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Brazil is the wolf in sheep’s clothing of environmentalism. We are, supposedly, the kings of preservation and sustainability; but the costume is so poorly finished that it does not fool anyone else. No wonder, the Minister of the Environment, Ricardo Salles, canceled the tour that he would do in Europe to sell this idea. It all went down badly: The letter published in the prestigious “Science” magazine signed by 602 scientists and two indigenous associations, the news about the increase in Amazon deforestation earlier this year, attempts to revise the demarcation of national parks, and the fact that Salles blocked about 95% of this year’s budget to face climate change, according to newspapers O Globo and O Estado de S. Paulo.
In addition to the Ministry of the Environment acting on behalf of interests that are not their responsibility, the ruralist group advances with anti-ecological guidelines in the Legislative: Amendments in Congress that further disfigure the Forest Code. All in the name of a supposed need to expand our agricultural frontier. The deception, however, is denied by the facts – so much so that sectors of the agribusiness also defend tooth and nail the preservation of the environment. It is not necessary to deforest a centimeter to increase food production in Brazil.
According to the TerraClass program, a partnership between Embrapa and the National Institute of Space Research (Inpe), since the 1980s 63% of the deforested area of the Amazon has been occupied by low-productivity cattle raising – which represents one animal per hectare. About 23% of the area that has been cleared for pasture is abandoned. We deforest for nothing, for part is being misused and part is unoccupied. So we have to invest in productivity, not cut more trees. Between 1991 and 2017, grain production increased by 312%, while planted area increased by 61%. This was only possible thanks to investment in technology. In São Paulo, for example, from 2000 to 2017 the planted area grew 122%, mainly on pastures. Despite this, livestock production did not decrease and the forest area grew by 8%.
Half of the rural areas of Brazil are occupied by native vegetation. This represents 1/3 of all coverage of the genre in Brazil. The remaining 35% are in conservation units and in indigenous lands. However, while in the latter’s deforestation did not reach 0.5%, from 1985 to 2017, private property was up to 20%. Although deforestation has fallen in the Amazon between 2005 and 2012, in the last 30 years 70 million hectares have been lost in the region. The equivalent of two times Germany or 7% of the entire tropical rainforest area of the planet. And deforestation started to increase again.
The Climate Observatory crossed data from two platforms, Mapbiomas, the largest survey ever made about the occupation of the Brazilian territory, with data ranging from 1985 to 2017; and the Brazilian Agricultural Atlas, our most complete land map. The result is the unmasking of a series of fallacies. For example, that no other country protects its native vegetation like Brazil. In absolute terms, this is true, as conservation units amount to 92 million hectares and indigenous lands, 112 million. Proportionally, however, we are behind smaller countries: Brazil has 30% of its territory in protected areas; Germany, 38%; Greece, 35%; and Bulgaria 34%. Not to mention our neighbors Colombia, Bolivia and Venezuela which preserve 40% by law; And if you don’t count the Amazon, there are only 5% of protected areas left in the rest of the country. Biomes such as the Cerrado are seriously threatened.
Proportionally, Brazil also loses to more than 20 countries when it comes to coverage of native vegetation: here we have 67%, while in Guyana they have 84%; in Suriname, 98%; in Sweden, 69%; in Finland, 73%; and 68% in Japan. Meanwhile, we have the third largest area of agricultural production in the world, only second to China and the United States: it’s 245 million hectares, one and a half times the entire production area of Europe. Adding the natural fields, such as Pantanal and Pampa, which are used as pasture, it adds up to 295 million hectares, which is equivalent to 34% of our territory. But Brazil is the fourth largest food producer in the world, only behind China, the United States and India. That is, we are misusing our area destined for agriculture.
Among all the attacks of the Legislative against the environment the most worrisome is the Bill brought to the Senate by Flávio Bolsonaro (PSL-RJ), one of the president’s sons, and Marcio Bittar (MDB-AC). With only three articles, PL 2362/2019 intends to end the so-called legal reserve. Today, landowners in the Amazon have an obligation to preserve 80% of native forest on their properties; in the Cerrado, the rate is 35%; and in general fields and other regions of the country, 20%. If approved, the PL can cause deforestation of 167 million hectares. The area under risk equals 20% of the Brazilian territory – which is three times the size of Bahia.
Also in Congress are 35 amendments that further disfigure the Forest Code and expand amnesty for deforestation. The Federal Public Ministry is doing its part: it has filed 1,410 lawsuits against deforestation with 60 hectares or more registered in the Amazon between 2016 and 2017. Altogether, 1,831 people or companies will respond in court for the devastation of more than 156 thousand hectares of forest. Damages amount to R$ 2,515 billion.
The world is also watching us: in its April 2 edition, the French newspaper “Le Monde” arrived at the newsstands with a full-page report: “Nicknamed the ‘minister of the ore companies,’ Ricardo Salles can count on the support from the agribusiness and mining industry lobbies, which are influential in Congress. But to attack the environment in a country that shelters the Amazon, internationally known indigenous lands and one of the largest biodiversity in the world is something bold,” the publication says.
If it wants to survive,the agribusiness will have to adapt to the new times. “It is not true, for example, that China does not care about the production models of the food it imports. China’s Cofco and Wilmar trading company, which dominate the Asian soybean oils and grains market, for example, have made international commitments to environmental, social and economic sustainability that will be followed rigidly, “says Marcello Brito, president of the Brazilian Agribusiness Association (Abag), aware of the new times. Apart from that, China is already one of the countries that reforest most, while Brazil is still one of the most deforested countries.
China was instrumental in the growth of Brazilian agribusiness from the early 2000s. But there are new demands on the market, not just from the Chinese: 60% of the French want to know the origin of the food they buy. Germans, English and Americans as well. The concern for the planet is general. We no longer live in the era of the colonels and no one believes this cock-and-bull story anymore.