From: Luciana Lopez, Reuters
Published April 8, 2010 07:30 AM

Brazil farmers shown how to profit by conserving

Talk of ecological diversity or saving rare species does not fly very far in Mato Grosso.

The state is Brazil's top soy producer, churning out an annual harvest of about 18 million tones. Fields of emerald green line the highways, stretching out to horizons so flat they look drawn with a ruler.


The crops have helped fuel Brazil's economic boom of recent years but they come at a price -- the clearing of more than 130,000 square km (50,000 square miles) of Amazon rain forest in the state from 1988 through 2008, to the widespread condemnation of environmental groups.

Years of acrimony have built up. When a visitor mentions environmentalists, the faces of Mato Grosso farmers often cloud with hostility.

So, with "save the world" emotional appeals not working, environmentalists are turning to economic arguments, stressing how preserving the world's largest forest can mean bigger profits for farmers.

"We have to define what's in it for the farmer," said John Buchanan, senior director for agricultural markets at the Conservation International group. "The private sector is too important a stakeholder not to have on board."

His group has worked with Brazilian farmers since 2001, helping them comply with confusing environment laws, negotiate government bureaucracy and identify environmentally important land, such as parcels housing rare species.

"We started very small, very simple," Buchanan said, adding that about 132,000 hectares (326,000 acres) of preserves in several states have been or are being legalized.

"Some in the environmental community have unrealistic expectations of what farmers can do," he said. "We know we need to preserve important places. We also need to be producing the food, fiber and fuel that we need for a growing world."

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