sábado, abril 29, 2006


The Brazilian Amazon

How green was my valley

Apr 27th 2006 SÃO PAULO
From The Economist print edition

Brazil struggles to put the brakes on rampant deforestation without throwing tens of thousands of loggers and farmers into poverty

“MONSTROUS misery and hunger.” That is the lot of people dwelling in the Amazonian state of Pará since Brazil's government cracked down on loggers and others who earn their livelihoods in the rainforest, says Luiz Carlos Tremonte, who heads a loggers' union. Businesses are idle, thousands are losing their jobs, food aid has not come. The loggers' suffering is no cause for celebration, but to environmentalists the government activism that gave rise to it is.
Brazil loses an average of around 20,000 square kilometres (nearly 8,000 square miles) of rainforest every year. This is because the state lacks the will and the means to control loggers and—more importantly—ranchers, farmers and landgrabbers. This may now be changing. In the year to last August, 19,000km2 of rainforest were destroyed, almost a third less than the 27,000 the year before. “The idea of any country controlling what goes on along an agricultural frontier is completely new,” says Stephan Schwartzman of Environmental Defence, an American NGO.

There are reasons to be wary. Last year's lower rate of deforestation means that the Amazon lost a Kuwait-sized slab of forest rather than nearly a Belgium's worth. This was partly because of a drop in soya and beef prices, the main motors of destruction; when prices bounce back, so may deforestation. The federal government's green contingent is an insecure minority that could be out of office after next October's presidential election. Environmentalism in state governments is even shakier. Yet enough is changing in the way government deals with the Amazon—including new conservation reserves, a new forest law and tougher enforcement—to hope that this marks progress rather than merely a pause in the destruction.

The idea that the Amazon needs saving is relatively new. Mr Tremonte points out that the government once summoned Brazilians to the region to “integrar para não entregar” (integrate the Amazon into Brazil to save it from falling into foreign hands). It remains largely isolated—the main thoroughfares are dirt tracks—but not intact. Nearly 40% of the “legal Amazon”, covering all Amazonian states, consists of protected areas, such as national parks and “indigenous” (Indian) reserves. A quarter is private property, which is supposed to be kept 80% forested but often is not. Most of the rest is unprotected “empty land”, nominally federal property but prey to speculators who assert their claims by despoiling it. Lack of effective ownership often provokes violence: in February 2005, Sister Dorothy Stang, an American nun, was murdered by landgrabbers in Pará.

That prompted the government to send in the army. More effectively, Brazil's president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has created 150,000km2 of new conservation areas. Earlier reserves were concentrated in remote areas with little attraction for developers. The newest ones stand athwart the “arc of deforestation”—a great swathe of agricultural development, some 400km wide and 3,000km long, that has eaten into the forest—in the hope of discouraging further incursion.

Presidential decrees alone will not disrupt the Amazon's illicit economy, let alone implant a law-abiding and forest-friendly one. That will come from the combined effect of new laws, police operations, regulatory tinkering, institutional reform and pressure by NGOs. Something is happening in most of these areas.

Last year, federal police arrested 148 people in the high-deforestation states of Mato Grosso and Rondônia, a third of them employees of Ibama, the corruption-riddled federal environment agency. Loggers are screaming because the government suspended 3,000 licences to harvest wood on public land. Protocolos—official recognition of a land claim—are now being issued as bar codes rather than as documents similar to title deeds that can be sold or used as collateral for bank loans. That short-circuited the trade in protocolos, a prime tool in land grabbing. As a result, 600,000km2 of land claims have disappeared, says Tasso de Azevedo of the federal environment ministry.

Mato Grosso is better equipped than most states to control deforestation, with a state-of-the-art system for licensing properties and satellite technology to monitor its use. After a purge of the state environment agency, the system is now working well, says André Lima of Instituto Socioambiental, an NGO. But in the areas of enforcement and transparency, there are still problems. Fines are not being paid, nor has the state government put deforestation data on the internet. To encourage enforcement, a group at the Federal University of Mato Grosso plans to report on cases against the 60 largest deforesters.

A federal law passed last month “will change the rationale that leads to deforestation,” says Mr de Azevedo. Under the law, empty land will be preserved as “public forest”. Part of this—due after ten years to total about 3% of the rainforest—will be handed to forest-friendly companies through concessions; 6% will be reserved for harvesting by communities; and 12% will be turned into new conservation areas. A new forest service will manage the concession contracts; private certifiers will check that firms and government agencies are doing their jobs. Mr de Azevedo sees in this the end of a 500-year tradition of seizing and razing the forest.

But this vision is still a long way from being realised. A judicial and political backlash is likely. Despite provisions for “sustainable” forestry, Mr Tremonte is convinced that the government wants to drive loggers out, while Greens grouse that it is not doing enough. Although the environment ministry is eager to control the frontier, other ministries seem unenthusiastic. A recent bailout of struggling farmers, for example, did not require that they obey the environmental law. On the rescue of the Amazon, the government is clearly still of two minds.

Nenhum comentário: