Saturday, July 3, 2010

Fate of the Amazon hangs in balance

A comment by Siân Herbert in the Guardian (UK): A special committee in the Brazilian parliament is poised to vote on a new report which, if approved, could pave the way for looser regulation on land use and deforestation. … There are growing demands to postpone the vote until next year, when a fairer vote could be held. But there are many interests at play. Political expediency and politicking are rife and the reformed legislation could win approval at the plenary by 16 July this year.

So why is this important? Brazil is a powerhouse for agricultural and commodity exports. However, it is also home to some of the world's richest areas of biodiversity. Brazil's future depends on the balancing of these two interests.

….The Brazilian forestry code, established in 1965, is widely touted as one of the most advanced environmental laws in the world. It sets strict limits on land use in areas of high biodiversity. Landowners are required to maintain 80% of their land in its natural state in the Amazon, 35% in the Cerrado (savanna terrain) and 20% in the Mata Atlântica (known as the Atlantic Forest).

The complex issue of re-evaluating the law has caused serious controversy, with strong arguments on both sides. The debates have led to a standoff between the powerful Brazilian agricultural lobby, known as the Ruralistas, and a group of politicians and NGOs who support the original forestry code, known as the environmentalists.

The Ruralistas have been pushing for reform of the forestry code for many years, claiming that it stifles economic development and the agricultural sector's competitiveness. They argue that the code is unfair, making agriculturalists and indigenous people, who are often subsistence farmers, into "environmental criminals".

This is a pertinent issue. The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) estimates that over 30% of Brazilians live in poverty – and a disproportionately high amount live in the Amazon. With a population of 20 million, there is an urgent need to raise living standards in the region.

But really, would a reform of the forestry code actually help the Amazon's poorest? Call me a cynic, but the dash to dismantle the forestry code looks like it's more in the interest of agribusiness than anyone else. Also, remember that the degradation of environmental resources disproportionately affects the poor, especially subsistence farmers….

Amazon River and rain forest from space, via NASA

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