Monday, November 25, 2013

Farming Amazonia

An article in the NYT by an ecology professor at Brown University takes a surprising look at a soybean farm in Brazil, on land that used to be rainforest. To me, that's already kind of wrong: rain forest supports huge biodiversity and carbon sequestration, among other environmental issues: there's a reason it's called the "lungs of the planet," and turning that into Iowa (as the article title suggests) just seems to me to be a Bad Idea. The author goes to look at it, though, and unsurprisingly sees more than I would.

It's sure not all good news: 15% of CO2 emissions comes from land use change. Still, the original people who converted the forest into pasture weren't very productive farmers, and these new mega-fields of soy are apparently more efficient. More efficient = less waste = less environmental damage and less need to convert more land, so that's good, right?

Did you know that there was a 61 mile long conveyor belt in Morocco moving phosphate ore to the Atlantic to become our fertilizer? Whoa.

A last quote: "One thing is clear: In the coming decades we will need to produce a lot more food. I’m not suggesting Mato Grosso’s farms are the answer, far from it. But it’s time to move beyond the oversimplification that large-scale agriculture is incompatible with environmental goals....We need to admit that food production is going to be the dominant use of land in the 21st century, and to decide whether we are going to farm more land or farm more intensively. Then we can move on to the grand challenge of making our farms sustainable."

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