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Agricultural Expansion in the Brazilian Cerrado: Increased Soil and Nutrient Losses and Decreased Agricultural Productivity

1
School of Geography, Faculty of Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK
2
Department of Environmental Engineering, São Paulo State University (UNESP), São José dos Campos 12245-000, Brazil
3
Earth System Science Centre (CCST), National Institute for Space Research (INPE), São José dos Campos 12227, Brazil
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 27 September 2018 / Revised: 28 December 2018 / Accepted: 3 January 2019 / Published: 8 January 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Land Use and Food Systems Interactions in South America)
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Abstract

While food and nutrition security are issues that national and international organizations are tackling, one of the central problems often overlooked is the essential role of soils in providing nutritious food. Soils are the base for food production and food security. However, the majority of soils are in fair and poor conditions, with the most significant threats being erosion and loss of nutrients. In this study, we estimate the potential of soil loss, agricultural productivity loss, and nutrient loss for Brazil’s most important agricultural region, the Brazilian Cerrado, for the years 2000 and 2012. For this, we applied the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE) model integrated with a geographical information system (GIS) to estimate annual soil loss rate and agricultural productivity loss, and used total nitrogen and total phosphorus in soil to estimate the annual nutrient loss rate caused by soil loss. All model factors and data were obtained from the literature. The results show that agricultural expansion in the Brazilian Cerrado is increasing the area of severe erosion, occasioning agricultural productivity decrease and soil nutrient depletion. The annual soil loss rate increased from 10.4 (2000) to 12.0 Mg ha−1 yr−1 (2012). Agricultural productivity loss occurred in more than 3 million hectares of crops and silviculture in 2000 and in more than 5.5 million hectares in 2012. Severely eroded areas lost between 13.1 and 25.9 times more nutrients than areas with low and moderate soil loss rates. These findings show that government policy should be directed to ensure the sustainable use of soils, mainly in agriculturally consolidated regions of the Brazilian Cerrado. View Full-Text
Keywords: soil erosion; land use change; food production; food security; crop productivity; nitrogen; phosphorus; Brazil; RUSLE; GIS soil erosion; land use change; food production; food security; crop productivity; nitrogen; phosphorus; Brazil; RUSLE; GIS
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).
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MDPI and ACS Style

Gomes, L.; Simões, S.J.C.; Dalla Nora, E.L.; de Sousa-Neto, E.R.; Forti, M.C.; Ometto, J.P.H.B. Agricultural Expansion in the Brazilian Cerrado: Increased Soil and Nutrient Losses and Decreased Agricultural Productivity. Land 2019, 8, 12.

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