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What's the beef with Brazil's destructive cattle ranches?

November 19, 2019

With rising deforestation rates in the Amazon and 80% of logging linked to cattle ranching, some in Brazil are trying to boost sustainable livestock farming practices.

Two men on horses and cattle in the background
Image: DW/V. Fischer

Brazil's appetite for beef eats into rainforest

Project goal: Practising sustainable farming on cattle ranches with degraded soil in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso by observing environmental laws, cutting methane emissions and increasing farm efficiency

Project implementation: Degraded soil will be restored through repeated plowing and by adding nutrients and planting high-yield grasses. Riverbanks and water sources will also be restored and cattle will no longer drink river water

Project partner: Organizatios for sustainable cattle ranching, Pecsa and the Programa Novo Campo — the New Field Program. Local NGO Instituto Centro de Vida (ICV) is leading the project

Project financing: The project is supported by the Althelia Climate Fund, which invests in sustainable land use initiatives.

Brazil has repeatedly made the headlines in recent months over ongoing deforestation in the Amazon. Some 80% of logging there is to make space for cattle ranching. The country is home to more than 214 million cows and is already the world's largest beef producer. Global demand for the meat is on the rise.

Around 30 years ago, land in the west-central state of Mato Grosso was "opened up," as local farmers say, to ranching. Now the largest cattle herds in the country graze there.

For a long time, the soil was able to support the animals, but it has now become totally depleted and can no longer provide for them. That means there's a danger of the ranches moving north, deeper into the Amazon rainforest.

Some NGOs are trying to prevent this by transforming the way the ranches are run; to make them more sustainable and able to hold more cattle on a smaller area. It's an efficient system but requires substantial investment.

A film by Vanessa Fischer