Brazilian Farmers Push Law to Weaken Environmental Protection of the Rain Forest

Posted on May 27, 2011

Brazil and Indonesia have the most rain forest of any countries on the globe.  However, commercial farming is threatening to further reduce their size and put the planet at risk.  A law revising the protection of the Amazon is being drafted by the Brazilian government.

Among the proposed changes that worried environmentalists were plans to:

  • exempt small landowners from requirement to preserve 80% forest
  • give an amnesty to landowners who cleared forest before 2008
  • reduce the strip of land that must be left intact along the banks of rivers and streams from 30m (100ft) to 15m (50ft)

The proposals were the focus of intense wrangling. On 24 May, deputies approved the overhaul of the forest code. It now goes to the Senate and President Rousseff for approval.

Corn in the foreground, forest in the background Demand from abroad has fuelled the expansion of Brazil’s agriculture

Environmentalists argue that the changes and loopholes in the legislation pose a big threat to the Amazon rainforest.

“The farmers are trying to leave doors open to allow for the permanence of plantations in highly sensitive areas like slopes and hilltops,” says Paulo Barreto, a researcher at of the Amazon Institute for Mankind and the Environment (Imazon).

Many environmentalists believe that a recent reported increase in Amazon deforestation was caused by farmers trying to clear land before the new Forest Code code is approved.

This would mean that their lands could be recognised as established farmland.

ProductivityBut Mrs Abreu argues that the environmentalists’ concerns have more to do with ideology than with science.

“Just look at the world’s history and you’ll see that everywhere agriculture developed along the rivers because our activity depends on water, it’s quite obvious,” she said.

Mrs Abreu was critical of the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science (SBPC), which has called for more for more research before the forest code is changed.

Cow on cleared land Decisions in Brasilia will have a big impact on the Amazon

That view, Mrs Abreu said, was “highly politicised”.

Environmentalists say that they understand the need for more food production.

But they argue this can be done by increasing the productivity of existing farmland, not clearing more of the Amazon.

Cattle farms in the Amazon have an average productivity of less than one head per hectare (2.5 acres).

“I have invested in better varieties of pasture and in fertilisers and I have an average of 2.5 cows per hectare in my farm. I also plant corn,” says farmer Percio Barros de Lima.

“When I bought this farm in 1974 it still had about half of its area covered with original forest, which was what the law required at the time. Since then we have managed to develop by increasing productivity and without clearing any new areas,” says Mr Lima.

“I hope the new forest code will make all rules for our activity clearer so we’ll be able to work without so many uncertainties about the future.”

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Meanwhile, US farmers struggle under sundry regulations and conservation rules and regulations.