Cattle and Conservation: The Amazon's First Sustainable Cattle Ranch

In the Brazilian Amazon, 80 million cattle roam land that was once intact rainforest. Ranches are currently responsible for more than three-quarters of Brazil's forest loss, and they create 18 percent of the world’s gas emissions.

But in an industry with a destructive environmental track record, one ranch has become a notable exception. In June 2012, Fazendas São Marcelo became the world’s first to achieve Rainforest Alliance certification—a testament to its commitment to the well-being of its workers, ecosystem health, and sustainable and humane practices.

“[Rainforest Alliance certification] represents the sum total of the work we have done in sustainability on the farms over the past ten years,” says Arnaldo Eijsink, director-general of the ranch. “It is possible to produce [cattle] the right way in the Amazon.”

Ranching Out

Located in the western state of Mato Grosso, the grazing pastures of Fazendas São Marcelo’s four properties may not look like conventional cattle ranches—but they provide a model for earth-friendly cattle ranching. Plentiful trees provide 60,000 head of cattle with generous shade and shield them from wind and rain. Herds roam free on pastures bordered by dense Amazonian rainforest and the biologically rich cerrado, or tropical savanna.

The ranch’s properties span 79,000 acres (almost 32,000 hectares) and maintain multiple protected areas, including a 32,000-acre (13,000-hectare) reserve in the Amazon that shelters rare primates like the Brazilian bare-faced tamarin. Cattle are kept away from riparian areas, degraded land is replanted and cowboys are also prohibited from killing local wildlife—even predatory animals that might attack calves.

Setting the Standard

Those environmental measures helped the ranch achieve Rainforest Alliance certification, awarded by Imaflora, our partner in Brazil. Our new cattle standard is designed to do more than limit the industry’s negative ecological impacts and ensure that cattle are healthy and well-treated. It also requires ranches to provide a range of safety protections and benefits to their workers.

Like other Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms, Fazendas São Marcelo supports local public schools and offers training in crafts and artisanal cooking to the wives and partners of ranchers, the vast majority of whom are men. Educational and job training initiatives like these boost economic opportunities for ranchers' family members.

Expanding the Frontier

Sustainable cattle ranching can have a meaningful impact on global climate change—not to mention the social and ecological health of communities around the world.

“Fazendas São Marcelo’s certification breaks a paradigm and shows that large-scale cattle production can be carried out in accordance with good pasture management, humane treatment of animals, conservation of natural resources and respect for workers and communities,” says Luís Fernando Guedes Pinto, manager of agricultural certification at Imaflora.

With your support, we can make make Fazendas São Marcelo the norm and transform cattle ranching in Brazil and in other parts of the world.


Brazil Cattle
Forest canopy - photo by Sergio Izquierdo

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