Thanks to impressive gains won by years of effort by government, NGOs, and the beef industry itself, the rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has dropped considerably, falling nearly 80%. Yet sharp increases in demand from non-Western countries—highlighted by Russia’s recent embargo of Western beef—have increased demand for Brazilian beef by over 10%. This threatens to slow or even reverse hard-won progress by expanding markets that do not require deforestation-free operations.
Economic realities are an added threat for ranchers, who report that deforestation-free operations can double their production costs. Implementing a pasture management system on 145 hectares costs R$412,000 (US$167,000), nearly double the R$217,500 cost to clear forest for beef production. Faced with falling profits, ranchers have two options: revert to deforestation, or dedicate some of their land to producing other commodities. Several Pará ranchers interviewed for the study plan to grow oil palm, taking advantage of at least three public incentive programs. Brazilian oil palm production is expected to more than double by 2020.