A quarter of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions come from agricultural activities. The sector not only contributes to the worsening of the climate crisis, but is also affected by it, facing increasingly frequent extreme temperature and precipitation events (SEEG 2021).
The severity of climate risks requires the large-scale adoption of low-carbon practices, based on sustainable technologies, which combine increased productivity — without expanding the cultivated area — with resilience to climate events.
This includes both mitigation measures — such as no-tillage agriculture, the recovery of degraded pastures, crop-cattle-forest integration (CCFI) systems, agroforestry systems (AFSs), planted forests, crop rotation, more efficient use of fertilizers and better soil management techniques — and adaptation measures that help manage climate risk in agricultural activities, increasing the resilience of agricultural systems and reducing their vulnerability.
Instruments, such as rural credit and insurance, technical assistance and rural extension, and research, development and innovation (RD&I) play a key role in promoting the adoption of these measures. But the implementation of such instruments needs to consider the context of different groups of producers to ensure a just transition towards low-carbon agriculture.
Rural producers are a heterogeneous group and are affected in diverse ways and to different extents by climate risks. Brazil has more than five million rural properties that vary significantly socially, economically, and culturally. In addition, a large share of agricultural production is concentrated in the hands of a small number of producers — approximately 4% of rural properties cover 63% of agricultural land (IBGE 2017).
The climate impacts on production volume and income generated also vary considerably by crop and geographic region. The poorest regions of Brazil — such as the Northeast, where the population has historically had the lowest income, education and housing conditions — will be disproportionately affected (World Bank Group 2023).
Thus, strategies to promote low-carbon agriculture and reduce emissions from the agriculture sector must target, primarily, most of the agricultural land, but without increasing the distortions between the different groups of rural producers and avoiding the exclusion of the most vulnerable groups.
In this document, researchers from Climate Policy Initiative/Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (CPI/PUC-Rio) provide a policy map for climate mitigation and adaptation in Brazilian agriculture, identifying the government agencies responsible for implementation and the presence of elements of social and economic justice within each policy. This mapping represents an important step towards understanding current public policies (their targeting and priorities, and whether they provide for the inclusion of the most vulnerable producers in the transition) and designing inclusive transition strategies to align climate and social goals and enable more efficient policies.
• Brazil’s agricultural sector has public policies that seek to promote mitigation and adaptation to climate change. This policy framework, if well implemented, can be used as a catalyst for a scaled transition towards low-carbon agriculture.
• Climate-oriented policies are concentrated from 2010 onwards, which seems to be associated with the launch of the 2009 National Policy on Climate Change (Política Nacional sobre Mudança do Clima – PNMC) that established Brazil’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and resulted in the adoption of an Agricultural Sector Plan for Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation for the Consolidation of a Low-Carbon Economy (Plano Setorial de Mitigação e de Adaptação às Mudanças Climáticas para a Consolidação de uma Economia de Baixa Emissão de Carbono na Agricultura – ABC Plan).
• Elements of social and economic justice are present in both mitigation and adaptation policies and are primarily aimed at prioritizing family farming and increasing income.
• The National Policy on Agroecology and Organic Production (Política Nacional de Agroecologia e Produção Orgânica – PNAPO), the National Policy on Planted Forests, and the National Policy on Crop-Cattle-Forest Integration stand out as policies that aim to promote the transition to lower carbon emissions in agriculture while containing elements of social and economic justice among their goals.
• The PRONAF ABC+ credit line is the only credit policy that incorporates elements of social and economic justice and a transition to low-carbon agriculture.
• Training and technical assistance foreseen in ABC/ABC+ Plan can be strengthened to include smallholders, family farmers, and beneficiaries of the National Program for Strengthening Family Farming (Programa Nacional de Fortalecimento da Agricultura Familiar – PRONAF).
• Regarding the governance structures of the policies mapped, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (Ministério da Agricultura e Pecuária – MAPA) is primarily responsible for the implementation of the policies. The Ministry of Agrarian Development and Family Farming (Ministério do Desenvolvimento Agrário e Agricultura Familiar – MDA) also participates as co-manager of relevant policies, such as Brazil’s Agricultural Plan and rural insurance.
• Increase understanding of the opportunities for alignment between climate and social development policies in rural areas and their possible trade-offs to support Brazil’s efforts to meet its climate goals and achieve socioeconomic and environmental development.
• Strengthen policies for the transition to low-carbon agriculture that include elements of social and economic justice among their goals, such as PNAPO, the National Policy on Planted Forests, and the National Policy on Crop-Cattle-Forest Integration, as well as the PRONAF ABC+ credit line. However, it is important to assess whether the implementation of these policies ensures that the most vulnerable groups of producers are effectively reached and included in the transition process.
• Expand access to training and technical assistance – currently targeted to large-scale producers in the Low-Carbon Agriculture Plan (ABC/ABC+ Plan) — to include smallholders and family farmers who are PRONAF beneficiaries.
• Increase the coordination between the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (Ministério da Agricultura e Pecuária – MAPA) and the Ministry of Agrarian Development and Family Farming (Ministério do Desenvolvimento Agrário e Agricultura Familiar – MDA) within the scope of policies under shared management.