Destruction of Brazil's Amazon rainforest has dropped by nearly a third during the last year to its lowest rate in the last seven years, according to Brazilian government figures. The preliminary numbers were just released by Brazil's Environment Ministry with the final figures expected in November.
The figures show that an estimated 9,600 square kilometers (3,700 square miles) of rain forest were cleared in the year ended July 31, compared to 14,039 square kilometers (5,420 square miles), the previous year. The rate is the lowest since 2000. The highest, at 27,429 square kilometers (10,590 square miles), was recorded in 2004.
Brazilian authorities say that deforestation has been reduced due to greater controls on illegal logging, improved certification of land ownership and more initiatives to preserve the forest.
Marina Silva, the environment minister, told a news conference in the capital Brasília: "It's a great achievement for Brazilian society. It reflects a new environmental governance."
But environmentalists say deforestation has slowed largely because of the strengthening of Brazil's currency and a drop in the price of soybeans, which makes it less profitable to clear forest to grow the crop.
Paulo Moutinho, of the Environmental Research Institute of the Amazon, said: "Awareness and policies improved in the federal and state governments, but the real test is if rates fall during a commodity price rally."
He added: "I'm optimistic but it's too early to celebrate."
Brazil has often been accused of allowing its farm exports to contribute to destruction of the Amazon.
The government under Brazilian President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has increased police raids on illegal logging and expanded protected areas.
At the same time, though, it has built roads and hydroelectric plants in the region, which conservationists fear could increase deforestation in the long term.