Crop Biotech Update

Statistical Confirmation of Indirect Land Use Change in Brazilian Amazon

July 29, 2011

Researchers from the University of Texas, Michigan State University, and Kansas State University (United States) report the use of a "spatial regression model" on agricultural bioenergy crop and deforestation data (from 2003 to 2008), to demonstrate that indirect land use change (ILUC) effects due to increased demand for biofuels is "significant and of considerable magnitude" in the Brazilian Amazon. Indirect land use change is a term which, based on a logic states that the increase in demand of biofuel crops in one area can lead to land conversions that are utilized for planting more biofuel crops in another area; or the demand can lead to land conversions that can displace other crops (also in another area).

For example, the increase in the planting of corn for use as biofuel ethanol in the United States can displace other crops, like soybeans. This can cause farmers in other countries, such as Brazil, to cut down rainforests to grow soybeans and compensate for the "soybean displacement" in the United States. Thus, sometimes, the "land conversions" lead to deforestation, and the destruction of forest cover results in a reduced capacity of the earth to reduce carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It would take years to regain this loss in capacity through reforestation, as trees take a long time to grow and mature. This period of time for reforestation to regain capacity to absorb (reduce) carbon dioxide from the atmosphere has been termed as the "carbon payback period".

The researchers are reported to have"statistically linked the loss of forest area as the indirect effect of changing pasture land into space for soybean and biofuel crops in countries bordering the Amazon." Their model also indicated that the 40% of heavily forested countries in the Brazilian Amazon could have been saved by a 10% reduction of soybean plantations on old pasture areas. The complete findings of the study are published in the journal, Environmental Letters (URL above).

Related information on Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) can be seen at