With the help of intense research, new farming techniques and new GM-plants, agriculture in Brazil went through a revolution the last 40 years. Between the years 1996-2006, agricultural production in Brazil rose by 365 % while its beef exports increased tenfold, and this development happened in an area that was previously considered utterly unfit for farming.
The so-called ”Miracle of the Cerrado” has received some media attention in the past few years. Especially since the Global food crisis in 07-08 which saw a rapid increase in food prices and consequent economic instability. Many countries responded by restricting exports on major crops then, and the same is happening again now.
In the middle of all this panic the Brazilian example has been presented as an example to be followed in other tropical areas, such as in Sub-Saharan Africa. Articles about it have also in many cases as far as I can see been designed to be comforting, as a typical counter-reaction to hysteria. Well, it is apparent that unjustified hysteria has occurred before. In the late 1960s Paul Ehrlich, a fan of Malthus, predicted that the world would see hundreds of millions of people starve to death in the 70s and 80s which, in the way Ehrlich predicted at least, didn’t happen.
But whether worrying about a potential food crisis is justifiable or not, these articles seem to have a major design-fault. By only promoting the positive sides of the “miracle”, some important aspects have been left out of the discussion. The impression through the media is that non-arable wasteland is being transformed. Surprisingly, the huge area of the Cerrado is, in fact, the most biodiverse savannah in the world and contains as much as 5 % of the world’s flora and fauna. And there’s more. While the world is, appropriately, worrying about the Amazon rain forest it is largely oblivious to the fact that Cerrado actually binds far more carbon. As these areas are being made into farmlands, the amount of carbon being released from these areas is more rapid than from the rain forest. While deforestation in the Amazon has been drastically reduced the last few years not many care about the Cerrado, and Brazil is not equipped with the legislation to protect the area.
The Economist quotes Norman Borlaug, called the father of the Green Revolution, as saying that the best way to save the world’s imperilled ecosystems would be to grow so much food elsewhere that nobody would need to touch the natural wonders. However, I would like to hear a more diversified opinion. Does this statement contain an assumption on what “natural wonders” are, and should “elsewhere” really be sacrificed so uncritically?