Rainforest Under Threat

Deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest

There is no doubt about the need to preserve the world’s rainforests. Not only do they provide the world with much of its oxygen but they also contain many species of plants useful for medicinal purposes, as well as provide homes to thousand of different species of animals, including humans. Yet they also occupy land, land that can be used to farm on and this is one reason why vast swathes of them are being deforested.

The Amazon Rainforest makes up much of the total area of rainforest which covers the earth and over 60% of it lies within Brazil’s borders. Efforts by Brazil to protect the rainforest have been ongoing for almost a century, enshrined in the Forest Code, which was first enacted in 1934. The Forest Code aims to set out how much land can sustainably be deforested by farmers who require land to use to farm on. Any land that is deforested past the quota set out is deemed illegal and farmers can face hefty fines.

In recent years, Brazil has seen a decrease in deforestation by 70% from 2004 to 2010 and last December a government report stated that deforestation had fallen to its lowest rate in 22 years. These trends have been applauded by many. However, the latest figures have been alarming, noting a 27% rise in deforestation from August 2010 to April 2011 with satellite images from Brazil’s space research institute showing an increase from 103 sq. km. of deforestation in March/April 2010 to 593 sq. km. in March/April 2011. Exactly why these jumps in deforestation have occurred is debateable. Some environmentalists argue that it is simply the result of growing demands for cattle and soya. However, to many these alarming rises can be put down not just to these rising demands, but also to recent motions that have been tabled for proposed changes to the Forest Code.

The proposed changes have been put forward by the leader of Brazil’s communist party (PCdoB), Aldo Rebelo, and have been backed by a group in Congress known as the ‘ruralistas’.  They argue that the current forest code impedes economic development and they want to see more land opened up for agricultural use to see Brazil develop its agribusiness sector. Part of the ‘ruralistas’ demands centre around their argument that without further land available, they will not be able to meet the crop demands to compete with other countries and to meet domestic demands. Changes to the code would see a reduction in the percentage of land that an owner is required to protect, which currently stands at 80%, thus opening up land for agricultural use.

Changes to the forest code remain a proposal at this stage and so you would expect to not see an increase in deforestation until the changes were made. It has been argued by Greenpeace though that these proposals, and the weight of political support they are receiving, have led some farmers to jump the gun and destroy areas of land they should be protecting under law at the moment, believing they will be pardoned in the future if, and in their eyes, when the changes to the forest code get passed. Marcio Astrini from Greenpeace told Reuters that at the moment “You have 300-400 lawmakers here in Brasilia sending the message that profiting from deforestation will be amnestied, that crime pays”. Greenpeace feel that firm governance of the current forest code would keep farmers in check but a flimsy backing of it has led farmers to take the law into their own hands. They fear that if the mere chance that changes may get passed has led to a sharp increase in deforestation, that the successful passing of changes could see huge areas of rainforest destroyed.

The issue has come to the forefront of Brazilian politics and yesterday saw a thousand people, including former Brazilian Environmental Minister Marina Silva, gather in Sao Paulo to protest against the proposed changes to the forest code. Changes made to the code will see environmental repercussions for Brazil; one of those being that it will have to revise its self-imposed target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 2 billion tons by 2020, with current projections that if recent trends continue, that emissions could be as high as 3.2 billion tons by 2020. A solution to the problem may lie in a World Bank study which recommends improving agricultural yields on small areas of land through better training of farmers and low-interest loans and incentives to encourage the implementation of intensive farming systems. To the farmers though, it is simply easier and cheaper for them to deforest more land. It is clear that if the forest code is to remain unchanged, the government may have to appease farmers by offering subsidies to help them implement new systems.

Brazilian Congress is expected to vote on the proposed changes this week. Brazil and the World wait to see if this week will usher in a new wave of Amazon Rainforest deforestation.

*UPDATE*

Today, Brazil has  inched closer to giving the go ahead for state sponsered deforestation of vast areas of the Amazon Rainforest after the lower house of congress approved the tables changes to the forest code, having faced little opposition. However, the Senate must still vote on the matter before the changes are written into law. It will be interesting to see how the results of the Senate turn out as those higher up in government have expressed opposition to changes, not least President Rousseff, who has stated she will veto any amnesty towards farmers who have already been involved in illegal deforestation.

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clarkovitch

Dan works for RealBrazil - the UK specialists in tailormade holidays to Brazil.

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05 2011

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