1/19/2005 Miami Herald - New evidence that the rapid expansion of Brazil'sexport-fuelled agriculture sector is contributing to the deforestation ofthe Amazon rain forest is emerging from a study being finalised by a groupof leading environmental organisations.
However there are indications that the government may have indeed becomemore aware of the problem after years of denying such links.
Soyabean farming, the leading crop, has expanded by more than 50 per centsince 2001 and earned Brazil more than $10bn in foreign exchange lastyear. While soyabean farmers do not usually clear forest themselves, theauthors of the report say, they fuel deforestation by driving cattle andrice farmers deeper into the forest.
"Soyabean farming induces deforestation, it drives the agriculturalfrontier," said Roberto Smeraldi, co-ordinator of the study conducted bythe Brazilian Forum of 19 environmental organisations, including the WWF,Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.
Wary of environmental restrictions and international criticism, thepowerful farm lobby and parts of the government for years rejected linksbetween large-scale, mechanised agriculture and degradation in the world'slargest rain forest.
This week, Ipea, a government think-tank, argued that most soyabeanproduction growth in recent years came from the expansion of existingfarmland and the conversion of pastureland, not rain forest. Preparingforest for [soyabean> farming "requires time and infrastructure," thereport said.
However, using aerial photography, the environmental groups showed thatforest cleared in northern Matto Grosso state last year had been plantedwith soyabeans very soon afterwards. At the same time the area of cattleand rice farms in previously forested areas nearby actually increased,apparently displaced by soyabean farms.
The researchers admit that the region may not reflect the entire Amazonbut many environmentalists are concerned that the advance of agricultureinto the Amazon may spread.
"The objective of the study was to make authorities aware of the problemand work with them towards solutions," said Andre Lima, co-author of thestudy and forestry co-ordinator with the Socio-Environmental Institute(ISA) in Brasilia.
Roberto Rodrigues, agriculture minister, has now appointed a specialadviser on Amazon affairs and produced a white paper including proposalssuch as higher taxes on legal deforestation and environmental criteria onfarm loans.
The government is also working on a map of land usage in the Amazon tobetter regulate farming. Some environmentalists are calling on traders tovoluntarily adopt environmental criteria when they purchase grains.