Avoiding burning practice and its consequences on the greenhouse gas emission in sugarcane areas southern Brazil

Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2021 Aug 2. doi: 10.1007/s11356-021-15318-y. Online ahead of print.


There is a growing need of sustainable solutions for balancing agricultural production with the reduction of its environmental impacts. The rapid increase in sugarcane cultivation and the progressive conversion of pre-harvest burning (BH) to green harvest (GH) have brought into debate the contribution of agricultural sector to the greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation. This study focused on the estimated GHG emission from sugarcane cultivation during years in which sugarcane areas in southern Brazil expanded and passed throughout an important transition, from 2006 to 2012, when harvest adopted was changed from burned to not-burned based. Sugarcane management and harvest were mapped through visual interpretation of Landsat-type satellite images, and the areas under sugarcane cultivation were distinguished according to each agricultural phase and harvest regime (i.e., manual harvest with burning vs. green mechanized harvest). Based on a broad data review and applying the IPCC (2006) methodologies, the results were expressed in terms of kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent (kg CO2eq ha-1). Avoiding burn prior to harvest, even during expansion of sugarcane areas, promoted a mean reduction of GHG emission from 901 to 686 kg CO2eq ha-1 relative to harvest phase (24% lower) and an increase from 1418.3 to 1507.9 kg CO2eq ha-1 related to the ratoon maintenance phase (6% higher). Analyzing the total GHG emission per unit of cultivated sugarcane area (hectare), it was observed a decrease from 2275 to 2034 kg CO2eq ha-1 (11% reduction). The gradual transition of pre-harvest burning on that period has contributed to the reduction of GHG emission associated with sugarcane production being an important step towards GHG mitigation while still providing more sustainable sugar and ethanol production in southern Brazil.

Keywords: Burning of residues; Ethanol production; IPCC methodology, Mitigation; Inventory; Sugarcane harvest; Sustainability.