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Meeting Brazil’s emissions reductions goals with sustainable beef: New study finds intensification programs play role

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Brazil is one of the first developing countries to commit to an absolute reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions. The use of sustainable beef production can lower their cattle emissions by 19% or more. Photo: I. C. Vieira (CIFOR)
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Dec 15, 2016


Ian Robinson (University of Michigan)


Sustainable beef production can decrease emission intensities by 19% and more.

Brazil was the first major developing nation to commit to an absolute reduction in its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2015, and it was a significant commitment: the South American power pledged to reduce its emissions by 37% compared to 2005 levels.

To meet these goals, Brazil has emphasized the need to cut emissions across sectors, including the agricultural sector. Newly released farm-level research conducted by the University of Michigan, in partnership with CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and with funding from the Global Innovation Initiative (GII), shows that beef sustainability programs with intensified production in the Amazon region can help the country meet these goals.

Researchers find that sustainable cattle programs in the Amazon can achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Pictured are cattle in the state of Mato Grosso. Photo: M. Rodkin, University of Michigan

Since 2012, a handful of beef-focused sustainability programs have emerged in the Amazon states of Rondônia, Pará, Mato Grosso, and Amazonas. These programs provide technical assistance on the adoption of intensified rotational management systems, helping farmers increase production while working toward compliance with emerging environmental regulations.

Researchers found that these sustainability programs have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with each kilogram of beef produced, known as emission intensity.

Farms in the programs studied decreased emission intensity of beef by 19.0%. a decrease of 8.3 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent (kgCO2e) per kilogram of beef compared to farms not in the programs. Farms that participated in a sustainability program for at least two years showed larger differences in emissions: a decrease of 35.8%, or 19.0 kgCO2e per kilogram of beef less than their counterparts.

The greenhouse gas emissions calculations are based on 41 interviews with cattle ranchers from four Brazilian states conducted by University of Michigan researchers in the summer of 2015. Photo: M. Rodkin, University of Michigan

From June 2015 to June 2016, Brazilian farmers in the four Amazonian states where the research occurred produced 118,000 metric tons of beef, about 18.8% of the country’s production, according to the IBGE: Pesquisa Trimestral de Abate do Animais. If 15% of the livestock in those states were raised with practices similar to those observed in sustainability programs in the Amazon, the country could potentially achieve a 979,400 metric tonne reduction in CO2e emissions. If 15% of the livestock could achieve the level of sustainability to farms that spent more than two years in a program, the county could achieve a 2,242,000 metric tonne CO2e reduction. As farmers gain more expertise with these new techniques and refine and adapt them to their particular circumstances, reductions could further increase.

In addition to reducing emissions via improved livestock management practices, the increased stocking rates associated with intensification practices may mean the country could satisfy its demand for beef on less land, which could lead to additional carbon savings in the form of avoided deforestation.

Read the study: Climate change mitigation through intensified pasture management: Estimating greenhouse gas emissions on cattle farms in the Brazilian Amazon

Read more about the GII research program Advancing sustainable cattle production in Brazil