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Brazilian farmers defend agribusiness

ALIANCA, Brazil — A landholder and power broker in the country’s capital, Katia Abreu has heard all the warnings about ranches and soybean farms carving up Brazilian forests.

But as she rides a chestnut mare across fields of sorghum and corn — her 12,355-acre spread here in the soft hills of north-central Brazil — Abreu insists Brazilian farmers should be commended, not demonized.

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Big Agro has transformed this country into a breadbasket to the world, she said, one that’s poised to feed billions. ‘‘We are not ashamed of anything. What’s important is that Brazil increase production,’’ she said.

This is not an idle boast but rather a declaration that carries weight, as environmentalists, whom Abreu sees as adversaries, well know.

That’s not just because ­Brazil has the world’s biggest commercial herd of beef and is the number one exporter of soybeans, orange juice, coffee, and chicken. It is also because Abreu, who is a senator and president of the country’s most important association of growers and ranchers, operates in the highest echelon of power in Brazil.

And her message is clear: We will not back down.

Agribusiness already accounts for nearly 40 percent of the country’s exports and provides 37 percent of jobs in ­Brazil.

Abreu wants to see those numbers expand. But she ­believes it can be done on the same amount of land now dedicated to farming in Brazil, 28 percent of the country’s territory. That will occur through the application of agrotechnology to improve yields.

‘‘What’s important is that Brazil can increase production by growing vertically, not horizontally,’’ said Abreu, who stresses that satellite monitoring of the Amazon has shown a dip in deforestation since 2004.

Many in Brazil, though, are not convinced that Abreu’s modern-sounding projections for farm production line up with what Big Agro really wants. Environmentalists and specialists in land use in Brazil say there is a latent threat, noting that deforestation rose fast this year in some regions, includ­ing Abreu’s home state.

‘‘They’re putting on the best face, but it’s basically a farce,’’ said Christian Poirier, Brazil campaigner for Amazon Watch, a California-based environmental group. ‘‘It doesn’t jibe with what this landowning bloc represents, which is the expansion of the frontier.’’

The bitter fight over land was particularly pitched this year as environmentalists and Big Agro tussled over what is known as the Forest Code, a law protecting forests that was ­enacted in October. Farmers and ranchers fought to scrap require­ments that obligated farmers to keep a large forest cover on farms in the Amazon.

That effort failed, said ­Sergio Sauer, a University of Brasilia expert on rural development. But he said there were alterations made to the old ­Forest Code that could lead to reduc­ing the amount of woodlands farmers need to preserve.

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