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Wed May 6, 2020, 07:56 AM

Soybeans Made Brazil's Cerrado A Breadbasket; Now It's On Its Way To Becoming A Desert By 2100

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Since the mid-1970’s, Brazil has transformed itself from a net food importer to a globally essential food exporter. But this agricultural revolution has come at a high cost, both for the Amazon biome and also for the Cerrado, the world’s most biodiverse savanna, containing 5% of all species on earth, including more than 10,000 plant species, and over 900 bird and 300 mammal species.

The Cerrado biome covers 2 million square kilometers (772,204 square miles). However, half the savanna’s native vegetation — mostly dry forest and scrubby grasslands — is gone, converted to crops (planted primarily with soy, but also corn and cotton, oil palm and eucalyptus monocultures), as well as cattle pasture, to the serious detriment of biodiversity, water availability, and traditional peoples’ livelihoods and lives. Now, scientists are worried about how these changes may affect the future of the biome – one that already is more susceptible to climate change, and especially drought, than other parts of Brazil.

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Brazil today is focusing its surging agricultural expansion primarily on one region, staking the country’s economic future on the northern Cerrado, a four-state area dubbed “Matopiba” by producers. But that region, composed of the states of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia has an Achilles heel — it has always been susceptible to drought. And in recent years, hot dry conditions there have worsened, partly due to intensifying climate change, and also due to the loss of drought-resistant, water-holding, native vegetation. Experts now fear that the Cerrado’s agricultural revolution — already vulnerable due to a lack of irrigation infrastructure — could ultimately be short-lived.

“We’ve got warming all over the planet, but Matopiba is particularly delicate because it’s agriculture is rain-fed,” explains Michael Coe, an earth system scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, USA. Crops “just barely make it right now… and [the Cerrado is] switching to a much drier climate,” he says. “It’s going to have a heck of a problem achieving high yields with rain-fed agriculture in a lot of areas.” According to a 2013 report by the Brazilian Panel on Climate Change, average temperatures in Brazil could be 3º-6º Celsius (5.4º-10.8º Fahrenheit) higher by 2100 than at the end of the 20th century, while rainfall in the north and northeast of the country could diminish by up to 40%. Those extreme temperatures, along with relentless drought in an extended dry season, could bring financial ruin to Cerrado agribusiness.

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https://news.mongabay.com/2020/05/soy-made-the-cerrado-a-breadbasket-climate-change-may-end-that/

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