Brazil: The undoing of the Forest Code


Brazil's Forest Code is one of the most forward thinking pieces of forest legislation in the world. But powerful agribusiness lobbyists, known as 'Ruralistas' and led by Aldo Rebelo, are getting ever closer to changing that.

Brazils's 1965 law, that has been widely acclaimed in keeping deforestation in check, dictates that 80% of a landowners property (in the Amazon) must be kept as forest. This figure is much reduced in Cerrado (35%) and falls to only 20% in Mata Atlantica (Atlantic Forest).

The battle between the Ruralistas and the environmentalists has strong voices on each side, but Brazil's historically environmentally-minded President Lula is notable by his absence in the debate. It is election year after all and despite standing down at the end of his term he doesn't seem to want to make a stand against the changes, despite deforestation rates in the Amazon dropping during his seven year tenure and the very obvious threat this poses to undo all his good work.

agricultural land in Atlantic Forest

Former rainforest in Mata Atlantica. Scenes like this could become more common if the

Ruralistas have their way in the Brazilian Forest Code debate.

The Ruralistas contend the forest laws are a liberal conspiracy that suppress economic growth and trap people in poverty who live in forest landscapes. Some of these points can't be argued: there are many very poor people living in rural Brazil. But the reality of the proposed changes seem only to benefit the already wealthy landowners, agribusinesses, and energy moguls.

Although the Forest Code has never been enforced to the degrees conservationists would like, most agree it has been a largely success story. It is perhaps indicative that Mata Atlantica - where landowners only have to keep 20% of their land as natural habitat - has become one of the most threatened rainforest systems in the world, while it's estimated 75% of the Amazon is still standing. A change in the law could place the mighty Amazon in as precarious a situation as its smaller, lesser known cousin.

Environmental NGOs are rightly concerned about the planned changes. Greenpeace estimate it could double the forested area (85m hectares) of the Amazon that could be legally destroyed. Or to put it another way, England and France put together.

Related links:


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