Date: 20 Nov 2008

Environmental, land-use and economic implications of Brazilian sugarcane expansion 1996–2006

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Abstract

Governments are promoting biofuels and the resulting changes in land use and crop reallocation to biofuels production have raised concerns about impacts on environment and food security. The promotion of biofuels has also been questioned based on suggested marginal contribution to greenhouse gas emissions reduction, partly due to induced land use change causing greenhouse gas emissions. This study reports how the expansion of sugarcane in Brazil during 1996–2006 affected indicators for environment, land use and economy. The results indicate that sugarcane expansion did not in general contribute to direct deforestation in the traditional agricultural region where most of the expansion took place. The amount of forests on farmland in this area is below the minimum stated in law and the situation did not change over the studied period. Sugarcane expansion resulted in a significant reduction of pastures and cattle heads and higher economic growth than in neighboring areas. It could not be established to what extent the discontinuation of cattle production induced expansion of pastures in other areas, possibly leading to indirect deforestation. However, the results indicate that a possible migration of the cattle production reached further than the neighboring of expansion regions. Occurring at much smaller rates, expansion of sugarcane in regions such as the Amazon and the Northeast region was related to direct deforestation and competition with food crops, and appear not to have induced economic growth. These regions are not expected to experience substantial increases of sugarcane in the near future, but mitigating measures are warranted.