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,"
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
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
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
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
from the Portuguese by Allen Bennett.