The Brazil connection: agriculture, biofuels and land use

Today, four IATP staff will lead a small delegation of U.S. environmentalists, academics and corn/biofuel producers down to Brazil (we'll be reporting here on the trip throughout the next week). We're traveling to Brazil to learn more about something called "indirect land-use change" (ILUC)—a concept that has important implications for farmers, food security, the climate and, of course, land in both Brazil and the United States.

Indirect land-use change, very broadly, is the idea that what we grow on agricultural land in the U.S. affects agricultural production in other parts of the world. For example, more corn grown in the U.S. to meet biofuel markets has come at the expense of soybean production, signaling soybean producers in other parts of the world to expand production, often damaging the environment, so goes ILUC thinking. Disagreements over whether ILUC actually takes place, and if so, how much is occuring, have been part of heated debates over California's low-carbon fuel standards, national renewable fuel standards, the EU's biofuel mandates and at global climate talks. Disputes over ILUC have frequently pitted environmentalists against farmers.

ILUC discussions also often include Brazil. Like the U.S., Brazil has a booming biofuel sector. Like the U.S., it is a major player on international agricultural markets, particularly for soybeans and sugar. While the U.S. has long transformed most of its native landscape into farmland and cities, Brazil is still home to some of the most unique, biodiverse ecosystems in the world, including the Amazon and the Pantanal. And the biggest threat to these environmental treasures is expanded agricultural production.

Our trip brings together people with different perspectives on ILUC in the U.S. to get a better sense of what is happening on the ground in Brazil. We hope to learn more about Brazil's agriculture sector. What are the pressures driving increased production? What role is government policy (U.S. or Brazilian) playing? How are these pressures affecting the environment and water systems? How are they affecting farmers, farmworkers and Indigenous communities?

Answers to these questions are becoming ever more urgent. With rising agricultural commodity prices worldwide, pressure to further expand agricultural production is not likely to ease any time soon. We'll be reporting on meetings throughout this trip and including the perspectives and blog posts from participants. Stay tuned...