Draft Forest Law Reform Bill means economic losses for Brazilian agricultureBy Warner Bento Filho
The Forest Law reform proposal now before the Brazilian senate will lead to tremendous economic losses for Brazilian agriculture and livestock production, according to WWF-Brazil’s director for Conservation Carlos Alberto de Mattos Scaramuzza. Those losses are associated to three points: access to markets, access to payments for environmental services, and natural resource management, the very basis of agriculture.
"The tendency in the world market is to expand the space for sustainable products, and consumers are increasingly averse to acquiring anything whose production involves the destruction or degradation of Nature", says Scaramuzza.
On the international scene, Brazil has come to be seen a protector of Nature in recent years. That image is the result of its efforts to curb deforestation in the Amazon and to meet its formal commitment before the United Nations Organisation in regard to reducing its carbon emissions.
Brazil’s commitment to the UN was to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by one billion tons by the year 2020. Most of those Brazilian emissions stem from deforestation. Studies conducted by the Climate Observatory show that the alterations proposed to the text of the reform bill could lead to 25 billion tons of greenhouse gas being launched into the atmosphere as a result of the onslaught of deforestation that its approval would imply. That is over 13 times greater than Brazil’s total emissions in the year 2007.
If the report produced by representative for São Paulo Aldo Rebelo (Partido Comunista do Brasil -PCdoB) is eventually approved, Brazilian production runs the risk of becoming associated to deforestation and the degradation of Nature. Some of the most influential media entities in the world reacted very negatively to the parliamentary vote of approval in the House of Representatives. The British newspaper ‘The Guardian” reported that ‘Brazil relaxes restrictions on Amazon land use’, and referred to the production of food crops in areas supposedly under Permanent Protection. The BBC London’s internet portal announced “Amazon Forest conservation rules slackened”. Spain’s El País was even more incisive: “Brazil grants impunity to agents of deforestation”, and the France Presse news agency distributed an item with a reference to football “Brazilian Agricultural interests 1, forest protection Nil”.
Large-scale loss of markets is just one aspect of the losses that the law’s enactment could bring. "The project completely ignores the possibility of remuneration for the provision of environmental services thereby slamming the door on an interesting opportunity to diversify income, insofar as it proposes to consolidate existing agricultural use of Permanent Preservation areas with notoriously low agricultural potential. Recuperation of forest vegetation in such areas would not only protect natural resources, but would open up the possibility of new income stemming from the provision of environmental services related to combating climate change and maintaining water supplies for cities and rural areas alike,” explains Scaramuzza.
There is a series of successful examples of payment for environmental services in Brazil Among them are: the Programa Produtor de Água (Water Producer Programme) run by the National Water Regulatory Board (ANA). The programme remunerates proprietors for keeping natural vegetation alive and intact beyond the legally required minimum of their Permanent Protection and legal reserve areas and for adopting good agricultural practices aimed at reducing erosion and the silting up of streams and rivers.
According to information supplied by the Brazilian Agricultural and Livestock Research Corporation – Embrapa, every year Brazil loses more than 600 million tons of fertile soils because of erosion. To compensate the accompanying loss of fertility and natural nutrients, farmers have to apply greater quantities of chemical fertilizers. The harm is then extended to society at large because the run-off soil runs into the rivers and settles on their beds, contaminating the water with the chemical fertilizers and the poisonous pesticides they contain, jeopardising drinking water supplies and the production of electricity, and contributing to an increase in the occurrence of floods.
Finally, in Scaramuzza’s view, the proposed Forest Law reform will introduce other serious losses for agriculture by inhibiting soil conservation, reducing the quality and quantity of available water and the annulling the contribution to agriculture made by biodiversity in the form of pollination by insects and other fauna, and the natural, biological pest control of pernicious insects.
These reasons, and many others, have led the National Water Regulatory Board to issue a Technical Note (nº 045/2010-SIP-ANA) in which it declares its official position as contrary to any reduction in the mandatory width of natural vegetation to be maintained along the banks of rivers and streams that currently stands at 30 metres but which, if Aldo’s new text were to be enacted, would be abolished altogether.
In its official note, the Board argues that maintaining that strip of vegetation is “fundamental to the preservation of water resources and especially to the quali-quantitative status of springs associated to water supply. Only in that way will it be possible to preserve and ensure future conditions for the country’s development and protect the general interests of society at large.”
"The losses in question transform the issue of approving the Forest Law reform bill into another tremendous loss of an opportunity to guarantee that Brazilian production will be founded on more sustainable bases. If that were the case it would aggregate an important positive differential factor to our products in the international market. If, however, our products are to be associated to deforestation and exacerbation of global warming, we will eventually lose access to them,” predicts WWF-Brazil’s director.
"The House of Representatives is looking at the rear-view mirror, at the past instead of the future. We should be looking to the promising green markets and to achieving a low carbon economy,” says Scaramuzza.
According to the environmentalist, it is now the task of President Dilma Rousseff and the federal government to persuade the parliamentarians that belong to their base of political support in the Senate to conduct a far-reaching revision of the text. In a technical appraisal, what is needed is to remove all the catches and loopholes it contains and approve a reform directed towards ensuring the practice of sustainable forms of agriculture that will bring benefits to agricultural producers, consumers and society as whole.
The vote in the House of Representatives was on May 24. Now, the Senate is examining the proposal in three committees (Environment, Agriculture and Legislation) and changes in the proposal can be made. The public discussions might start this week. This new phase of discussions in the Senate could take 3 or 4 months before voting by the 81 senators.
Should the Senators decide to modify the proposal in any way – which is being stated by different senators - , then it will return to the House of Representatives for their further analysis. Then the law will be forwarded to the Presidency of the Republic for sanctioning. The President is empowered to veto parts of it or even veto the entire proposal.