When discussing the environment, the most frequent topics that emerge are combating deforestation and restoring forests. But there is a usually overlooked aspect which happened to be very vivid, this year, at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP 27): Agriculture. This was the first edition that featured an official UN food and agriculture pavilion at the event, especially concerned with the concept of regenerative agriculture, which defends a way of producing whilst recovering the land and the environment. The format is seen as a way to continue preserving the environment while putting food on the population's table and the good news is that it has already been applied in the Brazilian Amazon, although it needs to be expanded.
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In regenerative agriculture, soil health care is a priority, as much as the promotion of biodiversity and the quality of the food produced. “Although it is a new term, it is a practice that has been adopted for a long time in Brazil, and it shows that it is possible to produce and recover the soil, conserve pollinating species, and also increase carbon sequestration and water retention”, points out Celso Manzatto, a researcher at the Environment research unit of Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa). Because it is a broad concept, there are several front lines that can be considered part of regenerative agriculture. “The outfit is new, but we've been doing this type of agriculture since 1960. Of course, as time goes by, we improve and expand this model”, explains Manzatto.
“We have several technologies already being implemented in the scope of regenerative agriculture, such as the recovery of pastures, use of biological products (instead of chemical substances), organic matter, treatment of animal waste and sustainable irrigation. All these procedures are forms of resilience in the face of climate change”, he adds. The researcher from Embrapa points out that access to these technologies, however, has not yet reached everyone. And, due to the logistical challenges in the Amazon, to reach the region, the modernization costs are usually higher. “Technologies are available, now we need to expand the production of such tools, in particular, aiming to enable their use by small and medium-sized producers in the Amazon, who have less access to information and technical assistance. From a financial point of view, for example, recovering a degraded pasture is still not trivial”, emphasizes Manzatto. But the researcher remains optimistic: “In the near future, we will improve a lot, develop new biological inputs, a vigorous effort to produce bioinputs, such as biofertilizers. We are in a transition moment”.
Coffee producers' income increased by 300% in Amazonas
Some initiatives have been encouraging the production mode which involves rural producers and traditional communities. The environmental non-governmental organization Idesam is currently working with a group of local farmers from Apuí, one of the most deforested municipalities in the state of Amazonas, in order to change local reality. There, coffee is traditionally cultivated in monocultures, leading to soil degradation and reduced productivity. As a way out, producers invested in livestock, which only turned the local deforestation situation even worse. Now, with the support of Idesam, in partnership with other Brazilian and foreign institutions, these families have received training and subsidies to plant coffee along with other native species, such as ipê, andiroba and jatobá.
This is a type of regenerative agriculture, more specifically Regenerative Agroforestry, which has resulted in greater productivity, as the different trees provide each other with greater shading, temperature and humidity regulation – that is, biodiversity makes all of them stronger. Currently, the project assists 57 families and has already planted 92 hectares of agroforestry systems oriented to coffee production. In 2023, an increase of 162 planted hectares and about 80 families benefited is expected. Today, coffee production represents an increase of 300% in the annual income of the farmers assisted by the project.
Agroforestry practice in the region is rooted in ancestral knowledge
Regenerative agroforestry constitutes a type of agroforestry system, an aspect of regenerative agriculture. Professor at the Federal Rural University of the Amazon (UFRA) Breno Rayol, PhD in Biodiversity, explains that it is evidenced when trees, shrubs and palm trees with agricultural and/or animal species are produced in the same area. “It is not a new practice. The original peoples already used and brought with them the operating principles of natural forest ecosystems, it is based on the knowledge of ancestral populations and are currently recognized in the light of agroecology”, he clarifies.
In addition to bringing benefits for the environment, these systems bring socio-environmental improvements, sovereignty and food security. “In the Amazon, there are countless successful experiences with these systems and one of the best known is in Tomé-Açu, in Pará”, adds the professor. In this municipality, the combination of Asian Culture (from a large community of Japanese people) with the experiences of riverside people, local family farmers began to produce in the same space a great diversity of fruit samples associated with forest species for multiple uses. Again, with biodiversity, all species have been benefited.
We cannot forget to mention the agroforestry backyards, another type of agroforestry system that is very common in the Amazon, Brazil and the tropics”, warns the professor. Basically, it is characterized by small farmers keeping their livestock literally in the backyard of their homes, raising domestic animals such as chickens and pigs in the midst of the cultivation of various plants. “The agroforestry backyards contribute to the important supplementation of food and other resources for the family's own consumption”, he points out. In addition to providing a diversified diet, this family still has medicinal and ornamental plants, among other products, available throughout the year.
Plano ABC guidelines focus on the entire country
Within the federal scope, the “Sector Plan for Mitigation and Adaptation to Climate Change for the Consolidation of an Economy with Low Carbon Emissions in Agriculture", known simply as Plano ABC, performs the role of disseminating this model of agriculture. Implemented by the federal government in 2010, and considered at the time as an unprecedented methodology, the plan was created with the aim of providing guidelines and support so that rural producers across the country could modernize their model of agriculture, focusing on sustainability. Thus, the plan relies on the Programa ABC, a credit line for low-carbon agriculture in the country, offering lower rates of interest to producers who have pasture lands and forest recovery projects or who apply production technologies that contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
The Plan has achieved higher proportions over the years. Since 2016, Embrapa has instituted the ABC Platform, technically managed by Celso Manzatto, who monitors the reduction of emissions in the Plano ABC, checking out if rural producers are actually managing to make this transition. This monitoring aims, then, to render account to Brazilian society and to verify whether Brazil is fulfilling its international commitments, such as its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), which are the goals signed in the Paris Agreement, for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The first phase of the plan ended in 2020. In that decade, Brazil managed to mitigate 170 million tons of CO2 in an area of 52 million hectares, surpassing the initially established target by 46.5%. In 2021, the Federal Government launched the so-called Plano ABC+, now aiming at expanding ABC practices to at least another 72.68 million hectares and, thus, mitigating around 1.1 billion tons of carbon by 2030. New activities were also incorporated, such as the use of bio raw materials and expansion of irrigated areas.
Regenerative agriculture also involves human rights
Regenerative agriculture is also in convergence with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, particularly the 2nd one, Zero Hunger and Sustainable Agriculture. As such, for the first time, the right of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was recognized to have its own space at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, held from November 6 to 18 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.
The main message promoted by the stand was the importance of ensuring food for all people on the planet. “An estimated 193 million people faced crises or worse levels of sharp food insecurity, in 53 countries or territories, in 2021, undermining decades of progress”, published on the FAO Global Report on Food Crises 2022.
In this scenario, the Official Food and Agriculture Pavilion placed the transformation of agri-food systems at the center of the COP agenda for the first time as an important part of the solution to the climate crisis. During the two weeks, community leaders met with government, philanthropic, youth and academic partners. The aim was to move forward on a shared understanding of the most urgent food and agriculture issues faced by people and the planet, as well as to share knowledge and innovative solutions. The pavilion was 250-m2 large and provided a sequence of lectures open to the public, while bilateral meetings were held in an office on the stand, focusing on innovative solutions to help countries effectively act concerning climate in order to protect agrifood systems. Visitors could also experience the benefits of regenerative agriculture first-hand, drinking organic low-carbon tea and coffee for free.
Project focus on low-carbon agriculture production
During COP 27, the Sustainable Rural Program (PRS) for the Amazon was launched in the Legal Amazon Consortium pavilion. The goal is to enhance low-carbon agriculture production in the states of Pará and Rondônia.
Due to PRS, a budget of US$ 9.7 (R$ 50 million Reais) sponsored by the United Kingdom government will allow rural producers from 44 municipalities in the two Amazonian states to receive training and technical assistance to produce sustainably. As part of the program, investments also have target to certificate a brand of Amazon sustainable products and their commercialization, based on the strengthening of socio-productive organizations, in the next five years.
According to the Secretary of Innovation, Sustainable Development and Irrigation of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (Mapa), Cleber Soares, the project is the operationalization of the Plano ABC + in the Amazon biome. “PRS-Amazônia is a project that aims to bring sustainable rural development to the Amazon region, promoting production chains that are increasingly more sustainable and, consequently, uncarbonizing ones. Besides, in a way, it also contributes to reducing the pressure for deforestation in the Amazon region, such an important biome for the whole world, not just for Brazil”, he stated.
The Secretary for the Environment and Sustainability of Pará, Mauro O'de Almeida, also informed that the investment will increase the actions already carried out by the State, through Plano Estadual Amazônia Agora (PEAA), which encourages low-gas emission agriculture. “There are several Amazons. In Pará state area, there are many different Amazons and Amazonian biomes. But there is a special Amazon, which is the consolidated one, which, in a historical process of occupation of the State of Pará, has been undergoing development in this area of agriculture, livestock, forest management, etc. In particular, what we are seeing here, this initiative that returns from the BID (Inter-American Development Bank), by means of the Ministry of Agriculture, this low-carbon agriculture has to be in synergy with the projects and programs that are already being carried out in the state,” he said.