Farmland expansion and temperature fluctuations in dry areas of the Cerrado biome

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Silva, Daniel Silva da

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Brazil is one of the largest suppliers of commodities in the world, partly due to the agricultural expansion in the Brazilian savannas (also known as Cerrado) that began in the 1970s, made possible by the green revolution. However, as areas with better soil and climate for agriculture become scarce, farmers have been advancing to the ecotone between the savanna and a semi-arid steppe, where precipitation is less reliable for rainfed agriculture. Therefore, as climate change projections of higher temperatures and lower precipitation in the region come to fruition, the expected financial gains become increasingly unrealistic for the coming decades if breakthroughs in adaptation do not occur. For instance, droughts in 2015/2016 reduced 33% of average productivity in the Cerrado biome and mainly in the Matopiba, a recent agricultural frontier within the Cerrado. The overall goal of this thesis is to investigate the implications of occupying areas of marginal rainfall in the Cerrado due to the dry conditions, which are likely to become more so in the future. First, I estimated the effect of temperature increases on soybean yields from 1980 to 2016 and studied farmer’s response to weather fluctuations. I chose soybeans because this is the region’s main crop. My panel data analysis estimated a reduction of 4-17% in soybean yield for each 1°C increase in temperature. According to interviewed farmers, the consequences of the drought in 2015/2016 include land concentration and increased indebtedness. Second, I modeled the future farmland expansion and how that matches with future climate change predictions (2016-2046). According to my estimates, at least 60 thousand km² of cropland and 138 thousand km² of pastures will be created in places with projected higher annual temperatures. Finally, I discuss the agri-environmental policies that create incentives to push and pull farmland expansion in the Cerrado. Without proper technical-scientific assessment and land management policies, the Matopiba region in the Cerrado may become the Brazilian version of the United States' Dust Bowl, with prolonged periods of inadequate rainfall for soybean production, and lead to financial hardship.


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