"What is cattle-ranching?Most of us know what cattle-ranching is and what purpose it serves, right?
Cattle...cow...mooooo...Cows basically live on a pasture and graze the land. When they reach a certain size and weight, they are slaughtered for either human or pet consumption in the form of: hamburgers, steaks, luncheon meats, baby food, sausage, and frozen foods; and pet food for your cat or dog.
In addition, cows can live on a farm and provide milk and other dairy products to a farmer, such as: butter, cheese, sour cream, ice cream, etc.
Cattle ranching in the Amazon. Photos by Rhett Butler
I bet you didn't know that...
four Central American countries- Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras- were among the top ten countries ranked by the percentage loss of forests during the period 1981-85. Costa Rica averaged an annual loss of 3.9% of its forests, largely due to the vast expansion of cattle ranching. By 1983, about 83% of Costa Rica forests had been felled (cut down), mostly for beef production, and much of that was shipped to the U.S. for use as hamburger (Kricher, 1997, p. 339).
So, you can see how raising cattle can literally wipe out existing rain forests!
Fact: The fast food hamburger market in the U.S. required vast amounts of low-quality cheap meat. The result was widespead deforestation in Central America (WRM Briefing).
Fact: 300 million pounds of beef are imported to the U.S. from Central America alone (RAN, 2004).
Fact: Campbell's Soup uses rain forest beef. Burger King backed down on its use of rain forest beef after a Rainforest Action Network boycott (RAN, 2004).
Does Central America still export beef to the U.S.?
Costa Rica no longer does. I'm not sure whether the other Central American countries do (Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatamala, Honduras, and Belize).
So, what's happened to all of the pastures and cattle in Costa Rica?
Deforestation for cattle production in Brazil
When Costa Rica stopped exporting cattle to the U.S., it was left with millions of acres of cleared land and cattle. Today, 3/4 of the cattle are located in the Province Guanacaste (Pacific Northwest side of Costa Rica).
Why do you think the U.S. stopped importing cattle from Costa Rica?
I don't have the answer to this, but we can discuss possible reasons:
Is there anything being done to recover the many barren pastures in Costa Rica?
Yes. Rain forest restoration researchers are trying to figure out effective strategies to restore the pastures. Some of the obstacles to this recovery are:
Deforestation for cattle production in Brazil
What are some potential solutions to restore these barren pastures?
It's too soon to tell, but Karen Holl (a professor at UCSC, the same school where I'm a grad student) is conducting a study in Agua Buena, Costa Rica to try and answer these research questions:
Time will tell what the study reveals.
Central America isn't the only region where cattle ranching occurs. In Brazil, cattle ranches occupy somewhere around 8.4 million hectares (20.7 million acres), averaging 24,000 hectares (59,300 acres) each, with some as large as 560,000 hectares (1,383,760 acres). You would think that the government would be making a lot of money from these cattle ranches, since the U.S. is such a major consumer, but surprisingly, the overall mean output from these ranches averaged only 9% of what was projected.
In fact, the government is not only losing money from these ranches, they are also giving money (through generous tax breaks and subsidies) to owners of large cattle ranches (Kricher, 1997). For example, a ranch about 20,000 hectares (49,429 acres) receives about a 75% subsidy (financial assistance from the government!) Does that make sense?
Cattle in Colombia
What's the real reason behind cattle ranching in Brazil?
Here's something interesting. A small number of wealthy individuals were rewarded for locating vast cattle ranches within Amazonia. The government provided long-term loans and tax credits to cover most of the investment costs, tax holidays, and write-offs. Basically, these ranches were used as tax shelters rather than productive components of the Brazilian economy (Kricher, 1997).
But that still doesn't answer the question, WHY?
One reason is when the Transamazon highway was finally paved in 1973, part of the objective was to move 100,000 families from overly populated, extremely poor urban cities into the Amazon Basin. However, due to economic setbacks and political changes in Brazil, only 6,000 families moved to the Amazon Basin. Curiously, the focus had shifted from moving people to increasing cattle production; five million cattle were moved into the area instead (Kricher, 1997).
Another reason could be that these wealthy individuals who own cattle ranches could be very influential in who becomes elected as a political official. This would explain why the government gives subsidies and allows ranch owners to use their cattle ranches as tax shelters. This is just a guess. What do you think?
Aside from clearing rain forests and replacing them with pastures which become barren, what are other effects of cattle ranching on the environment?
What would you say if I said an increase in global warming. What! How? Believe it or not, cow gas...okay, I'll say it- farts, are essentially methane gas. This methane gas is released into earth's atmosphere where it absorbs heat just like carbon dioxide. This heat absorption increases earth's temperature and we already know what the effects of that are on the environment:
Cattle in Brazil
One should note that methane gas is not the direct cause of these environmental effects, but it is a contributing factor to global warming. Something to ruminate about.
Okay, let's see what you learned:
Answers are located after the references.
Pen Pal Conversation: Discuss with your pen pal the effects of cattle ranching on rain forests. Knowing what you now know, does this persuade you to become a vegetarian, yes or no? If you eat fast food burgers, will you continue to eat them, yes or no? If you eat Campbell's Soup, will you continue eating it? Will you write a letter or call fast food companies and Campbell's Soups asking them to not purchase beef from countries where rain forests were deforested in order to cattle ranch?
Cattle in Brazil
Kricher, J. (1997). A Neotropical Companion: An introduction to the animals, plants, & ecosystems of the New World Tropics. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Holl, D. K. (2002). Tropical Moist Forest Restoration. Published in Handbook of Restoration. Vol II: Cambridge University Press
Answers to questions:
So, how did you do? I'm sure you did SUPER!
The following standards were addressed in this lesson:
Reading: 1.7 Use a dictionary to learn the meaning and other features of unknown words (import, export, subsidies, etc).
Writing Applications: 2.3 Write personal and formal letter, thank-you notes, and invitations (a) show awareness of the knowledge and interests of the audience and establish a purpose and context.
Social Studies: 3.32 Describe the economics established by settlers and their influence on the present-day economy, with emphasis on the importance of private property and entrepreneurship. 3.52 Understand that some goods are made locally, some elsewhere in the U.S., and some abroad.
About these lesson plans and resources
This lesson plan was developed by Lisa M. Algee, an Environmental Education Ph D student at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC). Lisa runs a site called Kids Connected to Conservation and Culture which focuses on educating the next generation about environmental issues, such as deforestation, and what we can do as global citizens to curb these detrimental effects.
More Cattle ranching photos
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