Friday, September 23, 2022
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The use of water in Brazilian agribusiness: what is myth and what is true?

Every day the discussion about global sustainability is becoming more and more present in environmental radars. The conscious use of water in Brazilian agribusiness, for example, is among the topics most discussed in the country, along with the emission of harmful gases and deforestation.

There is a well-known statement that Brazilian agribusiness is responsible for the largest portion of use, waste and exhaustion of water sources in the country. But, after all, is it really true?

Who helps us to better understand this myth is the Phd professor of the Department of Biosystem Engineering at Esalq/USP, in Piracicaba, Fernando Campos Mendonça. In fact, he already states that agribusiness cannot be held responsible as the only to waste resources from water sources – and should not even hold this title.

“If so, it would have a high cost in the production chain, and we know that rural producers always work to reduce costs. Actually, the highest rates of waste occur in cities. In general, in Brazil, water losses in urban distribution systems range between 30% and 80%. Losses of 30% in agribusiness are inadmissible”, he says.

Why the guilt

In a country with a large territory, common sense leads us to believe that the use of water in agribusiness needs to be blamed for waste and incorrect use of water reserves.

But here is an interesting fact that Mendonça points out. Most of the use of water in Brazilian agribusiness is green water, that is, rainwater. According to him, 93% of the rainfall resource is used in animal production and, in recent surveys on the cultivated area (Embrapa and NASA) and irrigated area (Abimaq) in the country, we have 8.2 million hectares irrigated, representing less than 5.3% of the total area of agriculture (152.5 million hectares) and 12.4% of the area cultivated.

“Therefore, although agricultural activities consume most of the water captured, there are no major losses of water due to the obvious cost that this would cause”, the professor reinforces.

In more defined parameters, it is possible to know also what types of culture that consume most water in the sector.

Agricultural activity is first in the use of water in Brazilian agribusiness, due to the need for irrigation. Then, there are animal production and agroindustry. But Mendonça recalls that this consumption varies according to the characteristics of each river basin.

“In the Amazon Basin, for example, the consumption of water for irrigation is very low. In turn, the São Francisco River Basin represents 50-70% of the total captured. And in the Basins of the rivers Piracicaba, Capivari and Jundiaí, agriculture is responsible for 22% of the water captured, in which 19% are for irrigation. Domestic and industrial consumption represent 46% and 32%, respectively.”

Those who know, do it right

Reaffirming the value of the use of water in Brazilian agribusiness, both financial and environment, Mendonça points out that there are great examples about the conscious management of this resource in the various activities of the sector.

One of them is that of ASPIP (Association of the Southeast of São Paulo of Irrigant Producers and hay Planting), which has been doing work in soil conservation and use of water.

Another good example is the CODEVASF (Companhia de Desenvolvimento dos Vales do São Francisco and Parnaíba), which has made the conversion of inefficient irrigation systems and practically doubled the irrigable area in several public perimeters of irrigation.

There is also the case of Irrigo (Association of Irrigants of the State of Goiás), which did a work about water reservation in the city of Cristalina (GO) and battle for the conservation and good use of water resources.

“In the Basins of the Rivers Piracicaba, Capivari and Jundiaí, we also have the programs that Producers of Water and Conservators of Water, which are payment systems for environmental services. These programs make payments to rural producers to promote the reforestation of areas of permanent protection and legal reserve, and activities of soil conservation in the areas of agriculture”, the professor updates.

Attention now and in the future

An interesting fact about the concept of water reserve is that it changes according to the point of view, so it can cause some confusion. According to Mendonça, from a hydrological point of view, water reserve would be the water that remains in the hydrographic basin or in aquifers.

Now, from an agronomic point of view, water reserve can mean the reserve of accumulated water for use in agricultural activities, such as water available in dams or aquifers, for example.

And there is still a third vision, that would be that of water resources management, in which the reserve can mean the fraction of water destined for each human activity or to environmental services.

“Taking as basis the agronomic point ofview, the main water reserves are water stored in the soil and the water available for capture, whether in rivers, wells or dams. Speaking specifically about dams, in some cases they can be the only alternative to rural producers”, he points.

However, for this last point, it reinforces the need for a study of technical and economic viability, because the construction of dams involves great costs and requires the compliance of several rules established by law.

Speaking in law, everyone also understands about future regularizations and projections, since water is a resource that can end. Therefore, every exercise of scenario projection has some inaccuracy of its own, due to uncertainties regarding human decisions, whether collective or individual.

“Several studies of possible scenarios show the effects of climate change and conservationist activities. However, it is common sense that the future of agribusiness goes through the promotion of systems environmentally responsible in relation to the use of natural resources, including water”, ends Mendonça.

Water in Brazilian agribusiness yields many debates. How about joining us and sharing your knowledge too? Learn more about the MBA in Agribusiness USP/Esalq!


Marina Petrocelli
Marina Petrocelli
Over 12 years have passed since my first experience with Social Communication. My first professional years were dedicated to the routines of redactions with no or little digital relevance. Plural journalism was resumed in investigating facts, write a piece and guarantee an expressive picture. The first sign of change came with the proposal of changing realities and experimenting a different way of producing. From then on, the specificities of the marketing universe became permanent. Oh! I’ve also graduated in Law School (passing the bar exam and all). But not everything is comprised tom y professional skills. As a content producer, I’m interested in good stories, from real people or series, movies and books, specially dystopias. I like to draw up travel plans and identify stars and constellations on a cell phone app. Museums, music and art in general grab my attention, as well as pop culture. O primeiro sinal de mudança veio com a proposta para mudar de realidade e experimentar um formato diferente de produzir. Daí pra frente, as particularidades do universo do marketing se tornaram permanentes. Ah! Também me formei em Direito (com inscrição na OAB e tudo). Mas nem tudo se resume às minhas habilidades profissionais. Como produtora de conteúdo, me interesso por boas histórias, de pessoas reais ou em séries, filmes e livros, especialmente distopias. Gosto de montar roteiros de viagens e reconhecer estrelas e constelações em um aplicativo no celular. Museus, música e arte no geral chamam minha atenção, assim como cultura pop.