Go Back

Brazzil - Ecology - May 2004

Marrying Growth and Preservation in Brazil's Amazon

Brazil's Embrapa intends to implement a strategic action plan in the
Amazon rainforest, which will study pastureland, recover degraded
areas by planting native fruit trees and implant cattle breeding
areas. The use of so-called alternative technologies could
increase productivity in areas that have already been cleared.

Milena Galdino


Picture 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 hectares).

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," he explains.

Water Management

The Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (OTCA) has eight member countries: Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guiana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela, and was formed 25 years ago. A new secretary general just took office urging the group to pay special attention to water resource management and announcing the creation of a US$ 30 million program to deal with the problem.

The new secretary general, Rosália Arteaga, of Ecuador, declared that the Amazon should be an area of integration. She called for member nations to agree on a common agenda and draw up compatible legislation to protect local inhabitants and their culture in an effort to create a community of Amazon nations.

Brazilian Foreign Minister, Celso Amorim, declared that the moment is propitious for talks on regional integration as Mercosur and the Andean Community prepare to sign an important cooperation agreement.

Satellite Surveillance

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.

In a recent interview, 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 by squatters.

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 period.

The new Environmental Monitoring Center (Cemam) is active since mid April. The center will gather information on processes of deforestation, land clearing burns, forest fires, and the socio-economic use of the soil, for the purpose of preventing environmental damage and stimulating sustainable development.

The new facility is part of the System of Protection of the Amazon (Sipam), which possesses a broad technological base, including satellite sensoring, meteorological stations, radar equipment, and surveillance planes. The project envisions the future expansion of monitoring to other regions of the country.

Milena Galdino works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at lia@radiobras.gov.br.
Translated from the Portuguese by Allen Bennett.

Discuss it in our Forum

Send your comments to Brazzil

Anything to say about Brazil or Brazilians? Brazzil
wishes to publish your material. See what to do.