The Brazilian government
is disputing accusations that the
country is destroying the Amazon to breed cattle and raise
crops. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, crop-raising and
livestock-breeding are insignificant or, indeed, marginal, in
the Equatorial Amazon since they are not economically viable.
Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture released a note disputing the article entitled
"The Price of Success," published recently in The Economist
magazine. The article associates the growth in Brazilian beef exports with
the deforestation of the Amazon. This theme was also the subject of an article
in the English newspaper The Guardian and a report by an NGO, Center
for International Forestry Research.
According to the Ministry,
the reports confused the Amazon in its administrative definition ("Amazônia
Legal") with the Equatorial Amazon, in which forests predominate. "In
the first place, it should be noted that the Amazônia Legal is a political
and administrative concept, incorporating an area much larger than the Amazon
forest," says the note.
The Ministry cites as
an example the fact that nearly half the Brazilian savanna lies within the
Amazônia Legal, an administrative division that includes nine states
and an area of 5 million square kilometers, almost 60 percent of all Brazil’s
According to the Ministry,
agricultural activities are carried on in this area without affecting the
conservation of the equatorial forest. In the Equatorial Amazon, crop-raising
and livestock-breeding are insignificant or, indeed, marginal, since they
are not economically viable, the Ministry explains.
According to data from
the National Supply Company (Conab), in the 2003/2004 crop year 645.5 thousand
hectares of cotton, rice, corn, and soybeans were cultivated in the Equatorial
Amazon. This area represents 0.13 percent of the total of 500 million hectares
encompassed by the "Amazônia Legal."
In the case of soybeans,
the area that was cultivated in the Equatorial Amazon was 34.5 thousand acres,
0.16 percent of the total Brazilian area where this crop was planted during
According to the Ministry,
over the past 13 years, between the crop years 1990/91 and 2003/04, the area
in which grain crops were planted increased 24 percent, while production rose
107 percent. Brazil still has 90 million hectares of arable land available
which can be placed in production without the need for deforestation.
The Ministry adds that
the meat exported by Brazil comes basically from the South, Southeast, and
Center-West regions, areas already recognized by the World Organization for
Animal Health (OIE) as free of hoof and mouth disease.
The Brazilian government
also says that inspection activities by the Ministry of Environment were able
to reduce the rate of deforestation in the Amazon. The increase in deforestation,
28 percent in 2001, fell to 2 percent in 2003. In effect, this means that
deforestation continues on the rise, but the pace of growth is much slower
than in previous years.
Even though the indexes
are encouraging, the Minister of Environment, Marina Silva, observed that
the 22,750 square kilometers of Amazon forest that were destroyed represents
the second highest figure ever registered, inferior only to 1995, when over
29,000 square kilometers were deforested. "It is a highly troubling statistic,
but the decrease bolsters our resolve to deal with deforestation," she
told a public hearing in the Senate, May 25.
Silva informed that 90
percent of the deforested area is located in the states of Mato Grosso (44
percent), Pará (31 percent), and Rondônia (15 percent). According
to the Minister, the number of inspection operations has increased. Whereas
19 large inspection operations were carried out in 2002, 32 such operations
were conducted in 2003. "One of them prevented the destruction of 50
thousand hectares of forest," the Minister recalled, noting that 90 percent
of the lumber extracted in the region is extracted through the use of inadequate
During the Senate hearing,
the Minister of National Integration, Ciro Gomes, who was also invited by
the legislators to talk about the Sustainable Amazon Plan, declared that the
plan, prepared at the request of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva,
provides for programs of financing and social inclusion accompanied by environmental
management and territorial organization.
"It is untrue that
infrastructure and economic development imply the depredation of natural resources,"
he remarked, adding that 24 percent of the territory in the Amazon is privately
owned, 29 percent consists of protected areas, and 47 percent is public or
devolved. "For this reason it is essential to resolve the question of
property ownership," he said.
Brazil faces an enormous
challenge: how to reconcile the expansion of its agricultural frontier with
the preservation of the Amazon rainforest. According to official statistics,
about 13 percent of the rainforest (around 65 million hectares) has already
been destroyed and if the destruction continues at the same rate it has over
the last five years, the area destroyed will almost double to around 22 percent
of the rainforest by the year 2020.
According to the Brazilian
Farm Research Corporation (Embrapa), one way to alleviate the problem is to
recover and then reincorporate destroyed areas back into the productive system.
That would be a form of development with conservation.
At the same time, Embrapa
says it has technology available which could protect up to 75 million hectares
from deforestation over the next 15 years. "Brazil has an efficient system
of monitoring deforestation and burning in the Amazon. What we need is a system
to monitor land usage in areas that have been cleared," says Judson Valentim,
an Embrapa agronomist in the state of Acre.
He adds that the first
challenge in dealing with the expansion of cattle farms and increased deforestation
is to gather more information on the potential and limitations of natural
resources in the Amazon and make technology available.
Valentim says Embrapa
will implement a strategic action plan which will study pastureland, recover
degraded areas by planting native fruit trees and implant cattle breeding
areas. The use of so-called alternative technologies, such as non-plowing
farming, could increase productivity in areas that have already been cleared.
According to Valentim,
proper use of the area of the rainforest already cleared (deforested or destroyed)
in the Amazon could solve many problems. He points out that 20 percent of
the area could produce 50 million tons of grains annually. Another 20 percent
could be used for small farmers (around 900,000 of them if each got 20,000
The remaining 60 percent
would be used to raise 100 million head of cattle. And all that, without cutting
down a single, additional tree or burning so much as one hectare. "It
is possible to strengthen farming in the Amazon through better land use in
areas considered degraded. And that can be done without extending the destruction,"
A satellite-based, real
time Environment Monitoring Center (Centro de Monitoramento Ambiental) is
the Brazilian Environmental Protection Institute’s (Instituto Brasileiro de
Recursos Naturais Renováveis)( (Ibama) newest tool in the fight against
the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.
Guilherme Abdala, who
will direct the center, says the new system will beef up the efficiency of
Ibama inspection, allowing field personnel to act based on reliable, up-to-date
information. Abdala called the system a "powerful tool." with its
remote sensing radar, saying that it will "turn Ibama into a big eye
observing everything that happens in the rainforest."
Abdala pointed out that
besides permitting fast reaction by inspectors, it will be possible to tape
images and build up a data bank with information on when deforestation took
place, how it took place and who did it. He added that the system will make
it possible to evaluate various types of risk to the environment besides deforestation,
such as use of slash and burn farming techniques and illegal uses of land
The latest satellite data,
via the Space Research Institute (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais)
(Inpe), is that in 2002/2003 a total of 23,750 square kilometers were destroyed
by deforestation; an area 2 percent larger than was destroyed during the 2001/2002
Ellis Regina works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency
of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at email@example.com.
from the Portuguese by David Silberstein.
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