Brazil: Its Forest Capital and a Promising Future in the Production of Food, Fiber, and Energy

Roberto Waack
8 April 2016
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The Brazilian agribusiness and forest sectors, aware that the world economy is finding new ways to incorporate carbon into the value equation, have formed an unprecedented alliance, the Brazil Climate, Forest, and Agriculture Coalition (Coalizão Brasil Clima, Florestas e Agricultura). Established in December 2014, the initiative consists of more than 120 sectoral partners—businesses, civil society organizations, and individuals—interested in promoting synergy among multiple agendas: forest protection and conservation, sustainable forest use, sustainable agriculture, and climate change mitigation and adaptation in Brazil and the rest of the world.

So we ask: What has led to this movement and the business interest in forests? The answer is probably a confluence of several factors. Brazil is a forest country. More than 50% of its territory is covered with native forests, including the Amazon region, the savannah (Cerrado), and the Atlantic Forest. It is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet and also one of the largest custodians of water capital. Moreover, it has an immense territory, fertile soil, good rain distribution, and ample sunlight.

In other words, it has enormous natural capital. In addition to these structural conditions, it has managed to develop and enlist strategic silviculture technologies to plant new forests for the production of fibers and, more recently, bioenergy. It can therefore be said that the country has strong intellectual capital in the forest sector.

In addition, following a complex history of land occupation and conversion of native forest areas to produce commodities, Brazil has taken the lead and enlisted state-of-the-art aerospace technology to monitor and control deforestation in its territory. Thus we have two strong components—natural capital, plus the intellectual capital to work with it.

Yet there is another element that also plays an important role in the Brazilian environmental context—namely, the strong presence of civil society. Through effective action, civil society has won a number of important victories in conserving and recognizing original communities and restoring ownership—an unquestionable demonstration of powerful social capital. These groups, far from resting on their laurels, continue to wage the good fight and resist the unacceptable reality of how we have been treating our natural capital.

At the same time, the country has set new standards of efficiency in its thriving agribusinesses, topping the charts in the production of grains, bioenergy, and animal protein. The occupation of land and its use for economic gain is an issue that has been extensively debated. In recent decades, civil society has taken a strong stand against agribusiness, leading to passage of the Forest Code—one of the world’s most advanced instruments for regulating the use of natural resources. Among other things, this legislation defines the roles of permanent conservation areas, productive forests, and alternative use areas.

Technologies such as georeferencing are making it possible to implement a new kind of land management. Thus, social capital has been reinforced with institutional capital. Everything copacetic? Not exactly. As often happens in this kind of situation, not everyone is satisfied. But the experience has created a strong sense of interdependence and the perception that open dialogue can bring new forces into play.

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COP21, the Paris Conference on Climate Change, sent a clear message that a new technology cycle is gaining momentum. One of the pillars of the low-carbon economy is land use and the importance of forests. Macro-alternatives for dealing with the reduction of emissions are now the subject of a rich discussion. One line of argument contends that the solutions will lie in developing low-carbon-emission technologies and removing carbon from the atmosphere using so-called “artificial trees.” This is the position of the developed countries. On the other hand, there is also the resounding defense of forests as the most efficient means of removing and storing carbon stocks.

The Brazilian business community, with a strong presence in Paris, has clearly noted that the country has important comparative advantages in integrated land use and the production of food, fiber, and low-carbon energy. Mobilization of the Brazil Climate, Forest, and Agriculture Coalition, with more than 50 representatives in Paris, attests to the fact that the key forest and agribusiness players, including the livestock industry, are ready to ride the new technology wave. In the case of Brazil, this new approach recognizes the high value of our natural capital along with the solid base of intellectual capital in both silviculture and food production.

So, are all systems ready to go? Not by any means. While we understand that we are committed to a low-carbon economy, to quote Goethe, “we know accurately only when we know little; with knowledge, doubt increases.

The fact that we have opted to take the journey and that we recognize there is still a lot to learn should be assurance in itself that we will know how to find the answers—especially if we learn how to use our social capital (the Coalition, for example) wisely, placing value on our natural capital and striking a balance between forest conservation and the production of forest products, food, bioenergy and new materials.

 

Originally published by The World Bank’s Latin America & Caribbean blog.