By Elton Alisson
Agência FAPESP – The availability of arable land and land suitable for cattle-raising is expected to decrease globally in coming decades at the same time that it will be necessary to increase food production to meet growing global demand and to improve conservation and the sustainability of non-renewable resources, which are essential to meeting this goal.
A group of researchers from different countries, including Brazil, will begin a series of collaborative studies aimed at increasing understanding and producing scientific knowledge needed to meet these three concurrent and interrelated global challenges.
On December 17th and 19th, the group met at FAPESP headquarters in São Paulo to participate in the Belmont Forum International: Call Scoping Workshop on Food Security and Land Use Change.
The event was organized by FAPESP together with the Universidade de São Paulo’s Center for Nuclear Energy in Agriculture (CENA/USP) and the Belmont Forum. The objective was to define priority areas of research related to food safety and land use changes, which will be part of the Belmont Forum’s second call for proposals.
The Belmont Forum
was formed by the world’s leading research support foundations during a conference held in the North American city of Belmont in 2009 by the United States’ National Science Foundation (NSF) and the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).
The forum, coordinated by the International Group of Funding Agencies for Global Change Research (IGFA), aims to influence the direction of international collaboration on global change through joint calls for research.
As a member of the Belmont Forum, FAPESP was invited to format a call for proposals for research projects on food safety and land use changes, which it will submit for approval by the entity at a meeting to be held in India in February 2013.
To define the scope of the proposal, FAPESP invited researchers working on some of the largest international projects on food safety and land use changes to participate in the São Paulo meeting so they could talk about their work in recent years.
Some of the researchers invited were Thomas Rosswall from the Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security in Denmark; Margaret Gill and Isabelle Albouy from The European Joint Programming Initiative on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change; Andreas Heinimann from Switzerland’s Global Land Project; and John Ingram from Global Environmental Change and Food Systems (Gecafs) in the UK.
“The goal was to become familiar with the activities carried out by these international initiatives so the proposal we submit to the Belmont Forum won’t be redundant or duplicate study efforts already going on in the world,” said Reynaldo Luiz Victoria, coordinator of the FAPESP Research Program on Global Climate Change (PFPMCG) and official representative of the Foundation to the Belmont Forum.
“The idea is that the studies carried out within the scope of the call for proposals will make it possible to explore new research topics related to food safety and changes in land use that have not yet been dealt with by other international research foundations,” Victoria told Agência FAPESP.
During the meeting, scientists from the Belmont Forum member nations presented initiatives and priority research related to food safety and changes in land use implemented in their respective countries. Some of these presenters were Samuel Scheiner from the NSF, Ryohei Kada from Japan’s Research Institute for Humanity and Nature and Sheryl Hendricks from the University of Pretoria in South Africa.
Presenters from Brazil included André Nassar from the Institute for International Trade Negotiations (ICONE), Carlos Joly from the Universidade Estadual de Campinas (Unicamp) and Gilberto Câmara from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE). They presented research on, respectively, biofuels, biodiversity and the monitoring of land use change carried out within the scopes of FAPESP’s BIOTA, BIOEN and PFPMCG programs, which they help coordinate.
Câmara spoke about the challenges of land use policy in Brazil, which, according to him, represent the largest experiments in land use changes and their effects carried out in the world in recent decades.
“There have been 720 square kilometers of deforestation in the Amazon and 400 square kilometers in the Cerrado since 1980. This represents a transition in land use unmatched in magnitude during this time period and era in any other nation on Earth. It’s a significant indication of what is happening on the planet today,” he evaluated.
Câmara said that part of the transition of land use in the Amazon and Cerrado for soybean farming and cattle-raising is related to the national demand for food. However, another significant part—especially in the Cerrado—is due to beef and grain exports to meet the growing global demand for food.
Learning from Brazil
According to Câmara, the changes in land use that happened in the 1980s were carried out in a disorganized fashion, without any controls. In recent years, however, with the ample access to information made available online by research institutions such as the INPE and pressure from overseas and Brazilian society, it has been possible to implement a deforestation policy in the Amazon that has been quite successful because it is based on a solid pyramid of transparency, management and qualified research institutions.
“Some lessons that Brazil has learned through creating research institutions able to produce information on deforestation—made available online in a transparent, accessible manner resulting in a management mechanism that has worked very well—can serve as examples for other countries that also intend to manage the implementation of broad land use policy. Brazil needs to lead the world in having an information system about land use,” he affirmed.
According to the researcher, one of the bottlenecks in the Amazon deforestation monitoring system is the collection of information with higher levels of detail.
The sensors in the satellites used by the INPE Real Time Deforestation Detection System (DETER) have a moderate spatial resolution of 250 meters, which makes it impossible to detect deforestation and changes in land use in areas smaller than 25 hectares. “We need more detailed information,” affirmed Câmara.
Yet, he says, the largest gaps in the Brazilian system for monitoring changes in land use lie within other biomes, such as the Cerrado, the Caatinga, the Atlantic Rain Forest, the Pampa and the Pantanal, none of which have a deforestation information system similar to what exists in the Amazon.
“Brazil’s entire national territory needs coverage providing the same level of daily information on changes in land use that we have in the Amazon today. It’s essential for a nation with this geographic size that wants to balance agricultural and biofuel production with environmental equilibrium,” Câmara noted.
The researchers participating in the workshop at FAPESP noted the balance between land use and migration of the environmental impact caused by farming and cattle-raising as one of the main challenges in coming years.
To contribute to the search for solutions to the problem, the research proposals to be funded in the second Belmont Forum call should address the question, among others, of how the current patterns of demand for food affect the use of land, biodiversity and food safety.
Another question is which consequences resulting from changes in land use will affect the ecosystem services and biodiversity and how they will affect the availability of and access to food.
“Surely, the competition between ecosystem services and food production is a topic that must be addressed and discussed in the research to be financed in this call for projects,” said Victoria.
The participants at the event were divided into four groups to define which inter- and trans-disciplinary research topics related to food safety and changes in land use should be considered in the collaborative studies financed by the Belmont Forum.
By the end of the meeting, they had produced a rough draft of a document synthesizing the scientific discussions established during the three days of the event and that includes a proposed call for projects to be approved by the Belmont Forum. The proposal must be signed by at least three participating nations of the group.
“It will be possible within the sphere of the proposal to carry out cooperative projects in three or more nations who decide to answer one or more questions. It will be possible to do comparative projects on food safety in Brazil, South Africa and Asia, for example,” said Victoria.
Six Belmont Forum member nations participated in the meeting at FAPESP: Brazil, the United States, Canada, Japan, South Africa and England. The group includes six more countries, with many more interested in participating in the call. “We are trying to build the largest possible alliance of nations to optimize the resources to be applied in the call,” said Victoria.
The 2013 Call
The first Belmont Forum Call for Proposals
was released in April 2012 and involved resources of some 20 million Euros, 2.5 million of which were invested by FAPESP, including 1.5 million Euros for research projects on water safety and 1 million Euros for studies on coastal shoreline vulnerability.
The projects will be carried out by researchers inside São Paulo State in these areas together with researchers from at least two other nations participating in the forum.
The numbers for the second call will be announced in 2013 during the February Belmont Forum meeting. Researchers associated with both public and private higher learning and research institutions in the state of São Paulo may submit proposals.