Agricultural intensification in Brazil and its effects on land-use patterns: an analysis of the 1975–2006 period

Authors

  • Alberto G. O. P. Barretto,

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    • University of São Paulo, Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture, Department of Soil Science, Av. Pádua Dias, 11, Piracicaba (SP) 13418-900, Brazil
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  • Göran Berndes,

    1. Chalmers University of Technology, Department of Energy and Environment, Division of Physical Resource Theory, SE-412 96 Göteborg, Sweden
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  • Gerd Sparovek,

    1. University of São Paulo, Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture, Department of Soil Science, Av. Pádua Dias, 11, Piracicaba (SP) 13418-900, Brazil
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  • Stefan Wirsenius

    1. Chalmers University of Technology, Department of Energy and Environment, Division of Physical Resource Theory, SE-412 96 Göteborg, Sweden
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Correspondence: Alberto G. O. P. Barretto, Department of Soil Science, ‘Luiz de Queiroz’ College of Agriculture, University of São Paulo, Av. Pádua Dias, 11, Piracicaba SP 13418-900, Brazil,tel. + 55 19 3417 2140, fax + 55 19 3417 2140,e-mail: barretto.alberto@gmail.com

Abstract

Does agricultural intensification reduce the area used for agricultural production in Brazil? Census and other data for time periods 1975–1996 and 1996–2006 were processed and analyzed using Geographic Information System and statistical tools to investigate whether and if so, how, changes in yield and stocking rate coincide with changes in cropland and pasture area. Complementary medium-resolution data on total farmland area changes were used in a spatially explicit assessment of the land-use transitions that occurred in Brazil during 1960–2006. The analyses show that in agriculturally consolidated areas (mainly southern and southeastern Brazil), land-use intensification (both on cropland and pastures) coincided with either contraction of both cropland and pasture areas, or cropland expansion at the expense of pastures, both cases resulting in farmland stability or contraction. In contrast, in agricultural frontier areas (i.e., the deforestation zones in central and northern Brazil), land-use intensification coincided with expansion of agricultural lands. These observations provide support for the thesis that (i) technological improvements create incentives for expansion in agricultural frontier areas; and (ii) farmers are likely to reduce their managed acreage only if land becomes a scarce resource. The spatially explicit examination of land-use transitions since 1960 reveals an expansion and gradual movement of the agricultural frontier toward the interior (center-western Cerrado) of Brazil. It also indicates a possible initiation of a reversed trend in line with the forest transition theory, i.e., agricultural contraction and recurring forests in marginally suitable areas in southeastern Brazil, mainly within the Atlantic Forest biome. The significant reduction in deforestation that has taken place in recent years, despite rising food commodity prices, indicates that policies put in place to curb conversion of native vegetation to agriculture land might be effective. This can improve the prospects for protecting native vegetation by investing in agricultural intensification.

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