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Brazil: 360 Degrees

The Nature Conservancy 5/14/2012

Standing in a harvested cornfield on the edge of the Amazon rainforest, the world’s rising demand for food production appears as clear as brown and green.

“It’s a striking reminder that major commodity crops like corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton present dynamic challenges,” said Sean McMahon, director of the Conservancy’s North America agriculture program. “Fortunately, an abundance of natural areas in Brazil are permanently conserved on private lands. The result is a matrix of intensive agriculture amidst protected rainforest, cerrado [tropical savanna] and river corridors in highly functioning landscapes. A great example of working lands and lands that work.”   
Joined by GRP Director Michael Reuter and Global Agriculture Program Director David Cleary, McMahon met with a group of U.S. and Brazilian agriculture leaders this past October near the city of Santarém. The group was comprised of local farmers, Conservancy staff in Brazil and members of the Field to Market (FTM) alliance, a coalition of corporations and nonprofits working to improve productivity and environmental quality in the agriculture supply chain.
“Our goal as part of the FTM alliance was to meet with local producers and farmers to exchange ideas and best practices. Ultimately, we wanted to determine if we might help them implement an index like the fieldprint calculator being piloted in the U.S.,” said McMahon.
Developed by FTM, the calculator helps growers measure productivity and profitability of their individual farm operations and use that output to calculate their environmental footprint. It also offers a way to explore “scenarios” of decision making that ultimately drive sustainable crop production.
The GRP’s interest in Brazil, while heavily rooted in engaging the agriculture industry, also lies in the country’s importance as a global water resource.  
“We can learn much from South American rivers like the Tapajós and Amazon, and will facilitate that by engaging their leaders in this global network as part of phase two of the GRP,” said Reuter. “Our challenge is to bring all sectors to the table. So in addition to agriculture it will be critical to engage decision makers from the growing hydropower sector, and work with them so that dams might be constructed in a way to mitigate environmental impacts. Brazil is a water leader and because of the deep commitment its government and people have to a sustainable lifestyle we feel it can offer an excellent global case study.”
The scoping trip also provided an opportunity for the Conservancy’s Brazilian program staff to update agriculture leaders on current projects and discuss future efforts to cultivate more sustainable systems across the globe.

Image: A harvested cornfield near the city of Santarém in Brazil. © Sean McMahon