Agriculture in Brazil is booming, with beef exports alone generating almost $6bn a year, and soy production set to surpass that of the US and become the largest in the world. But these economic successes are eating away at the Amazon rainforest, as vast swathes of trees are cleared for farmland.
This is especially true in Mato Grosso, the state at the heart of the forest’s southeastern ‘arc of deforestation’. Here 136,000 square kilometres of forest have been cleared in the past 25 years – more than anywhere else in Brazil.
After moving to Mato Grosso in 1996 and witnessing what he likens to an “environmental holocaust” wrought by bulldozers, chainsaws and fire, Texan rancher John Carter came to believe there was only one way to slow the destruction: working with landowners.
Operating in lawless frontier territory, his organisation Alianca da Terra (AT) has now recruited over 500 ranchers and farmers who have signed up to curb their impact on the forest. Keen to supply the growing market in sustainably sourced produce, the members – who own a combined total of 30,000 square kilometres of land, which is an area the size of Belgium – invested nearly $10m in environmental and social improvements between 2009 and 2012, and are conserving half of their land as forest.
When a new member joins up, AT’s environmental analysts audit the farmer’s property and agree on an action plan, which includes re-planting or preserving all riverside forests, building fire guards, reducing soil erosion and pledging not to cut down trees illegally. Anyone who fails to make the required changes is booted out.
To help them comply, AT offers members everything from fire fighting training to business help so they can make a living without clearing any more trees. Next year they plan to start putting their logo on beef products that will only be supplied by AT members and which will hopefully fetch a premium – rewarding responsible farmers for conservation.
AT’s dedicated fire crew also put out fires in reservations and national park, and have trained over 100 indigenous people, including members of the Kamayura and Xavante tribes, to combat fire. Thanks to the training and assistance of the fire brigade, landowners are nearly 40 percent less likely to suffer fire on their land after joining up.