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Brazzil - Ecology - August 2003

Brazil: Unifying Amazon Projects

The Brazilian government new proposal for the Sustainable
Amazônia Program has five central axes: sustainable production
using advanced technology; a new model of financial resources;
environmental management and territorial organization;
social inclusion and citizenship; and development infrastructure.



The Brazilian government is unifying all the policies for the development of Amazônia. Practically all the ministries and government enterprises have some kind of activity in the region, and they often work at cross purposes, with programs that overlap. To make optimal use of resources and develop coordinated programs, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced the Sustainable Amazônia Program, in May during the Rio Branco Encounter.

Discussions over the program have already gotten underway. Representatives of various ministries, enterprises, and other agencies met this first week of August to present the projects and programs geared to Amazônia that they included in the Pluriannual Plan (PPA). Beginning with this step, the government will have an X-ray picture that will serve as a platform on which to combine activities for the development of Amazônia.

The proposal for the Sustainable Amazônia Program has five central axes: sustainable production using advanced technology; a new model of financial resources; environmental management and territorial organization; social inclusion and citizenship; and development infrastructure. The document, which is being concluded, will help in the re-orientation of regional development in Amazônia and will be delivered to the President, governors of the Amazon region, and Ministers on September 5, Amazônia Day.

Although the document is still in the process of being elaborated, members of the inter-ministerial meeting have already identified questions that should be dealt with for the project to succeed. According to the executive secretary of the program and secretary of Coordination of Amazônia in the Ministry of Environment, Mary Alegretti, it is possible to detect that various initiatives exist to construct data banks on territorial organization in Amazônia.

Incra (National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform), she explained, has a data base geared to the property aspect, the Ministry of Environment has another one, on ecosystems, and there are also data banks at the Embrapa (Brazilian Agricultural Research Enterprise) and research institutions. Given this state of affairs, Alegretti affirmed that one idea would be to gather all information on Amazônia in the Sipam (Amazônia Protection Service), linked to the Presidential Civilian Advisory Staff.

For the coordinator of the Sustainable Amazônia Program, Antônio Carlos Galvão, who is director of the Department of Regional Planning in the Ministry of National Integration, the model for financial resources for the region has to sharpen the agenda of financial agencies, such as the Constitutional Fund for Finance in the North Region (FNO) and the National Economic and Social Development Bank (BNDES).

He affirmed that it is necessary to re-orient the model according to regional strategies that take into account the sustainability of productive activities. "It is necessary to stimulate sustainable production, environmental certification, the green seal, and compatible use of the forest," he explained.

Reevaluating Programs

Infrastructure development programs for the Amazon region in the government's draft Multi-year Plan (PPA) must be reevaluated, says Roberto Smeraldi who heads an international consultancy group (known as IAG), which provides support for the Brazilian Tropical Forests Protection Program (PPG-7). According to Smeraldi, the main development programs in the PPA 2004-2007 do not include studies of economic and environmental sustainability.

In order to avoid getting the cart out in front of the horse, says Smeraldi, an urgent reformulation is called for that takes into consideration environmental and social costs. The consultant points out that the objective is to avoid what happened with the prior plan where projects involving enormous investments in the Amazon region never got off the drawing board.

Smeraldi's recommendation was made following a study trip by IAG to the region to analyze the impact of the Belo Monte hydroelectric power plant, the paving of BR-163, the Urucu-Porto Velho pipeline and the Rio Madeira hydroelectric power plant.

In its report, IAG declared that there were grave problems in the area involving property rights and land fraud. Smeraldi said an urgent solution was needed and proposed a task force to deal with it. The proposed solution would involve participatory demarcation of Indian lands and conservation units. Also, the creation of a national land deed registration system was considered fundamental if large projects were to be undertaken.

Smeraldi pointed out that there is no reliable data bank on land ownership in the Amazon, which could result in deadlocks when it is necessary to expropriate land. A centralized, reliable land deed office should be a PPA priority, but seems to be bogged down in budgetary problems, which is not really understandable, he declared.

Another problem is that the PPA calls for opening new frontiers in areas where the presence of the state is "nonexistent." The IAG report cites the location known as Novo Progresso. near Santarém in the state of Pará, as an expample. There is not a single federal or state agency in an area where 30,000 people now live on little more than high expectations that some kind of project will begin there. All it takes, says Smeraldi, are such expectations to cause an increase in deforestation and land conflict. "Infrastructure development literally fuels land fraud," he explains.

The IAG has proposed the implementation of a toll payment system substituting the exploitation of the Amazon without any benefits for the Amazon. Toll payments would compensate the region and its inhabitants for impacts that presently benefit "external players."

The IAG also suggests revising the economic logic of Amazon infrastructure projects so that they favor regional development interests. An example is the Belo Monte hydroelectric power plant which will furnish electricity to aluminum factories at a low cost. But the cost will be high for local residents who will get no jobs or income from the power plant.

Another controversial project is the Cuiabá-Santarém highway (BR-163), which will fly like an arrow for 780 kilometers, north from the Pantanal right into the heart of the Amazon. The IAG points out that if it is paved it will cause an advance of soybean cropland, followed by an inevitable wave of settlers. The problem is that the highway will bring in big farmers who run agrobusiness enterprises that will push family farms out of the area exactly because there isn't any control of land ownership deeds in the area.

All the problems in the IAG report are well-known at the Ministry of Environment where Mary Alegretti, who coordinates the Amazon region department, says that the situation is considered critical and that the report confirms the ministry's opinion on the matter, as well as demonstrating "the need to deal carefully with environmental questions."

The IAG report will be forwarded to an interministerial group, which is studying the means to halt deforestation, and other ministries involved in drawing up the Amazon Sustainability Program. Alegretti says there is still time for it to influence the PPA before it is sent to Congress. Alegretti concludes by saying that nowadays the Minister of Environment, Marina Silva, is an equal among equals, and respected by the administration. She could successfully get environmental protection clauses in all government projects.

And what alternatives does the AIG report suggest? Biologist Manfred Niekich, a member of AIG, says that Brazil is full of contradictions. It has one of the world's most important biodiversity reserves, is democratic and has competent people. But it also has a tendency to invest more and more in certain commodities such as soybeans and beef that other countries can produce. What Brazil should do is explore the use of its natural resources in building an alternative economy, say Niekich. "Diversity could be the departure point for a new development model," he concluded.


This article was prepared by Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at lucas@radiobras.gov.br




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