Climate change could affect the second corn harvest in Brazil

​Climate change represents a serious threat for Brazilian agribusiness to maintain current levels of productivity and leadership in the export of agricultural commodities

26.06.2020 | 20:59 (UTC -3)

Climate change represents a serious threat for Brazilian agribusiness to maintain current levels of productivity and leadership in exports of commodities agricultural. Extreme drought events in regions where agricultural production is concentrated in the country, caused by global warming, can affect, for example, the second corn harvest, known as “safrinha”, which occurs from January to April in the Center-South region of Brazil. country, after the summer harvest.

The conclusions come from a study led by researchers from the Center for Environmental Studies and Research (Nepam) at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) who are part of a project supported by FAPESP within the scope of a cooperation agreement with the Belmont Forum.

Some of the results of the work were presented during the online seminar “Impacts of climate change on Brazilian society – Science focused on solutions produced by the FAPESP-Belmont Forum cooperation”, held on June 16th by the Foundation in partnership with the consortium that brings together some of the main agencies funding research projects on environmental changes in the world.

“Among all the scenarios we ran to estimate the impacts that different biophysical and human processes could have on the country’s agricultural production, those related to climate change were the ones that produced the greatest effects,” he said. Matthew Batistella, researcher at Nepam-Unicamp and Embrapa Informática Agropecuária.

In collaboration with researchers from the United States, United Kingdom and China, Nepam researchers formed a research consortium, called “Telecoupling Consortium”, with the aim of studying how socioeconomic and environmental interactions between coupled natural and human systems, as is the case of production processes and flow of commodities agricultural, can affect food security and land use dynamics.

To this end, they developed models that represent international trade in commodities agriculture, especially soybeans and corn, between producing countries – such as Brazil and the United States – and importers, such as China, as well as scenarios to estimate the effects of socioeconomic and environmental processes on national and international scales.

In the case of Brazil, the focus was on 10 states in the Center-South region, responsible for the production of more than 80% of the soybeans and corn grown in the country, such as Mato Grosso.

Projections of changes in precipitation and temperature in the region, prepared based on the RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5 scenarios of the Intergovernmental Platform on Climate Change (IPCC), indicated an impact on the second corn harvest.

“Extreme drought events represent an important risk for maintaining a successful cycle in Brazilian agriculture. To reduce this vulnerability, research institutions, such as Embrapa, are dedicating themselves to developing corn varieties that are more tolerant to drought, for example,” said Batistella.

external dependency

In addition to environmental processes, researchers simulated the side effects of international trade on the flow of commodities agricultural. One of the situations analyzed was the decrease in the supply of fertilizers, especially potassium, to Brazil.

The country currently imports 85% of the potassium it uses from just four countries: Canada, Russia, Belarus and Germany. If there is a significant decrease in the export of this fertilizer, there could be an impact on Brazilian production of commodities agricultural, the researchers estimated.

“It is important for Brazil to seek alternative sources of potassium to reduce its external dependence on this input,” stated Batistella.

Soy exports are also highly concentrated in a single country, the researcher pointed out. Currently, 75% of Brazilian exports from this commodity agricultural products are destined for China, which transformed areas previously dedicated to soybean cultivation in regions such as Heilongjiang province, in the northeast of the country, into corn and irrigated rice crops.

This decision resulted in an increase in demand for nitrogen fertilizers in China and, consequently, an increase in environmental impacts caused by the use of these agrochemicals in the country, Batistella said.

“This illustrates the effects of telecoupling over long distances, what the production processes and flow of commodities agricultural,” said the researcher.

Focus on solutions

During the online event, other research initiatives on climate change aimed at science-based solutions for society, carried out within the scope of the FAPESP-Belmont Forum cooperation, were also discussed.

Through the agreement, FAPESP launched 13 calls in partnership with similar agencies from other countries and supported 31 projects, some of them led by researchers linked to universities and research institutions in the State of São Paulo, he said Reynaldo Victoria, retired researcher from the Center for Nuclear Energy in Agriculture at the University of São Paulo (Cena-USP).

“For every one euro allocated by FAPESP to Belmont Forum projects, other agencies contributed another 35. By the end of 2019, resources totaled more than 90 million euros,” said Victória, member of the coordination of the FAPESP Research Program on Climate Change Globals and one of the Foundation's representatives at the Belmont Forum.

In common, the projects supported by the consortium are interdisciplinary and transnational and have the participation of scientists from different areas in collaboration with representatives of civil society and public policy makers to jointly develop and implement solutions, highlighted Erica Key, executive director of the Belmont Forum .

“In the last 10 years, we have had 18 global calls and FAPESP participated in most of them, financing highly relevant projects. We hope to continue collaborating with FAPESP to continue building a multidisciplinary research community in order to transform policies into actions in strategic areas, such as food and water security, biodiversity, coastal, climate and health vulnerability,” he said.

The meeting participants highlighted that, in addition to the COVID-19 epidemic, the world is currently facing the crises of climate change and biodiversity loss and that the three crises require interdisciplinary solutions focused on public policies.

“Today, all attention is focused on COVID-19 and its impacts, as it should be. But, when we look back, it will have been a one-off event in history. On the other hand, if we look at the issue of climate change from the same perspective, it will not only continue to be present but, unfortunately, it will have become more accentuated and will cause much greater impacts, including because it would be magnified over a much longer period of time”, said Luiz Eugênio Mello, scientific director of FAPESP.

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