“Three farms in one”: a sustainable mix in Brazil

Where the forest meets the farm

“It is possible to produce more food and be sustainable,” says Marize Porto. Integrating crops, livestock and forest systems, the Brazilian farmer has transformed a once struggling family farm into a model of sustainability.

A version of this article was previously posted on Rabobank.com on May 2, 2018.

When Marize Porto’s husband died in 2006, she was a dentist with virtually no farming experience. Their farm, Fazenda Santa Brígida, situated on the rolling uplands of Ipameri in southern Brazil, had degraded, termite-infested pastures and low-productivity livestock. “Selling the farm wasn't an option,” she says. Recovering the pastures was pricey, so that wasn't an option either. Porto turned to the Brazilian Agricultural Research Foundation Embrapa for advice.

“They introduced me to integrated Crop-Livestock-Forest systems, iCLF, and provided technology and support.” ICLF rotates farmland between forest, agriculture and livestock in such a way that yields are greatly increased; it also improves soil quality, making crops more resistant to harsh conditions. Meanwhile, planting forests helps mitigate greenhouse gasses. “Since we introduced this method, our livestock yield has increased tenfold, soy and maize production has grown, and our CO2 emissions have reduced by more than half.”

“Livestock yields have increased tenfold since we introduced iCLF ”

- Marize Porto, Fazenda Santa Brígida

Having virtually no farming knowledge (“I learned on the fly”), she enlisted the help of a neighbor to plant the first soy and maize crops. “This paid the bills and gave me great pasture for the livestock.” Porto went on to hire managers and professionals with experience in different fields. In year three, Porto added the forest component to the farm: “In addition to supplying timber and reducing the farm’s carbon footprint, the trees provided shade for livestock.”

Social gains

Diversity has provided social gains. “We actually have three farms in one, so I could hire more local people and we now offer permanent training. In 2007 we had four employees; in 2017, 22.” Fazenda Santa Brígida now bases its operations on the sustainability tripod: the environment, economic performance and social responsibility. Porto is proud of her farm: “There are two big demands today that seem to oppose each other: producing more food and being sustainable. With these methods we have shown it is possible.”

Porto is now planning to triple her turnover, arrange succession properly and obtain sustainable certifications to add value to her diverse products. And she is looking into installing solar panels. She also wants to share her knowledge. When asked what advice she would offer other farmers, Porto says, “Diversify, add value to the products, respect nature and develop human resources on the farm.”

ICLF in action

Open gates

In 2018, Rabobank invited her to sit on a panel at its annual rural banking convention where she could pass her experience on to other farmers. “Today I work with consultants, have partnerships with various companies, and accept interns from different parts of Brazil. We want to open up our experience, both with Embrapa and with this particular method. “At our farm, the gates are literally open!”

But her dreams don't stop at her own gate. “I want to see Brazil recognized as a world leader in food, fiber and energy production, and inspire others in environmental conservation.”