Knowledge for better food systems

Debate on beef production intensification and land sparing vs. land sharing in the Amazon

This letter in Global Change Biology responds to a paper published earlier in the year in Nature Climate Change by de Silva et al (summarised by the FCRN here) which concludes that a combination of strict land controls and an increase in beef production in the Amazon could lead to greater emissions reduction than a scenario of land control and no beef production increases.

The assumption made in that paper was that better beef management can increase beef output while also stimulating soil carbon sequestration.

This letter by Phalan et al, written in response, challenges these conclusions on the following grounds:

  • It questions whether land controls in the Brazilian Cerrado have been or in future will be sufficiently effective to ensure no further deforestation or natural vegetation clearance
  • It disputes (on a number of grounds) the assumption of a positive relationship between higher livestock intensity and greater soil carbon sequestration that is so central to the model in the de Silva paper
  • The paper fails to consider a scenario where the overall land area devoted to livestock production is reduced, intensity of livestock production is increased on that land and then the ‘spared’ land is used for ecological restoration
  • It fails to consider other approaches to restoring land in the Cerrado, approaches which evidence shows have proved to be effective.


Phalan B, Ripple W J and Smith P (2016). Increasing beef production won’t reduce emissions, Global Change Biology, doi: 10.1111/gcb.13436

The paper can be accessed (paywall) here.

A response to this letter of challenge has also been published by the authors of the original paper. In it, they provide counters to each of the points made by Phalan et al and conclude by saying: “the increasing rhetoric on reduced consumption should be supported by further systematic modeling evidence and that the type of anomaly we observe warrants international attention.”

The citation for this response is as follows:

Barioni LG, de Oliveira Silva R, Moran D (2016). Reducing beef consumption might not reduce emissions:response to Phalan et al. (2016), Global Change Biology doi:10.1111/gcb.13458

It can be accessed here (paywall).

Note that the FCRN has summarised two papers by da Silva et al on this topic and they can be found here and here.  Several of the authors both of the original paper and of the response letter are FCRN members.

You can read more in the Research Library categories on Land, Meat, eggs and alternatives as well as the keyword categories beef, carbon sinks and sequestration, livestock systems, sustainable intensification.

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Latin America and the Caribbean

Latin America and the Caribbean occupies the central and southern portion of the Americas. The region is home to the world’s largest river (the Amazon River), the largest rainforest (the Amazon Rainforest), and the longest mountain range (the Andes). Export-oriented agriculture constitutes an important part of the economy, especially in Brazil and Argentina. This large continent has a range of climates spanning the ice of Patagonia, the tropical forests of much of the continent, and more temperate regions in, for example, Mexico and Chile. Due to the greatly differing geography and economic development in the continent, all types of agriculture can be found in Latin America. Subsistence farming and cash cropping with coffee, cocoa and so on are common in many nations including most of central America, whereas large-scale beef production in the cerrado of Brazil provides an example of hyper-large farms run by large businesses.

View articles relating to South America


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