Water in Brazil
By Jeff Coulter, Gary Wyatt, Suzanne Driessen
Brazil contains more than 14% of the world’s freshwater supply. As our tour bus drove over small streams and large rivers, most of the water was reddish-brown; this is the same color of the soil. Soil and stream bank erosion were noticeable in some areas. However, crop farmers are utilizing soil conservation practices such as terraces and no-till to control erosion. Unlike the United States, the Brazilian national government does not provide producers financial incentives for adopting these practices. Many terraces were developed in the 1970’s due to soil erosion problems on the hilly terrain. In addition to protection against soil erosion, no-till has been adopted by most Brazilian producers for conservation of soil moisture under annually warm soil temperatures.
Bottled water is available and used by almost everyone in Brazil for drinking, even though the local water in the southern part of Brazil is considered safe. Public water is chlorinated and is not a preference among the local residents for drinking. Other parts of Brazil may have unhealthy water situations that warrant bottled water.
Environmental law established in 1982 in Brazil mandates that landowners allow 20% of their land to return to native vegetation. Landowners usually select the areas that cannot be tilled or grazed. On the last day we learned that there is a controversy about whether the 20% can include required buffer strips (grass or trees) along rivers and streams. Large rivers must have 100 to 500 meters of buffer and small streams 30 meters of buffer vegetation on both sides of these waterways. This buffer distance may vary by state and some states are offering financial assistance. In addition, it is unlawful for cattle to enter these buffer areas and the associated rivers or streams. Overall, landowners and producers in Brazil are being proactive in adopting conservation practices to preserve the water and soil resources in the region and to develop a sustainable agricultural system which protects profitability and the environment.