Sustainable agricultural systems have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Brazil

Researchers from the Center for Nuclear Energy in Agriculture and Esalq-USP recently developed a study focused on the topic

07.06.2024 | 15:47 (UTC -3)
Caio Albuquerque

Brazilian agriculture is continually moving towards more sustainable production. Since the emergence of the direct planting system, more than 50 years ago, until its evolution into integrated agricultural production systems, such as crop-livestock integration (ILP) and crop-livestock-forest (ILPF), the country has used solutions based on nature to increase crop productivity and mitigate environmental impacts. 

Currently, Brazil is a world reference in the use of sustainable management practices in agriculture, with more than 35 million hectares being cultivated under a direct planting system and more than 17 million hectares in integrated agricultural production systems, such as crop-crop integration. livestock (ILP) and crop-livestock-forest (ILPF). On the other hand, it is estimated that there are still approximately 110 million hectares of pastures that are not very productive and are in some stage of degradation.

Systems such as SPD, SIPAs and recovered pastures in Brazil are included in low-carbon agriculture projects (ABC+) and, internationally, are considered Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) practices. The CSA aims to transform and reorient agriculture to achieve greater economic, social and environmental sustainability and resilience, ensuring food security and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. In the coming decades, Brazilian agriculture faces the challenge of simultaneously increasing the production of food, fiber and energy, while reducing emissions of these gases, which currently correspond to around 25% of national emissions, with enteric methane (CH4) from the activity livestock being the main source.

This was the context that led researchers from the Center for Nuclear Energy in Agriculture (Cena) and the Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture (Esalq) at the University of São Paulo to develop a study, published in the renowned Journal of Cleaner Production. According to the teacher. Maurício Roberto Cherubin, professor in the Department of Soil Science at Esalq and deputy director of the Center for Carbon Studies in Tropical Agriculture (CCarbon), “in this work we seek to answer the following question: What is the potential for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions greenhouse (CO2, CH4 and N2O) with the adoption of CSA practices in Brazil?” To this end, the authors developed a systematic study of the scientific literature on measurements of these gases in the field, already peer-reviewed and published.

According to Wanderlei Bieluczyk, postdoctoral fellow at Cena/USP, and first author of the article, “converting areas of degraded pastures and conventional agriculture to CSA practices, especially for integrated production systems, has high potential to mitigate gas emissions . This includes reducing enteric CH4 emissions per product (such as per kilogram of meat produced) and acting as a CH4 sink for soil.”

Bieluczyk also highlights that “the amount of data on greenhouse gas emissions measured in the field is still low in Brazil, making extrapolations (with low uncertainty) difficult for all Brazilian biomes”. The study revealed that there are few researchers and institutions working in this area in important regions of the country, such as the north and northeast, highlighting the need for infrastructure support and resources to increase the number of studies in regions with low spatial representation.

The article also emphasized the search for methodological improvements and research opportunities, including the urgency of prioritizing frequent measurements of CO2, CH4 and N2O in multiple CSA systems over several years. According to the prof. Cherubin, “this will enable reliable carbon balance calculations and remove barriers arising from the lack of comprehensive results to implement certification programs, and include CSA systems in the carbon market and other green finance mechanisms.”

The authors conclude by reinforcing that the results of this study are important for refining the national inventory of greenhouse gases, as well as serving as scientific evidence on the potential of nature-based solutions and thus, to support new policies, projects and investments in Brazil.

The study is linked to the activities of two USP Study Centers, the Center for Carbon Studies in Tropical Agriculture (CCarbon) (Fapesp # 2021/10573-4) and the Research Center for Innovation in Greenhouse Gases (RCGI) ( Fapesp/Shell # 2020/15230-5). 

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