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Amazon Agricultural Expansion A "No-Win" Scenario Researchers Warn

May 10, 2013 05:15 PM EDT
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Should the Amazon continue to undergo current rates of deforestation designed to make room for large-scale expansion of agriculture, everyone will suffer – including the farmers.

This is the finding articulated in a study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters May 10.

According to lead author Leydimere Oliveira of the Federal Univesity of Pampa, the group was surprised by the results that suggested that a high degree of deforestation presented a “no-win” scenario.

The reason, according to the study, is that as more and more of the Amazon is cut down to make way for agricultural development, the area’s climate will be adversely affected and, ultimately, less conducive to growing crops.

Scientists came to this conclusion by using model simulations that assessed how the agricultural yield of the Amazon would be affected given a business-as-usual scenario in which deforestation trends continued, and a governance scenario that assumed the implementation of Brazilian environmental legislation.

In all, the researchers said that, given the first possibility, precipitation in the Amazon would cause a decrease in precipitation due to deforestation by as much as 34 percent by 2050. Furthermore, increasing temperatures under the same model would reduce soybean yield by 28 percent during the same time period.

Should Brazil’s government enact governmental legislation to protect the region, however. those numbers fell to 30 percent in regards to a decrease in precipitation and 24 percent as far as a decrease in soybean yields.

In all, through a combination of the forest biomass mass removal itself and the resulting climate change, the researchers estimate that biomass on the ground could decline by up to 65 percent for the period between 2041 and 2060.

“These simulations strongly suggest that the act of deforestation, which is being done to increase agricultural production, may perversely lead to change in climate that reduce crop and pasture yields,” Michael T. Coe, senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Enter and co-author of the study, said in a press release. “In some cases these decreases in yield may be large enough to make agriculture economically unattractive.”

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