Amazon rainforest is about the size of Europe, 6.6 million km2. 65% of it are in Brazilian territory. Deforestation in Brazil took already 700 thousand km2, or 17% of the original area.
The deforestation process is simple. Loggers come and take the most precious trees. Other small loggers will take the smaller and less valuable trees. The non valuable tress will most likely become charcoal. The land then will be used for soya or rice plantations, or cattle raising.
Brazilian agriculture frontier has been pushing north since the sixties, when population growth in the south and new agronomic techniques turned possible the occupation of the large plains of Brazil’s Central-West region. Most of the guilt of deforestation has been put on the shoulders of farmers, but that’s not quite the truth.
In this Amazon farwest we have different groups of interest:
- There are the farmers and cattle ranchers, that see themselves as food producers, not forest killers. By a law passed in 1996, they should leave 80% of their properties as original rainforest. Before that, this limit was 50%. Farmers that acquired land before 96 are fighting for that limit and refuse to agree to the 80%.
- There are the loggers and charcoal producers. Most of the wood from the forest is sold with fake papers. Some loggers make more money selling papers than wood.
- There are big mining companies like Vale do Rio Doce, alone responsible for 85% of the total exports in the state of Pará and small gold miners.
- There are also landless peasants, most of them supported by left wing organizations and the Marxist wing of the church. These peasants profit from Brazilian agrarian reform laws to get their own piece of land by invading non productive properties. The problem is that the Brazilian Institute for Agrarian Reform (Incra) considers forest as a non-productive land. So a farmer that owns a big property and leave part of it covered in forest will most likely become a target for these peasants organized attacks. And, these poor peasants will most likely get all the wood they can out of the farm and burn it to the ground.
- There are also different church missionaries protecting Indians. In a recent conference about the construction of a hydroelectric power plant, a engineer was attacked with a knife by a Indian. Later it came up that Church missionaries and NGO’s gave Indians knifes before they went to the meeting. Two years ago, American missionary Dorothy Stang was assassinated in a small town in the state of Pará. She was in conflict with farmers and loggers.
- There are also common bandits. In 2001 New Zealand’s yachtsman Sir Peter Blake was murdered by pirates in the Amazon river.
- There is also the Brazilian military, worried with the purchase by foreigners of large areas in the Amazon, the large demarcation of Indian reserves and the protection of Brazilian borders.
- And there are the NGO’s. There are about 100.000 NGO’s working in the Amazon, only in Brazil. There are NGO’s for everything. NGO’s for monkeys, indians, landless peasants. Financed by Europeans, by Americans, by Japanese, by leftists, by the Brazilian government. One of them called Cool Earth belongs to British-Swedish millionaire Johan Eliasch. Eliasch was called the green philanthropist when he bought sometime ago 160 thousand hectares in the Amazon. Last week he was fined in R$ 450 million for illegal logging of 230.000 trees.
It is very easy to blame farmers for deforestation, while the truth is that deforestation is only possible because of the almost complete absence of the Brazilian State in the region. Only 4% of the properties in the Amazon have a valid ownership registration, which leads to a large number of agrarian conflicts. It is not a surprise that several places in the agriculture frontier, at the borders of the rainforest, are among the most violent cities in Brazil.
Finding the right person responsible for deforestation is also the major difficulty of IBAMA, Brazilian Environmental Institute whose 644 agents have to watch the whole forest.
According to the vision of some environment and anthropology hardliners, the Amazon should be closed liked a giant park. Some suggest even that the Amazon should be international territory (an old idea of Al Gore) since Brazilians are too incompetent to take care of it. Is it possible? No, it is not. It’s a ridiculous idea, and like some Brazilian journalists and politicians already answered let’s then internationalize some other things equally important to the world like Saudi Arabia oil reserves, the Louvre and the British museum, American nuclear arsenal and so on.
And if it was possible, imagine in the future some rich tourists visiting this Amazon International Preservation Area in a safari like tour to watch alligators and naked Indians killing each other and burying their handicapped children alive (a common habit between some tribes). On the entrance a board saying “don’t feed the animals”.
No, we can’t forget that the Amazon represents 60% of Brazilian territory and that 25 million Brazilians live there. This Brazilians need somehow to survive, to generate income, including Indians. The best way they have found to do so until now is logging and farming.
The most reasonable alternative is the challenge of bringing economic development to the region and preserving as much as possible the rainforest and this is possible. Brazilian government is pushing farmers to get ownership registration for their land, which is the most important departure point. Without registration farmers are already unable to get bank financing or to sell their properties.
The next step is to increase police control on logging and to stop closing the eyes to the violence promoted by left wing groups under the disguise of social justice.
Brazil should also think of ways of rewarding farmers that preserve the forest, what is already happening at least in the state of the Amazonas.
Loggers should learn ways of logging without destroying the forest, replacing old trees for younger trees.
Mineral riches should be explored, and Indian people should profit from it. Indians should be fully integrated into Brazilian economic and social life, and not be seen as a rare breed to be isolated, even because they have been in contact with white man for a long time now. A Brazilian newspaper asked Indians what they wanted most. On first place was a motorboat, on second a refrigerator and on third place a computer. If you think they want to be isolated think again.
Soya is being traded by large multinationals like Cargill, Bunge and ADM, and meat is being sold into international market by large slaughterhouses groups that are in the stock market. They all know how worried the consumer is about the environment nowadays, and they are all selecting their suppliers among those who respect environmental laws. No one in the stock market would like to be involved in illegal logging or destruction of the rainforest.
The solution for the Amazon lays both in a stronger presence of the State and in more capitalism. Not less state, not less capitalism.
As I believe the rainforest should be protected, I also believe that Brazilians have the right of getting out of poverty, and agribusiness has proven to be a enormous source of riches for our country.
Before putting on Brazil the blame for the rainforest destruction, global warming and the end of the world, foreigners, especially those of developed countries should take a look at their own forests and their own pollution.
An American produces in average 20 tons of CO2 per year, a British 10 tons, a Brazilian 1.8 tons.