Improving cattle production systems in Western Bahia

With more than 2 million hectares of pastures, the western region of Bahia in Brazil provides for an ideal setting to be used as a livestock improvement model for many other regions of the Northeast in the country. Solidaridad has partnered with Acrioeste (the Association of Cattle Breeders of Western Bahia) in order to carry out a diagnosis of the current situation of livestock production in the region.

Until the end of the twentieth century, cattle rearing in Brazil were marked by territorial expansion and very low use of technology, resulting in low productivity. From the mid-1990s, due to the economic and environmental pressures caused by this model of farming, the sector entered a process of modernization and technological improvement aimed towards the more efficient use of pastures.

However, livestock production is still dominated by extensive farming models, where farmers rely on the extension of land to herd cattle; and clearing of new areas for grazing which is one of the main causes of deforestation in Amazon and Cerrado regions. In this context, recovery of degraded pastures and efficient use of production systems are key factors to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while increasing production volumes.

Relatively, little is known about the situation of traditional cattle farming systems in the Western Bahia region. The inclusion of small-and-medium scale farmers, for example, in the context of integrated agriculture, known as Cattle Crop Integration, has a high potential to leverage major improvements of production practices and livelihoods.

Enhancing the Bahia Beef project

For this reason, Solidaridad together with Acrioeste and a local agribusiness consulting company, Profissional, have started a diagnosis of the current situation of livestock production in the region. The objective of the “Bahia Beef project” is to assess production practices in order to identify existing gaps regarding sustainability criteria and gather relevant information about the relation between pasture land and carbon emissions.

The tool used to reach these goals is, Rural Horizons, an in-house expert system developed by Solidaridad with the support of several partners (which include farmer´ associations and buying companies). Rural Horizons provides automated solutions to help farmers structure the process of continual improvement towards best production and management practices.

The implementation strategy has been planned in order to ensure the representativeness of the diagnosis, both in geographical terms and considering the importance of the herd size and of the economical weight of beef cattle for many municipalities of the region.

Benchmarking of management and production practices

At group level, processing of consolidated data provided a detailed benchmark of management and production practices in the region, which is useful for producer associations and companies. This can among others be used to ensure the sustainability of their supply chains.

Several issues have been identified as priorities in order to improve profitability of cattle production in the region; and to reduce environmental impacts and improve compliance to labour regulations in the region. The most critical challenge for cattle farmers in the region is legal compliance regarding social and environmental aspects. The analysis showed an important lack of knowledge regarding legal requirements and that the farmers are in need of information.

As a result of the self-assessment, each farmer received an individual roadmap along with a set of recommendations on how to correct their identified gaps on management, economic and financial, technical and operational performance, as well as on how to reach legal compliance in terms of their own capacities and budget.