BRASILIA: Brazil’s agribusiness loses up to $ 1 billion a year as increasing deforestation reduces rainfall in the southern Amazon – a problem that is expected to spread if forest loss continues, has warned a group of Brazilian and German researchers.
In a study published in the journal Nature Communications in May, they found that smaller-scale forest losses can increase rainfall on nearby farmland, but once losses exceed 55 to 60 percent, rainfall drops.
Losses of tree cover in particular seem to delay the onset and shorten the length of the rainy season, they noted.
As the destruction of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest continues, drier conditions could put a strain on the region’s predominantly rain-fed agriculture industry, the authors said.
Brazil is the world’s largest producer of soybeans and its second largest producer of beef, as well as the world’s largest beef exporter.
In parts of the country, Brazilian farmers are already battling unusually dry weather this year, with government agencies warning of drought threats in late May as the country faces its worst drought in 91 years.
In the southern Amazon state of Mato Grosso, Brazil’s main soybean producer, erratic rainfall is reducing potential harvests, according to the Mato Grosso Institute of Agricultural Economics.
Aprosoja Brasil, the country’s main soybean production association, also said farmers faced drought during planting last October and November, followed by excessively heavy rains at harvest time this year, reducing the harvest. expected.
The new study looked at changes in precipitation between 1999 and 2019 in the southern Brazilian Amazon, an area of 1.9 million square kilometers that has so far lost about a third of its forests, as a model for them. future changes in precipitation.
The researchers predicted what could happen until 2050 if Brazil’s conservation policies continue to weaken and strong political support for agricultural expansion versus effective enforcement of forest protection laws. Co-author Britaldo Soares said the difference is stark.
Unless the Brazilian government quickly changes its pro-development policies, which promote economic growth rather than conservation, agro-industries could fall victim to the measures many of them support. The effect would be like “shooting yourself in the foot,” said Soares, who is the project coordinator for the Remote Sensing Center at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG).
Environmentalists say President Jair Bolsonaro’s policies have weakened conservation efforts and his rhetoric has encouraged ranchers, loggers and illegal land speculators to cut down the Amazon rainforest to expand their businesses.
Bolsonaro’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Losses from the Amazon rainforest have peaked in 12 years since Bolsonaro took office in 2019, with deforestation up 43% in April from the same month a year ago, according to government data released in may.
Removing trees to plant crops and raise livestock reduces the forest’s ability to trap and store the carbon dioxide that heats the planet in the atmosphere and can contribute to emissions if forests are burnt.
But a more fragmented forest, as losses increase, is also less able to produce the same volume of water vapor that rises to become rain, and can make the forest drier and more vulnerable to fires.
Less rainfall can mean lower yields and force farmers in the southern Amazon and beyond to adapt by moving to new areas or growing more drought-tolerant crops, the study notes.
He did not discuss the prospects for irrigating crops in the region.
Amazonian farmers also typically benefit from the double harvest or growing at least two crops per year.
But it could become more difficult or impossible if continued tree losses delay and shorten the rainy seasons, the study noted.
The researchers said that if the Brazilian government does not act against deforestation, international responses – including potential sanctions and Brazil’s exclusion from international treaties – could also result in lost income for Brazilian agricultural businesses.
Stopping the loss of forests in the Amazon is vital not only to protect biodiversity and the global climate, but also to protect agribusiness itself, they said.