Actions and opinions of Brazilian farmers who shift to sugarcane—an interview-based assessment with discussion of implications for land-use change
Journal article, 2016
Sugarcane ethanol systems can deliver large greenhouse gas emissions savings if emissions associated with land-use change are kept low. This qualitative study documents and analyzes actions and opinions among Brazilian farmers who shift to sugarcane production. Semi-structured interviews were held with 28 actors associated with sugarcane production in three different regions: one traditional sugarcane region and two regions where sugarcane is currently expanding. Most farmers considered sugarcane a land diversification option with relatively low economic risk, although higher risk than their previous land use. Beef production was considered a low-risk option, but less profitable than sugarcane. In conjunction with converting part of their land to sugarcane, most farmers maintained and further intensified their previous agricultural activity, often beef production. Several farmers invested in expanded production in other regions with relatively low land prices. Very few farmers in the expansion regions shifted all their land from the former, less profitable, use to sugarcane. Very few farmers in this study had deforested any land in connection with changes made when shifting to sugarcane. The respondents understand “environmental friendliness” as compliance with the relevant legislation, especially the Brazilian Forest Act, which is also a requirement for delivering sugarcane to the mills. Indirect land-use change is not a concern for the interviewed farmers, and conversion of forests and other native vegetation into sugarcane plantations is uncontroversial if legal. We derive hypotheses regarding farmers’ actions and opinions from our results. These hypotheses aim to contribute to better understanding of what takes place in conjunction with expansion of sugarcane and can, when tested further, be of use in developing, e.g., policies for iLUC-free biofuel production.