Rather than being financially motivated, ranchers in the Brazilian Amazon are more concerned with maintaining their quality of life.
Cattle ranching is often blamed as the leading cause of deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. According to researchers Rachael Garrett, from Boston University and Joice Ferreira, from Federal University of Pará in Brazil, cattle ranchers have “perceived social advantages, including a quiet lifestyle, safety and social status.”
“For farmers, these potential benefits simply speak louder than money. This finding explains why existing efforts in Brazil to push farmers into adopting more sustainable and higher-income practices have largely failed,” Garrett and Ferreira write.
Their study published in September looked at why low income and environmentally degrading land uses continue in Brazil's Amazon region.
Because local cattle ranchers aren’t as concerned with financial gains government programs to switch to other forms of agriculture haven’t been as successful.
The researchers determined potential land incomes for ranchers in the Amazon could rise significantly if they switched to other farming practices like growing soybeans, corn or fruit.
For instance, cattle ranching yields an annual income of $250 per hectare ($101 per acre). Switching to fruit or horticulture would mean 12-times the profit at $3,300 per hectare ($1,335 per acre).
The study notes there are barriers to entry such as buying machinery and infrastructure like good roads, making it difficult for ranchers to switch their business.
“What surprised us, though, was the disconnect we discerned between household income and farmers’ reported well-being. According to our research, absolute rural income has no relationship to a household’s perceived happiness, though people with more diverse income streams did demonstrate higher satisfaction,” Garrett and Ferreira write.
The researchers conclude if deforestation is to slow down, Brazil’s government will need to not only find financial and sustainable incentives, but also focus on the lifestyle and relationships of ranchers.