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Brazzil - Ecology - May 2004
 

Brazil: We Have Two Amazons

The Brazilian government is disputing accusations that the
country is destroying the Amazon to breed cattle and raise
crops. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, crop-raising and
livestock-breeding are insignificant or, indeed, marginal, in
the Equatorial Amazon since they are not economically viable.

Ellis Regina

Marina Silva
Brazzil

Picture Brazil's Ministry of Agriculture released a note disputing the article entitled "The Price of Success," published recently in The Economist magazine. The article associates the growth in Brazilian beef exports with the deforestation of the Amazon. This theme was also the subject of an article in the English newspaper The Guardian and a report by an NGO, Center for International Forestry Research.

According to the Ministry, the reports confused the Amazon in its administrative definition ("Amazônia Legal") with the Equatorial Amazon, in which forests predominate. "In the first place, it should be noted that the Amazônia Legal is a political and administrative concept, incorporating an area much larger than the Amazon forest," says the note.

The Ministry cites as an example the fact that nearly half the Brazilian savanna lies within the Amazônia Legal, an administrative division that includes nine states and an area of 5 million square kilometers, almost 60 percent of all Brazil's territory.

According to the Ministry, agricultural activities are carried on in this area without affecting the conservation of the equatorial forest. In the Equatorial Amazon, crop-raising and livestock-breeding are insignificant or, indeed, marginal, since they are not economically viable, the Ministry explains.

According to data from the National Supply Company (Conab), in the 2003/2004 crop year 645.5 thousand hectares of cotton, rice, corn, and soybeans were cultivated in the Equatorial Amazon. This area represents 0.13 percent of the total of 500 million hectares encompassed by the "Amazônia Legal."

In the case of soybeans, the area that was cultivated in the Equatorial Amazon was 34.5 thousand acres, 0.16 percent of the total Brazilian area where this crop was planted during the period.

According to the Ministry, over the past 13 years, between the crop years 1990/91 and 2003/04, the area in which grain crops were planted increased 24 percent, while production rose 107 percent. Brazil still has 90 million hectares of arable land available which can be placed in production without the need for deforestation.

The Ministry adds that the meat exported by Brazil comes basically from the South, Southeast, and Center-West regions, areas already recognized by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) as free of hoof and mouth disease.

Deforestation

The Brazilian government also says that inspection activities by the Ministry of Environment were able to reduce the rate of deforestation in the Amazon. The increase in deforestation, 28 percent in 2001, fell to 2 percent in 2003. In effect, this means that deforestation continues on the rise, but the pace of growth is much slower than in previous years.

Even though the indexes are encouraging, the Minister of Environment, Marina Silva, observed that the 22,750 square kilometers of Amazon forest that were destroyed represents the second highest figure ever registered, inferior only to 1995, when over 29,000 square kilometers were deforested. "It is a highly troubling statistic, but the decrease bolsters our resolve to deal with deforestation," she told a public hearing in the Senate, May 25.

Silva informed that 90 percent of the deforested area is located in the states of Mato Grosso (44 percent), Pará (31 percent), and Rondônia (15 percent). According to the Minister, the number of inspection operations has increased. Whereas 19 large inspection operations were carried out in 2002, 32 such operations were conducted in 2003. "One of them prevented the destruction of 50 thousand hectares of forest," the Minister recalled, noting that 90 percent of the lumber extracted in the region is extracted through the use of inadequate management techniques.

During the Senate hearing, the Minister of National Integration, Ciro Gomes, who was also invited by the legislators to talk about the Sustainable Amazon Plan, declared that the plan, prepared at the request of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, provides for programs of financing and social inclusion accompanied by environmental management and territorial organization.

"It is untrue that infrastructure and economic development imply the depredation of natural resources," he remarked, adding that 24 percent of the territory in the Amazon is privately owned, 29 percent consists of protected areas, and 47 percent is public or devolved. "For this reason it is essential to resolve the question of property ownership," he said.

Technology

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.

Satellite

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.

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.


Ellis Regina 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 David Silberstein.


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