OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Building a Better Future for Sustainable Agricultural Production in the Cerrado savanna of Brazil.

Bringing farmers and conservationists together to build new business plans for agriculture and ecosystems in private lands.

Photo of Carlos Klink
0 2

Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Carlos A. Klink, Dept. of Ecology, University of Brasilia, Brazil.

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Researcher Institution

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

The Cerrado Initiative aims to increase awareness about ecosystem services and incorporate them into decision-making on public and private land use. The project is a partnership between the Department of Ecology of the University of Brasilia (UnB) and Climate Policy Initiative (CPI/PUC-Rio). Its implementation phase (2018-2019) was supported by Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF).

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Brasilia, Federal District, Brazil.

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

3 representative municipalities in Goiás, Tocantins, Mato Grosso do Sul, covering a total area of 9,650 km^2

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

I have been researching and teaching for over 30 years Cerrado land use change, ecosystem protection and climate change, at University of Brasilia/UnB and Embrapa Cerrado Research Center. I coordinated the agriculture and conservation program in private lands for the Nature Conservancy in Brazil, and the Amazon-Cerrado initiative for sustainable business for IFC/World Bank. More recently, I worked for the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment, responsible for the national policy on climate change, climate finance, Brazil´s NDC for the Paris climate agreement, and the program to protect the ozone layer. I also coordinated the consolidation of plans to control deforestation in the Amazon and Cerrado, the launching of the national program for monitoring biomes, launched the REDD+ strategy and reference levels for emissions from deforestation in Amazon and Cerrado. During my tenure at the Ministry it became clear that public policies can be effective if they combine regulatory instruments with incentives and actively seek stakeholders’ participation. The most challenging, and I believe the most promising strategy for the Cerrado, was the consolidation of a production and protection strategy for Brazil. After my return to the UnB in 2016, I took this strategy as my core academic work. Since then, I´ve been developing the Cerrado Initiative to increase awareness about ecosystem services and how to incorporate them into decision-making on public and private land use. From our science-based evidence we identified opportunities for land use decisions that maintain ecosystem functions without constraining food and bioenergy production in the Cerrado, and built a new narrative for a new business plan for the region. Based on this knowledge, we are now developing a pragmatic agenda for production and protection for the Cerrado together with farmers, farmer´s associations, agribusiness, academia and conservation constituencies.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The Cerrado harbors a great diversity of plants, animals and habitats. Its biological wealth comes from the diversity of vegetation types, woodlands, tropical savannas, grasslands, forests and dry forests. Its biodiversity is rich and usually unappreciated: the number of plant species exceeds that of most floras. Current number of herbs, shrubs, trees and lianas is over 12,000 species, of which 44% is endemic, that is, unique to the Cerrado, making it the richest savanna of the world. It has a diversity of soil types, geology, geomorphology, and climate. Most soils are clay, highly weathered, acidic, low in organic matter and nutrients, and high concentration of iron and aluminum. Soils are deep, well drained, on gentle slopes, and to become productive have to be fertilized and corrected with lime. Climate is seasonal, an average of 1,500 mm of rain/year; the wet season (October-March) receives 90% of rainfall that determines Cerrado biological productivity. The dry season (April-September) can be a major environmental constraint to crops. The accumulation of fuel (dead plant biomass), low humidity and farmer's use of fire at the end of the dry season, promotes widespread burning. Land use transformations affects Cerrado´s ecosystem services (agricultural productivity, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, water availability, climate feedbacks, etc.). Over the past fifty years, Cerrado has become Brazil’s largest source of soybeans and pastureland, and a significant producer of rice, corn, cotton, sugarcane and ethanol. Usually cash crop farming is capital-intensive, large-scale, mechanized, and technological. Small farmers practices that uses a variety of plants and agricultural systems, is crucial for food security. The Cerrado is also home to a rich socio-diversity represented by several indigenous peoples and local communities that depend on the traditional use of natural resources for their livelihoods. Of its original 204 million hectares (22% of Brazil), 45.4 % has been deforested, for cultivated pastureland, agriculture, and forestry. The remaining 54.6% of standing native vegetation (around 111 million hectares), makes the Cerrado one of the most promising opportunities to scale up production and protection strategies. Farmers and businesses are more willing to incorporate the evaluation and assessment of ecosystem services as part of their land use decision making. Currently, 8% is under protected areas and 5% under indigenous lands. There is an estimated 44 million hectares of native Cerrado in private lands (equivalent to the size of Morocco), a significant opportunity for driving sustainable land use, a combination of agriculture production and ecosystem services. Cerrado is in a strong position to lead the world not only as an agricultural producer but also as an environmental problem solver for the next decades. Small and large farmers, agribusiness and conservation leaders must shape the region’s next business model for success.

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Why the Cerrado Needs a New Road Map for Production.

Brazil’s abundant lands in the Cerrado savannas and the ingenuity and hard work of its farmers and producers have transformed the nation into a global agricultural powerhouse. Today, Brazil ranks as one of the world’s leading agribusiness producers and exporters. From 1977 to 2019, Cerrado agricultural production skyrocketed from 8 million to 130 million tons (estimated from data of CONAB/Companhia Nacional de Abastecimento, January 2020 report at ). Yet to maintain Brazil´s global standing to meet the world´s food demand, reduce hunger, and rehabilitate land, a new and ambitious roadmap for production in the Cerrado is needed, one that is rooted also in environmental sustainability. The Cerrado’s agricultural expansion surged in large part due to a centuries-old pattern of clearing cheap and plentiful lands. These practices, which made sense in the past, if continued, will severely damage primary ecosystem services, such as an abundant water supply and reduced soil erosion, that agribusinesses rely on for their success. Already, adapting soybean cultivation in the Cerrado raised productivity and are shifting investments away from deforestation. Additionally, international markets have shown a strong demand for products that protect native vegetation in private lands. However, Brazil’s agribusiness industry is often seen as a main driver of deforestation, which limits its potential and restricts access to international markets and finance. Brazil has already proven that agricultural development can continue to grow even when deforestation is curbed, if technology, policies, and science is correctly deployed. The next step is to demonstrate how ecosystem protection can add economic value to agricultural production in the Cerrado. Our current scientific knowledge shows that Cerrado´s natural vegetation can play a fundamental role in conserving water and protecting the healthy functioning of ecosystems. A new business model, therefore, is a valuable pursuit. The continued degradation of the Cerrado’s environment, if left unaddressed, will harm Brazil’s agricultural industry and weaken the nation’s economic standing. This is why Brazil’s private and business sectors need to join forces with national and international academics, civil societies, nonprofit organizations, and governments to improve practices and supply the rising demand for agriculture products that have been developed sustainably.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

It will be crucial to facilitate participation among the region’s different stakeholders and organize where they fit into the new business model. Initial studies show that it is possible to build a new “operational” agribusiness-ecosystem agenda for the Cerrado based on:

  • Farmers seek to achieve higher agriculture productivity while also seeking compliance with environmental regulations;
  • Think-tanks, NGOs, and traders are building strategies for zero-deforestation in the mid-term;
  • Financial flows and mobilization of private investments have increased for green investments;
  • New technologies and artificial intelligence are being deployed for better planning of the farming landscape.

A critical key to achieving this vision will be leadership and the purposeful coordination to bring various stakeholders together. Without a champion, who recognizes the needs of agribusinesses, farmers, and the science required to support ecosystem services, the potential of the Cerrado could vanish. The Cerrado Initiative proposes fulfilling this coordinating role, with key strategic partners and funders. Three primary strategies will be used:

1.         Create an active, solution-focused dialogue among farmers and organizational stakeholders. Farmers and producers must be at the table in the development of the agribusiness-ecosystem business model. We will engage farmers, large and small, to help develop the new strategies to ensure that the new solutions for improved business practices can be leveraged and scaled up and will reach as many farmers as possible.

2.         Develop, field test, and implement new business intelligence and tools that help farmers to manage or reduce agribusiness risk from degraded ecosystems. We will help develop critically needed business tools by studying new farming practices and interviewing farmers, examining how state-of-the-art cleantechs and agtechs are operating, identifying and mobilizing new financial mechanisms and capital, and learning from new public-private approaches. We also foresee supporting the development of ecosystem indicators, environmental monitoring, economics studies, and the development of tailor-made solutions with farmers about how best to implement the Forest Code into their farms. We intend to prepare case studies on specific Cerrado areas where successful programs exist so that other regions may learn from these examples and solutions can be brought to scale. The collection of this learning would provide solid recommendations and best practices to benefit farmers throughout the region.

3.         Formalize partnerships on specific localities that serve the development of the new agribusiness-ecosystem business model. Organizations and funders are seeking to advance agribusiness-ecosystem ideas like these, but they often lack farmer input and coordination at the regional level. We will fulfill this role as convener and coordinator, bringing stakeholders to the table and ensuring farmer input.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

The future will be shaped by deploying the many strengths that agribusinesses and conservationists can put together, including:

  • A highly competitive agribusiness industry;
  • The ability to increase productivity in the region significantly through improved technology;
  • An innovative and growing economic restoration industry;
  • An advanced research and development (R&D) capacity;
  • Consolidated civil society organizations;
  • Cultivate already cleared areas and lands for agricultural production;
  • A strong policy framework to promote ecosystem services and conservation in private lands;
  • Increased enforcement of deforestation;
  • Proven scientific and technical capacity to monitor ecosystems.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Thanks to the strong potential in the Cerrado, significant improvements in agricultural productivity and ecosystem protection can be achieved at scale. Sustainable agriculture and agri-food systems must be at the core of these new agendas. Promoting productivity for farmers must gain importance along with conserving and enhancing the function of the ecosystems they require. As farmers plan for their production, they can begin to integrate conservation practices, including water shed management, soil conservation practices, food quality, and adhering to the directives of the regulatory policies for conservation of ecosystems in private lands.

This new collaboration between agribusiness and ecosystem conservation, if fully developed in the Cerrado, will create a transformative new business model for Brazil and the world. Formulating a new land use agenda will require buy-in from both the agricultural and environmental constituencies and must be based on solid science. If successful, Brazil has the potential to double its agricultural productivity while protecting its natural resources. The new business model would establish Brazil as an example for the world and a global leader in agricultural growth and ecosystem protection.

Brazil could serve as a model and be a global leader on the production and protection framework, for the country is a major protagonist in the global agricultural market, has experience in producing sophisticated technologies, has built capacity to debate and propose global standards, and has proven leadership on the global environmental agenda.

The public image of agribusiness, in Brazil and the whole tropics, is that of a main driver of deforestation, which restrict access to international finance and markets. These are legitimate preoccupation therefore the private and business sectors should join forces with academia, the civil society, and governments to improve practices and supply the raising demand of agriculture products from a sustainable basis and food quality.

A production and protection vision will improve the competitiveness and diffusion of best practices. International investors usually bring better finance and capital structures to native companies and that can boost the capacity of farmers (small and large) to operate in international markets where evaluation of environmental, social, and climate change risks are becoming more necessary.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email
  • Twitter


Join the conversation: