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Alternative Land Cultivation

Land Use, Brazil

Traditional Slash-and-burn
The most common farming practice in the tropics in 'slash-and-burn': the cutting and burning of forests in order to create farm space. It is the cheapest and easiest way to prepare the land for cultivation. The practice increases the availability of nutrients for future crops and avoids the fast-growing natural vegetation to claim the space.

Gigantic CO2 emmissions
The ashes and other organic rests of the burned vegetation enrich the soil surface for a short period, but in a couple of years the fertility drops down dramatically and the soil loses its biophysical characteristics due to erosion and compaction. Furthermore, the fire liberates great amounts of carbon to the atmosphere and kills the microfauna that regulates important processes. Forest fires are responsible for an estimated 20% of global carbon dioxide emissions, and Brazil alone is the 4th emissary of CO2 in spite of not being a very industrialized country.

Alternative soil fertilization
In this context a group of farmers in Mediciândia have autonomously developed a system to avoid the use of fire in preparing the land. Instead they use different leguminosae plants and mechanical procedures which together provoke a slow decomposition of the vegetation that fertilizes the soil, maintaining higher levels of biodiversity and harbouring protection against erosion.

Expanding popularity
After a decade of practice this innovation has increased the yields of the farmers, avoided huge amounts of carbon emissions, motivated the exchange of experiences among local farmers and reinforced their pride and confidence in their local knowledge and capacities. The initiative is rapidly expanding to neighbouring areas. The project is so successful, it has recently received support from the environmental ministry of Brazil and several researchers.