analysis of existing legislation in Brazil that mandates that producers must set aside 25-30% of their land as forest reserves. Setting aside that much land is prohibitive for most producers, and since the laws are not heavily enforced, compliance is very low. My study provides an assessment of exactly how much producers would have to be paid so that they are adequately compensated for revenues lost from leaving or implementing forests alongside sugarcane.

The study discussed in the article below is basically saying that there is not enough land to have food, biofuels, cattle, and forests. There are options, however, that may contradict these findings. Pasture lands can be intensified, requiring half the land for the same number of cattle. Still, it seems that using less energy, and eating lower on the food chain, are also cost effective and feasible methods for dealing with these issues.

Biofuel production in the US has met with fairly mixed success, as the cost and fossil fuel use of corn-based ethanol has severely cut into the benefits provided by avoiding the use of fossil fuels. It’s been a somewhat different story in Brazil, which has embraced ethanol derived from sugarcane and seen more promising results. The government has set aggressive targets for both ethanol and biodiesel production, but a study that will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science later this week urges caution: unless the goals are met through an integrated agricultural strategy, they’ll drive deforestation that will offset most of the benefits.
Read the entire article here, or you can download the study here.

Why farms may be the new forests

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Yet another Economist article that falls right in line with my PhD dissertation. One of us might be on to something.

Healthy ecosystems, such as forests, on or bordering agricultural land helps water and nutrient cycling, reducing the need for irrigation and chemical fertilizers. The enhanced biodiversity also acts as natural resistance to pests. The trick is paying farmers to keep forests on their land, compensating them for the loss of revenues from the crops that would have been planted on that land. These forests perform ecosystem services that greatly benefit society as a whole, economically and in terms of human and ecological health. Paying farmers helps to internalize those positive externalities.

Dec 30th 2009
From The Economist print edition

In the war against climate change, peasants are in the front line

 Into battle in the eco-war

FOR people who see stopping deforestation as the quickest climate-change win, Copenhagen seemed a success. Although there is still work to be done on the initiative known as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), the deal struck in Copenhagen made it into a real thing, not just an idea. The notion of reducing net deforestation to zero was not explicitly mentioned, but it looks much more credible than it did two years ago.

As well as giving heart to the protectors of trees, this outcome is encouraging for people whose focus is not on forests but on fields. Climate and agriculture matter to each other in several ways. On the downside, farming is a cause of deforestation, and also emits greenhouse gases in its own right—perhaps 14% of the global total. On the upside, agriculture can also dispose of heat-trapping gases, by increasing the carbon content of soils.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

December 31st, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Brazil aims to prevent land grabs in Amazon

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The legislation mentioned here to protect Brazilian forests has been in place since 1965, but has rarely been enforced anywhere. The law, The Brazilian Forest Code, mandates that agricultural producers set aside 20% of their land as a Legal Reserve, which is a forest where some agricultural activity, such as fruit or timber collection, is permitted so long as the forest remains permanently in place. Another 5-10% of rural properties must be left as a forest along sensitive areas such as waterways. No agricultural activity is allowed in these parcels, called Areas of Permanent Preservation.  Enforcement of these laws is so lax that even places as developed as Sao Paulo, traditionally the financial capital of South America as well as a major agricultural producer, including the country’s leading producer of sugarcane and ethanol, only 6% of properties have registered Legal Reserves[1].

My doctoral dissertation, due to be finished this coming July, is a cost benefit analysis of this very legislation, establishing the increased production costs for sugarcane and ethanol if farmers comply with the law. It’s no surprise that preliminary results suggest that setting aside 25-30% of a farmer’s land for forest increases production costs by about 22% per gallon of ethanol. It’s also no surprise that without enforcement there’s little reason for a farmer to establish the forests and forego potential revenues. There are a number of market mechanisms, however, such as payments for environmental services, that can provide the incentive much more efficiently than simply punishing producers who don’t comply.

Farmers don’t reap the benefits from positive externalities such as protection of water quality and biodiversity, carbon sequestration, or even, taken on a realistic time horizon, protection against soil erosion. If we as a society want to ensure these benefits are reaped, now and for future generations, we need to pony up and pay producers to provide these services. Brazil can certainly bear some of the burden, but as developed nations who have benefited from cheap labor and materials from Brazil and other countries for decades, surely the bulk of responsibility lay with us in the developed North. In the case of ethanol, most of the newly established sugarcane production, where there is the greatest potential to ensure these forests are established, are created to meet the demand for export. It seems logical that consumers in importing countries, and the U.S. is the largest importer of Brazilian ethanol, should provide the incentives to ensure that future generations live in a planet at least as healthy as we do.

December 27, 2009
Brazil Aims to Prevent Land Grabs in Amazon
By ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO

VILA DOS CRENTES, Brazil — Raimundo Teixeira de Souza came to this sweltering Amazon outpost 15
years ago, looking for land. He bought 20 acres, he said, but more powerful farmers, who roam this Wild
West territory with rifles strapped to their backs, forced him to sell much of it for a pittance.
Then someone shot and killed Mr. de Souza’s 23-year-old stepson in the middle of a village road two years
ago, residents said. No one has been arrested. In fact, the new police chief has no record that the crime was
even investigated by his predecessor. It is hardly surprising, the chief said, considering that he has only four
investigators to cover an area of rampant land-grabbing and deforestation the size of Austria.
“We are being massacred,” said Mr. de Souza, 44, who leads the local residents’ association. “We just want
to work and raise our children.”

Read the entire article here.


[1] Bacha, 2006. “Eficácia Da Política De Reserva Legal No Brasil” (Effectiveness of Legal Reserve Policies in Brazil). Teoria e Evidência Econômica (Economic Theory and Evidence).

Written by Jason

December 27th, 2009 at 6:00 am