Research points out solutions for recovering native vegetation in Brazil

Brazil will be able to recover 12 million hectares of native vegetation throughout its entire territory by 2030. This estimation is based on a report prepared by a group of 45 researchers from 25 Brazilian institutions, and it was presented last week in Rio de Janeiro. That scientific work casts a new light on recent discussions on relations between deforestation and agricultural production. “Environmental issues (conservation and ecological restoration) and agricultural production are interconnected and can progress jointly, without harming either side. Contrary to that, it can bring about direct benefits, such as the availability of pollinators for crops, water, and soil conservation. Mainly, the possibility of environmental certification of agricultural production, adding further value”, explains Ricardo Ribeiro Rodrigues, researcher and professor in the Luiz de Queiroz Higher Education Agricultural School at São Paulo University (USP) and one of the authors of this document.

Forests versus Agricultural Areas

The authors pondered that for these opportunities to become a reality, the country cannot retreat in its environmental policies to reduce deforestation, biodiversity conservation, and large-scale restoration of native vegetation. In spite of research reporting on the great opportunities Brazil has for impelling the restoration and recovery of vegetation, and thereby, minimizing competition between forests and agricultural areas.

The authors also considered that Brazil has taken on a leading role in international environmental negotiations and any detachment from that course, can drive away opportunities, as well as lose consumer markets for agricultural products. That occurs because the market has been characterized not only based on its production but also due to sustainable products, including policies on the avoidance of consuming products from deforested areas.

Sugar Cane Field Employee Sprays Water on Burning Sugar Cane. Photo: ONU

“Brazil should not have any hindrance in selling its products on the international market, as the cutting-edge difference of the practice of sustainable agriculture in highly diversified natural environments. That is an asset that no other country can offer”, evaluates Rodrigues.

Planned restoration

“There are ongoing large-scale and successful restoration projects in countries as China, but the species diversity used is low, as the variety it purports is much less than what is found in the Atlantic Rain Forest and the Amazons, for example”, compares Carlos Joly, professor at the Campinas State University (Unicamp) and coordinating member of BPBES and BIOTAFAPESP. According to him, Brazil has the opportunity to develop an unequaled native vegetation recovery program in the world for forest areas in the Atlantic Rain Forest and the Amazons. That is because the country can count on a wide diversity of species for restoration projects.

The great diversity of species found in these Brazilian biomes makes restoration much more functional. “A restoration program with high-diversity species enables the inclusion of plants that can be used as food sources or are important for maintaining pollinators, such as bees,” the author reveals.

The document indicates that restoration if it is well-planned and implemented in the landscape, it can increase biodiversity conservation by more than 200%.

Amazon region of Brazil, near Manaus. Photo: World Bank

Brazil has lost 71 million hectares in native vegetation in the last 30 years – an area larger that the space occupied by the Amazon Rainforest – due to the occurrence of deforestation and burnings, among other factors. As that deforestation took place without environmental and agricultural planning, a large portion of those areas became abandoned, poorly utilized, or started an erosion process, and thereby became improper for growing foodstuffs or any other economic activity.

Livestock farming as a solution

The sustainable intensification of Brazilian livestock farming is a key-process for increasing the productivity of this sector and reallocating lower productivity agricultural areas for compliance with environmental laws and targets. “Three-fourths of the Brazilian agricultural areas are occupied nowadays by livestock farming, and with extremely low average productivity. If we had good agricultural policies, focused on livestock technification, it would be possible to increase the productivity of this business activity and, thereby, free at least 32 million hectares of pasture for other crops, while maintaining the current number of heads of cattle”, evaluated Rodrigues, from USP.

Increasing the productivity of pastures in the next 30 years would be enough, considering all regions in Brazil to assure compliance with environmental laws and targets.

Photo: World Bank

It would be necessary to expand the productivity of pasture from the current level of 46% to 63-75% of its sustainable potential, in the next 15 years in the Amazon Rain Forest, for example, to adhere to all the agricultural and silviculture production targets, zero illegal deforestation, and recovery of the native vegetation. In the Atlantic Rain Forest, that same process requires the current 24% level to increase to 30-34% of its potential. In the “Cerrado” (Brazilian Savanna), it would be enough to increase the current level from 35% to 65% of its sustainable potential by 2050.

A good example in the Amazonian Region

In Paragominas, in Pará State, in just four years, the properties of noncompliant environmental livestock farming and low productivity adhered to their legal, environmental requisites and quadrupled their livestock farming productivity and even exploited the Legal Reserve sustainably, planting native lumber and fruit-bearing trees, diversifying production, exemplify the summary.

The work is the result of a partnership agreement between the Brazilian Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (BPBES), sponsored by the BIOTA-FAPESP program, and the International Institute for Sustainability (IIS).

UN Agenda

The United Nations Assembly declared the period from 2021 – 2030 as the UN Decade for the Restoration of Ecosystems. Two UN agencies – the UN Environmental Programme and FAO – lead the implementation of the Decade.

The degradation of the land and marine ecosystems compromise the well-being of 3.2 billion people and at a cost around equal to 10% of the annual global income in the loss of species and ecosystem services.

Currently, around 20% of the surface of the planet displays decreased productivity, due to losses in fertility linked to erosion, exhaustion, and pollution throughout all parts of the world.

By 2050, the degradation and climatic changes could reduce harvest yields by 10% on the world-wide level and up to 50% in certain regions.

Read the entire document: (available in Portuguese) at

With material from the FAPESP Agency