Expectation of Forest Law changes leads to record deforestation in Mato Grosso

18 maio 2011    
Bruno Taitson

Data publicised by the National Institute for Space Studies (Inpe) in Brasília this Wednesday (May 18) point to a 540% increase in deforestation in the month of April in the state of Mato Grosso, as compared to March. Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira expressed great concern over the figures. “This is a very serious fact, atypical and contradictory. In a single month there has been more deforestation in Mato Grosso than occurred in the whole of last year,” she exclaimed.

The numbers were produced by the Inpe’s Deter system which detects large areas of deforestation in real time  and is designed, above all, to warn the government of any tendency to increases in deforestation. In March this year it detected 74.7 square kilometres of  newly deforested areas. In April however, the figure leapt up to a startling 405.6 square kilometres. For the Amazon region as a whole the figures went from 115.6 square kilometres to 477.4 square kilometres so that the state of Mato Grosso alone was responsible for 85% of the deforestation that took place in the entire region.

Environmentalists are in agreement that the stupendous increase in deforestation in the regions where Moto Grosso’s agribusiness is expanding is directly linked to the expectation that the amendment to the Forest Law now before parliament will be approved.  WWF-Brazil’s Conservation Director Carlos Alberto de Mattos Scaramuzza underscores the seriousness of the issue. “The numbers reflect confidence in the promise made by the ‘ruralista’ faction (representing agribusiness interests) in parliament that there will be a general amnesty for all illegal deforestation brought about by agribusiness,” he said.

Sharing that opinion, Greenpeace’s public policies coordinator Nilo d’Ávila feels that the ruralistas are placing their bets on the amnesty on illegal deforestation being extended to cover all deforestation up to the date the amended legislation is sanctioned by the President and comes into force. He pointed out that: “What is symptomatic is that the deforestation in indigenous reserves and protected areas, which normally accompanies the national rates, has not increased at all.”

George Porto Ferreira is the general coordinator for environmental zoning and monitoring at the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) and he calls attention to the fact that significant increases in deforestation have been registered in the areas surrounding the municipality of Sinop which is a big soya producing area. “Previously unregistered areas of deforestation have been detected. There has been expansion from properties that are already engaged in agriculture into the neighbouring areas,” explained Porto Ferreira.

WWF-Brazil analyses show that, on average, the profitability of soya is somewhere between 300 and 500 reais (US$187,50 and US$312,50) a hectare but at the moment the value is up to 1,000 reais (US$ 625) a hectare so that it is become extraordinarily lucrative. “That assurance of extremely high profits associated to the expectation of a generalised impunity as a consequence of the Forest Law amendment has contributed immensely to stimulating the criminal deforestation we are witnessing in Mato Grosso today,” declared Scaramuzza.

Ibama also made it known that rudimentary land-clearing techniques like the “big-chain” are being used to clear big areas in a hurry. A long thick, heavy chain is attached to a tractor at each end and with the chain stretched between them the tractors, dozens of yards apart, advance in parallel across the land. “The amber warning light is on in Mato Grosso” says the Environment Minister, Izabella Teixeira.

More than 500 Ibama inspectors have been sent to the state to curb the environmental crimes in progress. According to Izabella Teixeira deforestation will be vigorously combated. Those that put their faith in deforestation for livestock raising purposes will be liable to have their cattle confiscated and utilised for the Zero Hunger social programmes. “Our main aim is to completely stifle these environmental crimes,” warned the Minister.

WWF-Brazil’s conservation director feels that the actions announced by the Minister are important but that the recent cuts in the Ministry’s budget may make it difficult to carry them out. In March the Government announced a cut 398 million reais (US$ 248,75 million), equivalent to 37% of the originally budgeted amount for that Ministry for the year 2011.

The press conference where the deforestation figures were released was also attended by the Minister of Science and Technology Aloízio Mercadante, Inpe director Gilberto Câmara, and the President of Ibama Curt Trennepohl. The complete set of data on Amazonian deforestation detected by the Deter early warning system can be accessed at: http://www.inpe.br/noticias/noticia.php?Cod_Noticia=2545 (Portuguese only).

The amendment drawn up by representative Aldo Rebelo with the help of the ruralistas is expected to be voted next week on May 24 or 25. On May 12 civil society organisations addressed an open letter to the government and the House of Representatives requesting that a new parliamentarian be named to conduct the amendment process in view of the partiality and lack of equilibrium shown by Representative Aldo Rebelo throughout the process so far.