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BRAZIL
Forest law poses threats
José Pedro Martins
4/13/2012
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Bill poised for approval by lawmakers amid debate.

A proposed law to administrate Brazil’s vast forests has stirred heated debates for 13 years.

Lawmakers are expected to approve the contentious bill, which would reduce the required forested buffers along the banks of rivers and streams.

Environmentalists and scientists have warned that the legislation will speed up deforestation, and endanger wildlife and fresh water sources in the country, which holds 12.5 percent of the world’s fresh water.

Brazil’s first Forestry Code was decreed in January 1934. But it was knocked down by a 1965 law which is in force and under debate.

Since 1999, lawmakers have been debating changes to that norm and how to address the absence of regulations in large parts of rural Brazil.

The 1965 Code states that all rural property must leave a strip at least 30 meters (50 feet) wide forested on the banks of the rivers and streams of up to 10 meters (33 feet) wide. The change proposed in the code states a strip 15 meters (35 feet) wide forested on the banks of the rivers and streams of up to 5 meters (16 feet) wide, thus halving the previous requirements.

Lawmakers are also proposing lowering the so-called “legal reserve,” the percentage of a rural property that cannot be deforested under any circumstances.

The percentage depends on the biome where the property is located. According to the 1965 law, the rate is 80 percent in the Amazon and 35 percent in the grasslands known as the Cerrado, and 20 percent in other regions. The proposal would drastically reduce those percentages.

The National Conference of Brazilian Bishops wrote in a late 2011 press release that the new law would increase various forms of deforestation and have negative social impacts.

For example, “the mangroves will be open to large-scale shrimp farming, endangering the small-scale fishermen. The hills will lose their protection, subject to new farming uses that have already shown to be erroneous,” it said.

Environmental impacts
Some scientists have warned that areas known as APP, or under “permanent protection” and legal reserves will be hurt by the expanding agricultural industry, and that key pollination centers will be lost.

“Scientific research confirms the significant benefits of pollination as an ecosystem service for important crops” such as melon, coffee, oranges, cashews, cotton and peaches, said a joint document from the Brazilian Academy of Sciences and the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science entitled “The Forestry Code and Science: Contributions for Dialogue.”

Agronomist José Carlos Perdigão, president of the Jaguatibaia Association, an organization that aims to reforest areas of the interior of São Paulo state, said the focus of the discussion over the bill is wrong.

“The focus should be on considering permanent vegetation areas and legal reserves as fundamentals for the protection of biodiversity and water production,” he said. “That way, farmers who were working within the APPs and legal reserves could receive payments for this, for providing environmental services. That is the most modern scenario. Biodiversity and water are the basis of life. Without them, there is no life.”

The study by Brazil’s main scientific institutions showed that there are 61 million hectares (150 million acres) — close to 20 percent of the land occupied by rural property — that are degraded but could be recovered and used for food production.

The study pointed to the governmental Low Carbon Agricultural Program, which “takes advantage of the liability of greenhouse gas emissions and transforms them into an opportunity for agricultural production and the lending of environmental services. But despite the merit of this initiative, it needs a much larger political effort.”

Advances and setbacks
On May 24, 2011, the bill was approved by the Deputies’ Chamber with 410 votes in favor, 63 against and one abstention. It was backed by the ruling Workers’ Party, as well as the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, the Party of the Republic and the Democrats. But the Senate made changes, so the bill returned to the lower chamber whose vote is scheduled for late April.

Lawmakers will be voting on new language written by Dep. Paulo Piau, of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, which critics say failed to take all of the changes into consideration. The Senate had added, for example, that the law would establish that Brazil is committed “to the preservation of its forests and other forms of native vegetation, biodiversity, soil and water resources.”

But Piau’s text stops short of that, even though it establishes “general norms” for the protection of vegetation.

Any text that President Dilma Rousseff receives “will include more reasons for more deforestation...,” said Márcio Astrini, of Greenpeace’s Amazon campaign. “I hope that the president fulfill her campaign promise to veto any change in the forestry code allowing more deforestation”.
—Latinamerica Press.


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Environmentalists fight to protect the Atibaia River, one of the main waterways in São Paulo. (Photo: José Pedro Martins)
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