August 09, 2011
A recent push to revise Brazil’s forest code has emerged as one of the more contentious political issues in the country, pitting agribuisness against environmentalists trying to preserve the Amazon rainforest. Historically, the forest code has required private landowners to maintain a substantial proportion of natural forest cover on their properties, though the law has often been ignored.
Now, a powerful “ruralista” bloc, consisting of large farmers and ranchers, argues that the forest code needs to be relaxed in order for Brazil to continue its breakneck growth as an agroindustrial superpower. These ruralistas contend that because the forest code has been so widely flouted—more than 90 percent of landowners in the Amazon are operating illegally—a large component of the Brazilian economy is effectively “illegal”, undermining governance and efforts to improve land management.
But environmentalists say the proposed changes—including reducing forest cover requirements and granting amnesty for past deforestation of areas up to 400 ha—could undermine recent progress on reducing deforestation and hurt Brazil’s international climate commitments. Already, the media has linked a recent rise in Amazon destruction to landowners’ expectation of eventual amnesty.
While both sides claim to be basing their recommendations on the “best science” available, Brazilian scientists say they haven’t had much of a voice in the debate. In fact, says Antonio Donato Nobre, a researcher at the Amazon Research Institute and Brazil’s National Space Research Institute, “throughout the development of the said revisions, Congress has neither invited nor commissioned a coordinated and serious contribution from the scientific community.”
Nobre says lack of consideration of science in the forest code debate could prove perilous to Brazilian agriculture, which is heavily dependent on services generated by the vast Amazon rainforest. Should the new forest code sanction large-scale deforestation, as some fear it might, Brazil’s farmers and ranchers could undermine the very ecological system that sustains their industry.
"The scientific analysis supports the notion that active conservation of natural areas within farms makes complete agronomic, economic and ecological sense," Nobre told mongabay.com.
Nobre adds that a scientific approach to reforming the forest code could offer a way forward on improving the long-term sustainability of Brazil’s economic growth.
"With proper application of modern technological tools, the new forest code could become a source of stimulus for increased, responsible and sustainable agricultural output, while at the same time allowing for the ecological and economic rehabilitation of large areas of degraded lands all around Brazil," he said. "It will be completely inexcusable if all of that illuminating and liberating knowledge and technology is put aside by an old-fashioned political and ideological dispute."
In the first part of a two-part August 2011 interview with mongabay.com, Nobre talked about the need to integrate scientific analysis into any revision of Brazil’s forest code.