Reforesting the Amazon

Why Agricultural Intensification Is Key to Restoring the World's Tropical Forests

Conservation International recently launched the world’s biggest tropical reforestation project in the Amazon. The scale of it is huge: 73 million trees covering 70,000 hectares of degraded land. Only China and Africa’s Great Green Wall projects are more ambitious.

The scheme is clearly good news. But even as we celebrate restorative efforts like this one, we need to remain focused on the root causes of deforestation. Protecting primary forests requires concrete steps to address the greatest threat of all: agriculture.

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The Pasture Problem

Can Smart Development and Intensification Slow the Expansion of Pasture?

Recent decades have seen remarkable developments across the pastures of the world. Even as production of meat and dairy from ruminants (grazing animals such as cattle and sheep) increased by almost a third, the footprint of pasture has begun to decline. And this change is significant, shrinking by nearly 64 million hectares, an area larger than France, between 2000 and 2013. The gains have been considerable for conservation. To the benefit of endangered species from the Asiatic cheetah in Iran to the saiga antelope in Kazakhstan, pastureland is going out of production and returning to nature.

While promising, these developments will not be enough to assure that rising demand for meat does not put new pressure on critical habitats. Global demand for ruminant meat and dairy is expected to rise by 44% between now and 2050. Even as pasture has shrunk in the global aggregate, it continues to expand in many parts of the world, particularly in emerging economies and the tropics, where some of the most intact and threatened areas of natural habitat remain.

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Reducing the Environmental Impact of Global Diets

New Paper Points to Intensification of Meat Production

According to a new peer-reviewed paper in Science of the Total Environment—co-authored by Breakthrough’s Marian Swain, James McNamara, and Linus Blomqvist, along with ecologist William Ripple at Oregon State—demand-side efforts to reduce meat consumption will not be nearly enough to confront the environmental impacts of livestock over the next century, especially as meat demand in the developing world continues to grow. Improving the environmental efficiency of livestock production systems through intensification, on the other hand, while little discussed, holds significant potential to mitigate the impact of the sector both in terms of emissions and land use. Intensive beef production in particular, in which cattle finish their lives on grain-based feeds in highly controlled environments, dramatically reduces time to slaughter, and thus methane emissions, as compared with extensive, pasture-only systems.

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