Can agricultural production and environmental conservation be combined? Experience in Brazil’s Cerrado shows that it can

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Santa Eliza de Goiás farm in Brazil is an example of the synergy between farming and sustainability Brazilian farmer Álvaro Dantas. Photo: Senar/Handout.


As we got nearer to the Santa Eliza de Goiás farm in Pirenópolis, 150 kilometers from Brasilia, we could see a hill covered with green, robust vegetation in the distance. This vista was, however, very different from the type of land being used for agriculture in the Brazilian Cerrado, where 80% of pastures are either already degraded or are under threat. The farm is owned by cattle rancher Álvaro Dantas Maia, one of the beneficiaries of the ABC Cerrado project, a joint initiative by the World Bank and the National Rural Apprenticeship Service (SENAR). In only two years, Álvaro succeeded in boosting production while restoring and conserving the environment by using low carbon farming practices and technologies on his property. As an example of the synergy that can be achieved between farming and sustainability, Santa Eliza de Goiás today is the envy of neighboring ranchers.

During our visit, we saw the places where Álvaro had used soil correction techniques, and the crop-livestock-forest (CLF) system, that were proving invaluable for maintaining the fertility of his land. SENAR was responsible for providing all the support and assistance to Álvaro, who commented with pride "I'm a curious sort of guy and I like to put into practice everything I learn. The knowledge that I got from the project is a seed that, once planted, keeps on growing".

Álvaro has many reasons to feel this way. He has been able to recover 70% of his grazing land, increase the stocking rate by 25% (number of animals per occupied area), and retain the microbasins on his farm to the extent that he has become known as a “water producer”. The ABC Cerrado Project clearly demonstrated to our group of 40 environmental, biodiversity and forest experts that it is indeed possible to strengthen good conservation, restoration and low carbon agricultural practices in the Brazilian Cerrado. The lessons learned will be valuable inputs for the newly-launched Rural Landscapes project.

Brazilian farmer Alvaro Dantas uses low carbon practices and technologies in his property
Brazilian farmer Álvaro Dantas. Photo: Senar/Handout.

Under the Forest Investment Program (FIP), the new project will promote sustainable land use and foster better forest management in the Cerrado. The goal is to adopt conservation practices, environmental restoration and low CO2 emission agricultural technologies in 53 selected hydrographic basins. Ten of these basins are a priority target. By simultaneously strengthening agricultural production and environmental conservation, it is expected that the Rural Landscapes project will improve peoples’ quality of life in rural areas.

The approach chosen for the project is that of integrated landscape management, with the agricultural domain serving as the core of a process under which key areas such as rural development, family farming, water resources and risk management will be tackled. The overall aim is to maximize the positive impacts of the actions to be carried out. The World Bank supports this kind of initiative in several countries in a bid to combat extreme poverty and share prosperity in a sustainable way.

The Cerrado biome was selected due to its environmental and strategic value. As one of the world’s most biodiverse savannas, the Cerrado also has very substantial carbon stocks and is home to the sources of the three largest hydrographic basins in South America: the Amazon / Tocantins, São Francisco and Prata basins.

As one of the world's most biodiverse savannas, the Cerrado has very substantial carbon stocks
Location of the Cerrado within South America - Source: INPE.

Agriculture occupies just over 10% of the total area of ​​200 million hectares covered by the Cerrado biome. Given that 50 million head of cattle are raised there, amounting to 33% of the national herd, promoting sustainable agriculture and livestock farming techniques will be pivotal. The Rural Landscapes project will be implemented against this background, drawing on three action fronts: technical assistance, low carbon emissions and integration.

Brazilian Cerrado deforestation data, 2001 to 2018
Cerrado deforestation data, 2001-2018. Source: INPE.


The project will provide technical assistance to 4,000 rural properties in the region through SENAR. Technical staff from SENAR will teach farmers about potential improvements that can be made in land use systems and natural resource management, with a view to fostering jobs and income opportunities for landowners and other stakeholders in the value chains generated by agricultural activities.


According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), agricultural production accounts for 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Whereas livestock remains the main emitter of GHGs, it should be possible nevertheless to reduce emissions by an estimated 20% to 30% by using improved and easily implementable livestock rearing techniques.

In Brazil’s case, the reduced environmental impacts are primarily due to the ABC Plan and similar policies, as well as the application of the Brazilian Forest Code. As the world's largest low carbon agriculture program, the ABC supports actions to expand the use of sustainable agricultural technologies that have a high potential for mitigating GHGs. The actions include no-till agriculture, restoration of degraded pastures, commercial forest planting, biological nitrogen fixation, treatment of animal wastes, and implementation of the crop-livestock-forest approach.

The Brazilian Forest Code calls for landowners to designate and maintain a minimum percentage of native vegetation on their private land (the Legal Reserve), and to retain and nurture Permanent Preservation Areas (APP). Landowners are also responsible for maintaining riparian forests along streams, on steep slopes and in hilly areas. Land registered in the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR) makes it possible to calculate the total area of ​​farms and the percentage of the areas earmarked for the different uses as laid down in the Forest Code. One of the objectives of the Rural Landscapes project is to ensure that the rural properties benefiting from the project strictly comply with environmental legislation.


Good practices and lessons learned from the Forest Investment Program (PIF) projects, such as the ABC Cerrado and CAR, served as a basis for designing the Rural Landscapes project. These practices improved the implementation of the CAR, the restoration and protection of critical habitats located on private land, and boosted sustainable agricultural management, which included the restoration of degraded pastures, land use planning and, importantly, the introduction of an integrated crop-livestock-forest system.

As part of this alliance to conserve the Brazilian Cerrado, the Rural Landscapes project helps to bring together, and strengthen, local and national institutions in an innovative way. In my experience as Project Coordinator under the PIF, I can honestly say that this synergy not only highlights, but also plays a crucial role in, efforts to ensure that sustainable practices are duly adopted. Meanwhile, at the national level, the intersectoral collaboration between the Brazilian Forestry Service, the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply, the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation and SENAR continues apace.

We are confident that this ongoing integrated, collaborative approach of all the relevant stakeholders will produce the kind of positive outcomes such as those we saw at Santa Eliza de Goiás, where livestock production has been transformed to coexist with, and respect, the environment, in a win-win cycle for producers and the Cerrado.


Bernadete Lange

Senior Environmental Specialist

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