iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry


Could cattle ranching and soybean cultivation be sustainable? A systematic review and a meta-analysis for the Amazon

Rafael da Silveira Bueno (1), Livia Marchetti (2)   , Claudia Cocozza (2), Marco Marchetti (3), Fabio Salbitano (2)

iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry, Volume 14, Issue 3, Pages 285-298 (2021)
doi: https://doi.org/10.3832/ifor3779-014
Published: Jun 08, 2021 - Copyright © 2021 SISEF

Research Articles

Tropical forests are being destroyed to make space for agricultural activities with the assumption that they are required to feed the growing global population. Consequently, more sustainable practices are needed to guarantee food security and environmental protection of highly threatened natural biodiversity hotspots like the Amazon rainforest. Cattle ranching and soybean cultivation are by far the greater drivers of land use change and deforestation in the Amazon region. We performed a systematic review of papers related to these two main drivers and a meta-analysis on the effects of sustainable practices on different ecosystem services. The results of the review highlight a large concern about the negative impacts of cattle ranching and soybean crops on the ecosystem dynamics and functionality of the Amazon biome, in addition to the clear relationship with deforestation. Another relevant finding is the large gap in empirical research concerning the effects of sustainable practices on different ecosystem services. Such a gap is evident since only 13 studies from the initial database met the requirements for a meta-analysis. Of the 171 comparisons between the ecosystem services provided in conventional land-uses and those adopting sustainable practices, the overall model indicated a non-significant effect, although the results were heterogeneous. Crop yield and herbage biomass were negatively affected, while livestock productivity, soil organic carbon, soil fertility and woody biomass were positively affected. Also, the six sustainable practices evaluated showed different outcomes, from a predominance of positive effects in silvopastoral systems, to a predominance of negative effects on agrosilvicultural systems. Our systematic review and meta-analysis indicate that cattle ranching and soybean cultivation can indeed be conducted in a more sustainable way, enhancing the provision of ecosystem services while avoiding deforestation. In turn, our results also highlight the lack of empirical data and the need to standardize the methodologies used to deeply assess the effects of such practices. In conclusion, we suggest a way to advance research into the real effects of sustainable practices aimed at reducing the negative impacts of cattle ranching and soybean crops in the Amazon.


Tropical Forest, Agroforestry, Ecosystem Services, Silvopastoral Systems, Sustainable Practices, Cattle, Soybean

Authors’ address

Rafael da Silveira Bueno 0000-0001-8964-8572
Department of Agriculture, Food and Forest Sciences (SAAF), University of Palermo (Italy)
Livia Marchetti
Claudia Cocozza 0000-0002-0167-8863
Fabio Salbitano 0000-0002-3592-9632
Department of Agriculture, Food, Environment and Forestry (DAGRI), University of Florence (Italy)
Marco Marchetti 0000-0002-5275-5769
Lab. of Global Ecology, Department of Biosciences and Territory, University of Molise, Pesche, IS (Italy)

Corresponding author

Livia Marchetti


da Silveira Bueno R, Marchetti L, Cocozza C, Marchetti M, Salbitano F (2021). Could cattle ranching and soybean cultivation be sustainable? A systematic review and a meta-analysis for the Amazon. iForest 14: 285-298. - doi: 10.3832/ifor3779-014

Academic Editor

Marco Borghetti

Paper history

Received: Feb 09, 2021
Accepted: Apr 12, 2021

First online: Jun 08, 2021
Publication Date: Jun 30, 2021
Publication Time: 1.90 months

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