Brazil is currently the world’s second largest producer of beef, exporting more than 25% of beef traded globally. A large portion of beef cattle farming takes place at the interface between the Amazon Rainforest, which is located in western Brazil, and the Cerrado, a vast, tropical savanna in the eastern parts of the country. The state of Mato Grosso, which accounts for 13.6% of Brazil’s cattle herd, is one such region in this rainforest-savanna transition zone. Beef cattle farming in Mato Grosso dates back at least to the 1720s, and has expanded significantly in the past four decades. This growth is driven mainly by an increase in domestic consumption, and in recent years, by exports to Asian countries such as China. Although the beef sector is a vital part of Mato Grosso’s economy, its rapid expansion has resulted in many environmental concerns.
In aims to increase overall productivity, the beef industry has also resorted to cutting down portions of the Amazon Rainforest to make room for new pastures. This, in turn, has resulted in a significant amount of deforestation, which threatens many key ecosystem services and dependent economies. Furthermore, the beef industry produces large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions in all stages of the supply chain. These emissions are further compounded by deforestation, which reduces the ability of the Amazon to sequester carbon. Finally, the integration of Mato Grosso’s beef sector into the global economy has led to increasing demand for exports, which exacerbates many of the aforementioned problems.
The Novo Campo Program, a pilot program involving six cattle farming properties created in 2012 by the NGO Instituto Centro de Vida (ICV), attempts to address some of the problems experienced in conventional beef cattle farming in Mato Grosso. In this case study, we aim to explore the social ecological failures that existed in Mato Grosso prior to the creation of the Novo Campo Program, in addition to the continued failures of conventional beef operations in the state. Our methodological approach is to analyze this case study as a social ecological system (SES) according to the IPES analytical framework “The Four Dimensions of Change”. The application of this framework will address the transformation and entrenchment within agroecological transitions via the analysis of production practices, knowledge generation and transmission, social and economic relations, and institutional structures (Figure 1). From this investigation, we will discuss how the Novo Campo program has transformed some aspects of beef cattle farming on the six treatment properties invited by the ICV.
Brazil has the highest rate of illegal deforestation in tropical forests in the world. Between August 2021 and July 2022, the Amazon has lost 11568 km² of its forests. Deforestation is a major source of carbon emissions and biodiversity loss. More than 46% of Brazilian CO2 emissions are due to land use change, including deforestation. Mato Grosso contributes to more than one third of the Brazilian Tropical Forest deforestation, and has grown at an expansive rate (Figure 2).
The 33 years of land use and land use change data series processed by Mapbiomas revealed that Brazil lost 71 Mha of natural vegetation, predominantly due to cattle ranching and agriculture activities. Among countries with a population exceeding 50 million people, Brazil is the second largest meat consumer per capita. Even though 36% of the cattle slaughtered in Brazil comes from the Amazon, most internal meat consumption does not occur in the Amazon since it houses only 10% of the Brazilian population. This means that meat is exported to other regions of Brazil. This is an example where the environmental impact of cattle production is burdening the Amazon due to the physical separation of production and consumption activities, creating vulnerability in Brazil’s food system.
Deforestation occurs in livestock production primarily due to Mato Grosso’s low productivity per unit of land. Specifically, the soil of Mato Grosso is naturally poor in nutrients and not ideal for highly productive agriculture. Nutrients that entered the soil are quickly leached away by the abundant rainfall in the region. The result is that Mato Grosso, as well as the Amazon and its surrounding areas, are dominated by low-fertility laterite soils lacking in carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus, which in turn supports low productivity grasslands not suitable for sustained livestock grazing.
Despite these poor conditions, cattle farmers in Mato Grosso generally do not resort to intensification, such as fertilizer use, to increase productivity. Grazing optimization techniques, such as rotational grazing and uniform distribution of cattle across pasture lands, are also seldom employed. Because of this, cattle farming is highly extensive (i.e., requires a lot of land), and it is necessary for cattle farmers to move on to new pastures once nutrients have been depleted. Demand for new pastures became particularly salient in the 1970s, when the beef industry of Mato Grosso began to significantly expand farming operations to meet growing demand. This led to the large-scale clearing of forests to make room for new cattle farms, which has become one of the main drivers of deforestation in the region.
Deforestation also results from the construction of other infrastructure, such as the roads in Mato Grosso, which are needed to create a more efficient supply chain. These infrastructure projects, as well as cattle farming itself, are also a part of a narrative of colonization in Brazil, where the exploration and development of new frontiers is encouraged. These practices are often framed as a way to grow the national economy and alleviate urban overcrowding. In particular, this narrative was heavily promoted under Brazilian military administrations lasting from 1964 to 1985 which coincided with the expansion of the cattle farming industry. However, while these developments have helped Mato Grosso grow its economy, they have also led to loss and fragmentation of the Amazon Rainforest. Deforestation also has negative spillover effects, namely that it reduces the ability of the Amazon Rainforest to sequester carbon. This is a major problem because the beef industry itself is a major source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, such as methane and carbon dioxide. Greenhouse gasses are produced in every aspect of the beef supply chain, from raising cattle, to slaughtering and processing, and to transportation.
To combat these worrying trends, the Brazilian government has resorted to several measures: zero deforestation cattle agreements (CAs) regulate and monitor the cattle supply chain for deforestation; protected areas (PAs), which include conservation areas and Indigenous lands, restrict land use change; the Action Plan for Prevention and Control of Deforestation (PPCDAm) targets illegal deforestation. However, due to poor enforcement and limited accountability, many of these policies have been ineffective at curbing deforestation. For example, CAs require signatory slaughterhouses to buy beef only from suppliers who do not engage in deforestation. However, this does not account for middle men that do practice deforestation, resulting in leakage at various points in the supply chain.
In 2002, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), a state-owned research institution, started the first draft of Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs), a certification system that includes various measures of sustainability. The GAP were adapted from the methodology of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), originally designed for the food industry. Many research projects followed, providing scientific basis for the official launch of the GAPs for Beef Cattle Program in 2005. Since then, other improvements have been created not only to update GAPs based on advances in scientific knowledge but also through suggestions received from several other institutions, rural producers, and technicians. To a large extent, the implementation of the Novo Campo Program, which took place in the Alta Floresta municipality of Mato Grosso (Figure 3), was an attempt at applying GAPs to cattle farming. In order to achieve this goal, the functioning of the Novo Campo Program was based on six components as detailed in Table 1:
|1. Organization of producers of sustainable livestock||The association or cooperative partnering with the Program manages relationships with participating producers, conducts commercial negotiations with buyers and plans deliveries to the slaughterhouse. Additionally, the association or cooperative arranges procurement of supplies shared services, and organizes capacity building courses for the farms’ workforce in association with official institutions.|
|2. Technical Assistance Nucleus (NATI)||The NATI is a group of independent technical assistance professionals and companies credentialed by the Program. Contracted directly by the producers, the members of the NATI carry out the initial diagnosis and develop the GAP project for each new participating farm, and then conduct the implementation and monitor the results. They also participate in technical exchange and continued education activities.|
|3. Incentives for the adoption of good practices||In respect to the superior quality of the product offered and to controlled origin of the animals, the participating producers have access to incentives from meatpacking and retailing companies, in the form of price premium protocols. In this way, producers and buyers establish long term relationships, with guarantees of volume and commercial conditions, to their mutual benefit. Calves with guaranteed genetics bought by participating producers will also receive a price incentive.|
|4. Financing for the implementation of best practices||To finance the investments and technical assistance necessary for the implementation of GAP, credit solutions will be offered with conditions adequate to the situation of local producers. Access will be facilitated by means of orientation to the producers in the preparation of financing projects, and differential treatment guaranteed through contracts with partner financial institutions.|
|5. Platform for the management of information, monitoring and traceability||The Program will develop a set of information management tools for and between the participating producers, technical assistance professionals, and the producers organizations. These tools will allow to make field activities more cost- and time-efficient and to maintain a complete register of the implementation of the GAP and of the operational and economic results obtained by participating producers. Additionally, these will include a system for the traceability of animals and beef, and for the monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions.|
|6. Integration with territorial approach||The Novo Campo Program will be implemented in municipalities participating in the Mato Grosso Sustainable Municipalities Program (PMS) that demonstrate the necessary conditions of environmental governance, including: i) a minimum of 66% (two thirds) of total municipal area registered within the CAR; and ii) a functioning system of municipal environmental management, with Secretary, Counsel, and a system of environmental monitoring. In these municipalities, the Agriculture and Environment Secretariats and the Rural unions will be engaged in the Program, and the municipality’s overall performance in terms of environmental conservation and agricultural output will be monitored, in order to value these territories in domestic and international agricultural commodities markets.|
Pre-Novo Campo attempts at transformation
The beef industry of Mato Grosso, under the pressure of growing demand and expansion, has seen seismic shifts in recent decades. As mentioned in the previous section, the adoption of certain unsustainable practices has led to widespread deforestation and rising GHG emissions. However, even before the Novo Campo Program was implemented, some cattle farmers, government officials, and technical experts had begun to recognize the need for transformation in the beef industry. Compared to the Novo Campo Program, these attempts often are less systematic (i.e., lacking in a concrete framework) and pertain only to certain aspects (e.g., production practices, policy) of cattle farming. Nonetheless, these precursors provide valuable context for the Novo Campo Program, and also helps highlight some of the reasons why the program was successful. These pre-Novo Campo attempts at transformation will be analyzed using the Four Dimensions of Change. With that being said, these four categories are not mutually exclusive, and their overlaps will be evident.
Changes in production practices: crop-livestock systems
To boost productivity, some cattle farms in Mato Grosso have been moving away from extensification, and integrated crop-livestock systems have gained traction; the most common crops in these systems are soybean and corn. In an integrated crop-livestock system, crops are grown on pasture lands, and a portion of crops are used as livestock feed. This practice has certain benefits. First, in order to grow crops, soils are more actively managed (e.g. the addition of fertilizers), which increases productivity per unit of land. Second, composting can be used to increase soil organic content and rejuvenate degraded lands. Third, collectively, the previously mentioned practices can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, while this model might seem to be a good solution to Mato Grosso’s problems, it does not address the fundamental problem of deforestation, as despite higher productivity, many farms still routinely engage in deforestation to increase pasture area and cattle numbers. Furthermore, the general practices of these farms are not informed by GAPs, nor is there strong incentive to adopt GAPs. The Novo Campo addressed this lack of adoption by giving farmers incentive and providing them with financial support to make the transition to GAPs.
Soybean monocultures are especially tied to the issue of deforestation. Brazil is the world’s largest soy producer and exporter. Furthermore, 90% of the soy produced for domestic consumption in Brazil is used as livestock feed. In response to the unsustainable practices of the soy industry, and by extension the beef industry, the Soy Moratorium (SoyM) was created in 2006. The main rationale behind the SoyM was to improve the global image of Brazilian agricultural exports. As a response to international pressure, a working group of experts, soy corporations, and Brazilian government officials was established, resulting in SoyM. This voluntary agreement aims to stop the purchasing of soy from suppliers who plant on property deforested after July 2006. Moreover, the SoyM has encouraged some soy and cattle farmers to pursue crop-livestock systems in order to boost productivity per unit of land. Some soy producers have also transitioned to farming on pre-existing agricultural land rather than deforestation as a means of creating new land. As a result of the agreement, from 2006 to 2013, soy-related deforestation decreased by approximately 30% even as national soy production increased.
Despite its contributions to the reduction of deforestation, the SoyM has not been a complete success. Due to its voluntary nature, it does not encompass all soy operations in Brazil. Furthermore, the SoyM is not uniformly implemented throughout the country. This means that in Mato Grosso, where many soybean corporations have signed into the agreement, corporations that are unwilling to participate have been moving their operations to neighbouring states, resulting in a leakage effect. However, due to its involvement of multiple stakeholders, the SoyM nonetheless highlights the importance of cross-sector cooperation and engagement. This was an important factor behind the success of Novo Campo, where the ICV had extensive contact with local farmers.
Changes in knowledge generation and transmission: knowledge and technology input
The production practices of conventional cattle farming in Mato Grosso are fairly simplistic; cattle farmers periodically moved on to new pastures, and levels of knowledge and technology intensity are low. However, in order to boost productivity and increase competitiveness, some farmers are starting to adopt new strategies and technologies. For example, considerable advances have occurred in terms of livestock care; many farmers now work with scientists, NGOs, and other technical agencies to design better livestock feed, gain accesses to better water supplies, and implement disease control measures. The previously mentioned integrated crop-livestock systems, despite their problems, are also an example of more knowledge intensive agriculture, as it involves more active landscape management. On a broader scale, the beef industry has also shown its willingness to work with a number of technical experts, including veterinarians, agronomists, economists, and administrators to improve the general management of the beef supply chain. This exchange of technical information was crucial to the success of the Novo Campo program, where NGOs taught local farmers how to better manage grazing and use feed and supplements towards the end of the cattle’s lives. This led to an increase in productivity as well as a decrease in carbon emissions.
Changes in institutional framework: policies and sectoral agreements
Table 2 is an overview of major international policies, national policies, and sectoral agreements that concern Brazil’s beef cattle industry and/or deforestation. CAs and PAs have been excluded due to their ineffectiveness at addressing Amazon deforestation. The remaining policies and agreements show varying degrees of success. Two of these policies are especially noteworthy: Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) and the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR).
REDD+ is a transnational project created by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties to “guide activities in the forest sector that reduces emissions from deforestation and forest degradation” (UNFCCC, n.d., para. 1). In Brazil, REDD+ was successful in both reducing deforestation from cattle ranching and improving well-being for treated households. Nevertheless, REDD+ faces many criticisms, such as the power dynamics of the implementation of a top-down framework. Furthermore, there is little mention of if the success of REDD+ deforestation efforts will continue once payments cease.
The CAR program, created in 2012 as an enhancement to the Brazil Forest Code, “aims to geo-reference all properties and promote monitoring of, and compliance with, natural vegetation conservation requirements”, including deforestation. CAR was built to reduce rates of on-the-ground monitoring and law enforcement, instead opting to use GIS surveys to track forest cover. The government of Brazil attempted to lower the cost of registration for early adopters by subsidizing GIS surveys of a property (ranging between $549 and $1686 USD per property), an antecedent to joining CAR. As it relates to the Novo Campo program, more than two thirds of the properties in a municipality must be registered with CAR to be eligible to join Novo Campo. While registration with the program allowed fines given prior for illegal deforestation to be converted to pay for restoration efforts, lowered restoration requirements, and provided land owners access to new lines of credit, many expressed hesitancies to join. According to Azevedo et al. (2017), “the incentives to join CAR outweighed the costs of remaining outside the system”. Approximately 36% of land owners in Mato Grosso stated that only legal requirements or market sanctions would make them register with CAR. Financial incentives will be critical to encouraging Brazil’s agriculture sector to transition to more sustainable practices, such as those used by the Novo Campo program. These incentives need not come from Brazil itself, as demonstrated by the success of the REDD+ program, but can come from any number of sources, allowing the financial burden of such programs to be distributed across multiple groups.
Slaughterhouses lie at the frontline of meat processing, and therefore have been the subject of various policies which aim not only to rein in slaughterhouses themselves but also other sectors of the beef industry by extension.
However, slaughterhouses are a potential area for change. Consider for example, that beef produced in Brazil is classified according to the level of sanitation inspection it receives: state, federal, and municipal inspections, or uninspected. 3.2% of the slaughterhouses in Mato Grosso specifically are considered unsanitized abattoirs, with projections that many others are not reported. These slaughterhouses tend to have a much shorter lifecycle, but continuously pop up to replace ones that have closed. Aerial studies on Mato Grosso show that while spatially present across the state, unsanitized facilities are clustered in central northern Mato Grosso and the Colniza frontier. The Terms of Adjustment of Conduct, a sectoral agreement created in 2009, sought to halt the purchase of beef from properties that exceeded national deforestation limits, or more than 20% of the total forest cover. However, this agreement appeared to have no effect on the forest cover of land surrounding slaughterhouses, suggesting the slaughterhouses, namely those that are uninspected are not avoiding deforestation “hot spots”. In addition, because meat from uninspected slaughterhouses cannot be exported to global food chains, meat processed at lower sanitization levels are used to feed local populations. This can increase exposure to disease in cattle of other healthier herds, impact antibiotic resistance, and increase disease and food poisoning.
On the other hand, CAs requires federally inspected slaughterhouses to only purchase beef from suppliers who do not engage in deforestation. The impact of these CAs have been limited for two reasons. First, CAs only apply to federally inspected slaughterhouses, which account for little over 50% of all slaughterhouses in Brazil. Second, CAs pertain only to suppliers that slaughterhouses buy from direct, and are unable to account for indirect suppliers. This means that there is no way for a slaughterhouse to ensure that the cattle it purchased had not gone through the hands of a middle man (i.e. another ranch that transferred its cattle to the ranch the slaughterhouse bought from) who has engaged in deforestation. Nevertheless, due to the interdependency of slaughterhouses and beef suppliers, CAs provide the opportunity for the former to exert its influence over the latter, which has attracted increasing attention in recent years. This problem has also brought the issue of traceability and monitoring to the forefront. As a response, the Novo Campo program is attempting to implement a traceability mechanism to track its beef across the supply chain (i.e. production, processing, transportation, marketing). This mechanism aims to eliminate cattle-related deforestation, whether direct or indirect.
The potential positive influence of slaughterhouses is especially salient in light of increasing globalization. Due to its expanding scale of operation and increasing fixation on foreign markets, the beef industry in Mato Grosso is starting to resemble its American counterpart, with the majority of economic power being increasingly concentrated in the hands of high-volume suppliers. For example, about 60% of all beef processed by government-sanctioned slaughterhouses come from the top 5% of beef-supplying properties. These high-volume suppliers thus have tremendous economic leverage. However, because suppliers rely on slaughterhouses to process their beef, slaughterhouses could in turn exert their influence to demand suppliers to reduce deforestation.
Failure to protect forestry in existing cattle ranching practices increases spending to counteract increased climate crisis mitigation. Forest loss eliminates key ecosystem service functions, such as soil degradation, CO2 sequestration, and cover from the sun, and biodiversity. Roughly 30% of biodiversity loss as of 2015 was linked to livestock production through the need for fodder, for example, most often consisting of monocultures. Armitage (2005), among other ecologists, have highlighted the importance of diversity for reorganization, renewal, and generation of adaptive capacity. When services or biodiversity are altered or destroyed, they must be re-engineered anthropogenically to reproduce the service, or monetarily compensated, or remediated. Loss of biodiversity or ecosystem functions if severe can also be irreversible, creating an alternative state. This creates an externality effect on Mato Grosso. Several national policies, such as the Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Deforestation in the Legal Amazon (2004) and the Low Carbon Agriculture (ABC) Program (2010) (Table 2), were created to address the environmental impacts of industrial beef production. The ABC Program has been particularly effective in encouraging resource-intensive agriculture operations to adopt more sustainable practices, with 16% of the land of participating farms employing new sustainable technologies. However, beef cattle lobbyists continue to have a powerful influence on the creation of environmental policies. For instance, when the National Forest Code was updated in 2012, lobbyists successfully reduced the amount of forest protected under the Code. By contrast, the mandatory 80% of forest for each rural property in the Amazon was kept in the Code and was observed in the Novo Campo Program implementation.
Implementation of GAPs and results
The centerpiece of the Novo Campo Program is the implementation of GAPs. The latest GAP version is based on eleven improvements that overlap with the four dimensions of change from IPES-Food (2018) described below (Figure 4).
The social function of rural property deals with fulfilling legal requirements endorsed by the Brazilian Constitution of 1988, which defines that rural property must fulfill a social role. That means it must be a sustainable production unit in time, from an economic, social and environmental point of view, and achieve minimum productivity levels. The other pillars of the social function of the property are evaluated by compliance with environmental legislation according to the Brazilian Forest Code (Law 12,651, 2012), such as CAR, Permanent Preservation Areas (APP), Mandatory Legal Reserve and Restricted Use Areas. Compliance with social and labour laws must also be maintained. This component of the GAP framework embodies all four dimensions of changes described by IPES-Food (2018).
Improvements in property management touch on the dimension of change in the social and economic relationships since it will address enhancements in planning, organization, direction and control of activities, seeking greater success in decisions and better economic, financial and operational performance of the business.
In the same way, improvements in human resources promote human development and, at the same time, lead rural enterprises to technical-economic efficiency and sustainability, having ethics and moral values in employer-employee relations as fundamental principles. Improving the quality of the work environment and the qualification of rural workers are essential conditions in modern livestock, consistent with the new standards of governance required by society.
Aside from the examples above, the majority of GAPs address changes in production practices. The rural facilities for the production of beef cattle, for example, should be based on aspects related to functionality, resistance, economy and safety, while also considering the principles of animal welfare and rational management. Inadequate installations can compromise the quality of meat and leather by facilitating the occurrence of bruising, wounds or contamination by residues in the carcass and deep holes, cuts and scratches in a bovine hide. As for animal welfare, it is not only an ethical issue, but is critical to production efficiency and the image of the agricultural sector. Inadequate conditions result in animal losses, weight, carcass yield and meat and leather quality, and compromise labour safety within a rural property. Moreover, modern consumers are more likely to scrutinize information on the sustainability of production systems and animal care from birth to slaughter. There is a very close relationship between animal welfare, animal health and productive performance, which takes into account physiological and behavioural needs, with direct and indirect gains in producing quality meat and leather.
Since pastures constitute the most economical means of producing beef cattle, good formation and proper management should be pursued to generate greater profitability and prolong its productive life, reducing the reform or recovery and animal supplementation costs. Regarding this issue, supplementation can reduce the need to use new areas, reducing the activity's environmental impact, including GHG emissions. In the latter case, the impact reduction takes place in two ways: by reducing the amount of CO2 emissions per unit of meat produced and by the lower permanence of the animal in the production system, reducing its total methane emission, the main greenhouse gas in livestock production.
Animal identification is an important step to enable the evaluation of the performance of each individual as well as the entire herd. It enables the screening process, ensuring the consumer knows the animal's origin. It also allows fast action to identify the rural property or properties when health problems occur and help in reproductive management. For the producer, the commercial exploitation of the farm has as its main objective to optimize the production of weaned calves, being fundamental to establishing management strategies to ensure the production of a calf/cow/year to ensure economic viability. Improvements in sanitary management should be implemented to keep economic viability. The occurrence of diseases and parasites impairs the performance of the herd. It may compromise the quality of meat and leather, besides increasing the risk of transmission of certain diseases to man (zoonoses). Therefore, preventive and curative health management measures are recommended for the good performance of the herd, ensuring animal health and the production of safe and healthy meat for human consumption. Besides health issues, another aspect of sanitary control covers the institutional dimension. Since most of the Brazilian GDP comes from agricultural commodities, many policies address sanitary control and enforcement activities.
In the same way, changes toward an adequate environmental management, in accordance with environmental laws along with techniques for the conservation of soil, biodiversity, water resources and the rural landscape, promotes the mitigation of negative environmental impacts. Compliance with environmental laws, combined with the implementation of adequate environmental management, ensure the stability and profitability of production systems, in addition to their resilience. As well as in the sanitary control case, many policies regarding environmental issues are in place to avoid illegal deforestation and misuse of fertilizers and agrochemicals.
In the Novo Campo Program, the implementation of GAPs resulted in noticeable benefits for cattle production (Table 3; minimum productivity to pay investment and enable stat level zero deforestation is100 Kg/cw/ha/yr.). Concerning productivity, the average yield of conventional cattle ranching is 4.5 arrobas (67.5 kg) per hectare per year. After the adoption of GAPs, the ranches averaged 20,75 arrobas (311 kg) per hectare per year. In terms of GHG emissions, intuitively it might seem that higher productivity could lead to higher emissions. However, with intensification under GAPs, emissions per unit of time were cut by half. The age at which animals are slaughtered was reduced from four years to two, with the same weight on a smaller range area. These results are a clear indicator of the success of the Novo Campo Program in terms of producing deforestation-free and low-emission beef.
|Slaughter age||Months||Male: 44
|Productivity||Kg cw / ha / yr||70||160*|
|Quality||% qualification||Typically 0||70%+|
Another crucial factor behind the success of the Novo Campo Program was community engagement, which is highly relevant to the dimension of changes in knowledge generation and transmission. Specifically targeting cattle production for beef, recruitment for the Novo Campo pilot program was volunteer-based in response to a participation offer provided by the ICV. Apart from a diversity of farms intended to replicate how the program might perform in the wider community, membership in the CAR program was also criteria for pilot selection. In total, six cattle producing farms formed part of the pilot and interventions were recommended based upon the goals of property owners, as well as information gathered about daily operations on the respective farms. In addition, an initial environmental assessment was done on all participating farms to develop farm-specific goals for environmental management. Planning, implementation and monitoring followed via monthly consultations conducted in-person where the ICV assessed program progress and compliance, and collaborative adjustments were made as necessary. Farmers were introduced to new farming practices, such as accounting to help with the control of production costs. Farmers also benefited from direct technical support assessment and consultation in line with the Embrapa GAP program, as new technologies were determined essential to lowering costs. Finally, farm workers involvement, buy-in and support was prioritized from program inception through required worker obligations and labor agreements, as well as opportunities for education and training that would highlight the benefits and effectiveness of the Novo Campo program. The main line of thinking behind this involvement was to maximize investment value through buy-in of those implementing the program.
It should be noted that the diverse stakeholder partnerships that Novo Campo introduces among government, NGO members, producers, buyers, and other logistic partners represents a substantial change to the way conventional agriculture is typically carried out. In fact, pluralism that includes the breadth of stakeholders may be a significant contribution to Novo Campo’s successes, by assuring that efforts at transformation “engage with the root causes of unsustainable practices [including] social inequality and injustice”. In short, ecological transformation is much more difficult when we ignore the social dimensions in which ecology is practiced.
The Novo Campo Program has been successful in its implementation of GAPs, which has led to the production of deforestation-free and low-emission beef, as well as a high level of community engagement. However, despite its promise, the program is only a pilot project consisting of merely six properties. Furthermore, although the GAPs cover all four dimensions of change as described by IPES-Food (2018), they are in no way all-encompassing, and further adjustments need to be made to truly ensure sustainability in all aspects. Below we offer three recommendations in regards to the Novo Campo Program.
Scaling out the Program
The next step after reviewing the case study of Novo Campo is to recommend the project be scaled out. Valencia et al. (2022) describes this as “amplifying transformation from the farm to the territory”. Novo Campo has currently been conducted as a pilot of only several farming locations. These locations have then gone on to outperform other agriculture facilities in Mato Grosso by reducing their deforestation and emission rates while increasing productivity. Scaling out this program to farmers all across Mato Grosso is an opportunity to create change for livestock production practices and reduce deforestation rates in the state. Current pilot farmers may be able to help in knowledge mobilization of what they have learned from the implementation of new farming practices into existing farms that have yet to adopt these practices.
Following the recommendation to scale out Novo Campo, a more long-term recommendation is to promote and implement agroecology. More specifically, this would entail diversifying farms from producing strictly cattle and livestock agriculture, and adopting diversified food systems.
In relation to the IPES framework, shifting into agroecology and diversified production is a recommendation that benefits social and economic change, increased standards in production practices, and better mobilizes community knowledge. We recommend this to be an additional step to the Novo Campo program. Once farms have improved the production practices in their livestock farming, they have opportunities and support to diversify their farming systems.
This protects smaller farmers from having to participate in practices that are ecologically damaging, and less sanitary for consumption. A diversification of farming systems shifts opportunities to promote farming and food production that is less expansive and synergistically aligned with natural environments. This may be a shift into more crop yields, enhancing natural ecosystems, or raising a more diverse group of livestock. Economically, this helps to build resiliency – protecting farmers from supply/demand shifts in global markets. This also may introduce farmers to new global markets and profit opportunities. A lesser emphasis on solely cattle production diverts cereal products grown for livestock consumption into food for communities or additional export opportunities. In relation to the previously identified poor soil conditions of Mato Grosso, and soil degradation from expansive practices, agroecology is also a way to remediate and repurpose “alternative state” land created from poor livestock management practices.
The Food and Agricultural Organization (FOA) also recommends and urges culturally appropriate food being essential to national food security Agroecology will reduce the emphasis on monopoly agricultural markets, and focus on feeding more diverse, nutrient dense and sustainable food options. This may also help to reduce many of the disease and food borne illnesses associated with local and unsanitary practices of animal agriculture. This recommendation in a long-term implementation may help to solve much of the entrenchment many Mato Grosso farmers feel producing beef (Meadows, 2009), giving power to local level farms through a bottom up approach.
Community engagement and pluralism
The Novo Campo Program is sometimes cited as an example of multi-stakeholder collaboration, including prioritized buy-in of “local” farmers and worker engagement practices. However, communal capacity building and educational interventions seemed to stem from top-down initiatives as opposed to fostering local knowledge production or farmer-to-farmer information networks. Similarly, experts promoted technical assistance that was key to reaching goals. However, the technical “exchange” emphasized in Novo Campo’s second guiding principle theoretically presupposes a two-way collaborative knowledge generation process, yet we haven't found evidence that local knowledge was also considered in GAP implementation. As Blythe et al. (2018) discussed, this deficit of other ways of knowing may potentially pose the threat of a dark side of transformation where Western knowledge both dominates and obfuscates other means of problem-framing, solving and understanding as it relates to systems transformation. The term “engagement” therefore represents an example of ambiguous terminology that may imply more equal collaboration, but masks epistemological hierarchies and power dynamics often involved in ecological interventions. Perhaps most alarming in these scenarios is the emphasis on practices that are already entrenched, such as the over-reliance on technological solutions which we expand on later.
The absence of women’s perspectives seen in the Novo Campo program provides another interesting point of reflection. As of 2020, Brazil ranked 118th in the world for women's political participation, and the situation has not improved since. Recognizing this barrier for social inclusion, Embrapa has set targets for gender equality. Some of their efforts include recognition of unpaid labor and domestic work alongside the promotion of gender equality and female empowerment, as well as fostering female participation and leadership within the Embrapa organization. However, this involvement still has not transferred to all of their programs at the community level, as shown by the absence of women’s voices in the Novo Campo program. In addition, data from 2016 showcases that Embrapa had only 30% of women as staff, and comprised a similar 30% of company managers when compared to men. This suggests that more work may be needed to understand the lock-ins that prevent women’s engagement in both governing organizations such as Embrapa, as well as implemented community engagement programs like Novo Campo. Relevant to such transformations, Parveen (2008) details the importance of womens’ education for development as a whole, and points to the family and to the strong role of women in particular as children’s’ first educators. Women’s roles in early childcare may therefore strategically position women to facilitate knowledge transfer and cultural change.
Finally, much of the Novo Campo strategies involve knowledge transmission with limited attention to “new” knowledge or knowledge “generation,” as showcased by a focus on Western-led solutions. By contrast, knowledge co-production encapsulated in the Indigenous concepts of “two-eyed seeing” and “biculturalism” may not only be productive, but necessary in the face of the current eco-existential crisis. More broadly speaking, arguments for ecoliteracy and systems thinking as educational priorities provides an alternative to the Western productivist paradigm and goes hand-in-hand with the holistic approach seen in Indigenous knowledge systems. The underlying theme is that alternative forms of knowledge must be explored if there is any hope for transformation.
In the short term, the Novo Campo program has succeeded in reducing deforestation and GHG emissions via all four dimensions of change described in IPES-Food (2018). Most of these changes concern production practices, there was a considerable amount of change in knowledge transmission via community engagement). On the other hand, the remaining two dimensions of change, institutional framework, and social and economic relationships received relatively less attention. It should be noted that in order for long-term transformation to take place, a more holistic approach is needed to account for the forces operating at a global level, as well as their impacts at local levels, such as in Alta Floresta, Brazil.
In applying the IPES-Food (2018) four dimensions of change, it is important to note the importance of social and economic relations in dictating the power to transcend existing paradigms, or institutional frameworks. These frameworks also guide systemic logic, program goals, and consequent results. Overreliance on technology, for example, seems to draw from and repeat the mistakes of high modernist logic, which is inseparable from the Western productivist paradigm. Productivism is also seen as a driving force in Novo Campo’s focus on export-led production rather than production practices based around local and communal needs. By contrast, local issues that one might otherwise expect to be salient, such as meat quality; the advantages of diversified livestock for response diversity and adaptive capacity; nutritionally diverse diets; as well as the lack of regional suitability and sustainability of large-scale cattle production are ignored.
A change in institutional framework would take into account present systemic lock-ins, and might seek to reorganize meat production such as beef for foreign export and consumption to focus and reprioritize instead on meeting local social-ecological demands. On the social side, farmers might devote more attention to meeting dietary quality and nutritional diversity and on the ecological side, they might promote agroecology that is more ecologically diverse as well as regionally sustainable. Nevertheless, without the reorganization of social economic relations and the institutions they yield, it would be virtually impossible for farmers to sustain a living in a vacuum of support.
While institutional change is slow and difficult, perhaps an intermediate goal would be changes in knowledge generation and transmission. A greater diversity of perspectives is needed to achieve more holistic understandings of systemic shortcomings, including attention to and development of local knowledge production. Furthermore, women have key roles to play in both producing and facilitating knowledge transfers. In addition, there are opportunities for programs such as Novo Campo to benefit from engagement and cross-collaboration with Indigenous knowledge holders, especially as programs are scaled out to other regions of Brazil where Indigenous knowledge may be more localized. However, the extent of the impacts of changes in knowledge generation and transmission is also heavily intertwined with social economic relations and institutional change, as shown by the hegemony of literacy over oral traditions and the privileged use of some knowledge over others (Don Carruthe, personal communication, November 30, 2022). Although there are some opportunities for changes in production practices prior to changes in other dimensions, as seen in the Novo Campo program, other changes in production practices may require a more holistic approach.
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