In the global free-market, natural resource scarcity and opportunities for preserving the local environment are fostering international purchasing of large extensions of land, mainly for agricultural use. These land transactions often involve land cover change (i.e., through deforestation) or a shift from extensive or traditional to intensive agricultural practices. In Brazil, the land appropriation by foreign investors (i.e., the so-called “land-grabbing”) is affecting natural capital availability for local communities to a different extent in the very different territorial entities. At the same time, Brazilian investors are purchasing land in other countries. Ecological footprint accounting is one appropriate lens that can be employed to visualize the aggregated effect of natural capital appropriation and use. The aim of this paper is to provide a first estimate on the effect of land-grabbing on the ecological balance of Brazil through calculating the biocapacity embodied in purchased lands in the different states of Brazil. The results show that Brazil is losing between 9 to 9.3 million global hectares (on a gross basis, or a net total of 7.7 to 8.6 million of global hectares) of its biocapacity due to land-grabbing, when considering respectively a “cropland to cropland” (i.e., no land-cover change) and a “total deforestation” scenario. This represents a minimum estimate, highlighting the need for further land-grabbing data collection at the subnational scale. This analysis can be replicated for other countries of the world, adjusting their ecological balance by considering the biocapacity embodied in international transactions of land.
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