Brazil has become an agricultural powerhouse, already producing roughly 30% of the world’s soy and 15% of its beef by 2013. Yet much of the expansion of agricultural production has come at the expense of Brazil’s native ecosystems. Since 1985, pastures and croplands have replaced nearly 65 Mha of forests and savannas in Brazil’s legal Amazon.

A growing body of work suggests that this paradigm of horizontal expansion of agriculture into native ecosystems is outdated and brings negative social and environmental consequences.

In this article, the authors propose four strategies that can reduce deforestation, while increasing production and social well-being.

  1. Eliminate land grabbing and land speculation by designating currently undesignated public forests as protected areas. This would clarify land tenure and limit the pool of land available for uncontrolled expansion of agriculture and ranching.
  2. Reduce legal deforestation on private properties by implementing existing mechanisms in Brazil’s Forest Code to facilitate payments for environmental services, such as environmental reserve quotas (CRA), with support from market initiatives for sustainable sourcing of agricultural products.
  3. Incentivize increased productivity on medium-sized and large properties through targeted investments. By stimulating adoption of proven technologies for sustainable intensification, this would help meet Brazil’s production targets and growing international demand for agricultural products, without expanding into new production areas.
  4. Provide technical assistance to small farmers, in order to foster economic, environmental and social improvements. Small farmers occupy a large swath of the Amazon and often lack access to technical assistance, production technologies, and markets. Providing quality technical assistance to small farmers could help them better align production practices with local opportunities; increase household income and improve livelihoods; and reduce deforestation pressure.

By implementing these four strategies in a coordinated effort between public and private agents, Brazil can show the world how to reduce deforestation while increasing agricultural output, re-establishing its leadership in managing natural resources and mitigating climate change.