Agron. Sustain. Dev.
Volume 26, Number 1, January-March 2006
Page(s) 1 - 8
Published online 24 January 2006
Agron. Sustain. Dev. 26 (2006) 1-8
DOI: 10.1051/agro:2005055

Cropping systems, carbon sequestration and erosion in Brazil, a review

Martial Bernouxa, Carlos C. Cerrib, Carlos Eduardo P. Cerrib, Marcos Siqueira Netob, Aurélie Metayc, Anne-Sophie Perrina, Eric Scopeld, Tantely Razafimbeloa, Didier Blaveta, Marisa de C. Piccolob, Mariana Paveib and Eleanor Milnee

a  IRD - UR SeqBio at Labo MOST, BP 64501, 34394 Montpellier Cedex 5, France
b  CENA/USP, CP 96, 13400-970 Piracicaba - SP, Brazil
c  CIRAD-AMIS-TA 40/01, 34398 Montpellier, France
d  CIRAD-GEC, Brasilia, Brazil
e  The Dept. of Soil Science, The University of Reading, PO Box 233, Reading, RG6 6DW, UK

(Accepted 15 December 2004; published online 24 January 2006)

Abstract - Soils represent a large carbon pool, approximately 1500 Gt, which is equivalent to almost three times the quantity stored in terrestrial biomass and twice the amount stored in the atmosphere. Any modification of land use or land management can induce variations in soil carbon stocks, even in agricultural systems that are perceived to be in a steady state. Tillage practices often induce soil aerobic conditions that are favourable to microbial activity and may lead to a degradation of soil structure. As a result, mineralisation of soil organic matter increases in the long term. The adoption of no-tillage systems and the maintenance of a permanent vegetation cover using Direct seeding Mulch-based Cropping system or DMC, may increase carbon levels in the topsoil. In Brazil, no-tillage practices (mainly DMC), were introduced approximately 30 years ago in the south in the Paraná state, primarily as a means of reducing erosion. Subsequently, research has begun to study the management of the crop waste products and their effects on soil fertility, either in terms of phosphorus management, as a means of controlling soil acidity, or determining how manures can be applied in a more localised manner. The spread of no-till in Brazil has involved a large amount of extension work. The area under no-tillage is still increasing in the centre and north of the country and currently occupies ca. 20 million hectares, covering a diversity of environmental conditions, cropping systems and management practices. Most studies of Brazilian soils give rates of carbon storage in the top 40 cm of the soil of 0.4 to 1.7 t C ha-1 per year, with the highest rates in the Cerrado region. However, caution must be taken when analysing DMC systems in terms of carbon sequestration. Comparisons should include changes in trace gas fluxes and should not be limited to a consideration of carbon storage in the soil alone if the full implications for global warming are to be assessed.

Key words: no-tillage / mulch / stocks / fluxes / greenhouse gas / Brazil

Corresponding author: Martial Bernoux

© INRA, EDP Sciences 2006