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Environmental, Campaign & Website News > Private Sector Role in Amazon Triggers Doubts

Private Sector Role in Amazon Triggers Doubts

Date : 20th March 2006, Source : Copyright 2006, Inter Press Service



Brazil's decision to authorise local companies to exploit 13 million hectares in the Amazon over the next decade keeps controversy simmering. Some experts are saying that instead of putting the brakes on deforestation, the concessions could make it worse.

After long and heated debates, the Public Forest Management Law was signed Mar. 3 by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The initiative allows concessions to be granted to private companies for three percent of the Amazon territory, and is an attempt to halt illegal logging and the continued destruction of the forests.

But Niro Higuchi, an expert with the National Institute of Amazonian Research (INPA) believes the new legislation could have the opposite effect.

"The law could aggravate deforestation. Brazil is copying a failed model, which has already been adopted with negative results in numerous countries that have lost their forests and remain poor," said the forestry engineer.

His list of countries that predict "catastrophe" here is long: Nigeria, Cote d'Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa; Indonesia and Malaysia in Asia; and Bolivia, Guyana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Surinam and Venezuela in Latin America. All have low rankings on the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) with the exception of Malaysia, said Higuchi.

But his argument doesn't convince Tasso Rezende de Azevedo, director of the Environment Ministry's forestry programme.

"Linking forestry concessions with poverty is a mistake, given that Canada is the country that most uses this type of concession, along with Finland, Norway and Sweden -- all champions in the HDI," said Azevedo.

There are also good examples of this dynamic in tropical forests, contrary to what Higuchi says, such as the concessions that raised the HDI in Guatemala and the forestry reform implemented in the last 15 years by Bolivia, whose experience helped Brazil to correct its own problems, Azevedo added.

The failures can be explained, according to the ministry official. The African countries were still colonies. In Indonesia and Malaysia there was a great deal of corruption, with dictatorships that handed out concessions to politicians' relatives, and at the time there was less knowledge about forest management than there is today.

The conditions in which the measure is applied are very different, and in Brazil it is aimed at containing illegal logging and saving the forests. The restrictions that the government has adopted have already reduced the extraction of Amazon timber in recent years, said Azevedo.

The new law, supported by numerous environmental organisations, including the watchdog Greenpeace, grants contracts to private companies for up to 40 years, with the condition that they carry out sustainable operations, while maintaining government ownership of the land.

The legislation will promote agricultural regulation of the Amazon, with a greater local presence of the federal government in controlling its land and strengthening its agencies, according to the environmentalists.

Many of these groups now consider the legal lumber industry as an ally interested in intact forests, and distinguish it from the agricultural industry, which requires cleared land.

In Brazil, 65 percent of forested area is in public hands, but the proportion reaches 75 percent in the Amazon region.

According to Azevedo, the new law, accused of "privatising" the forests, seeks precisely the opposite: to combat de facto privatisation through illegal means. Currently, more than 80 percent of illegal lumber production comes from public lands.

The fraudulent appropriation of land by big ranchers and companies "is the driving force behind deforestation," he said.

But Brazil already has many laws on forestry activities, land ownership and environmental crimes, which have proven ineffective against deforestation. Higuchi wonders why a new law would be any more successful in stopping the destruction of the Amazon.

In his opinion, the law is a response to interests in the logging industry and the export markets, faced with the imminent exhaustion of the privately owned forests as a source of raw material in Brazil.

Businesses that exploited their own land irrationally will not treat the publicly owned land any differently, says Higuchi, who argues that "the only path for saving tropical wood" is to obtain a fair price that requires reducing the supply, contrary to what the recently approved concessions will do.

The Public Forest Management Law is one of the 140 actions scheduled in the Plan for Preventing and Fighting Amazon Deforestation. "No single measure will be effective," said Azevedo.

The plan combines four lines of action: agricultural and territorial regulation, fortifying control and inspection to prevent illegal activities, promotion of sustainable forestry, and creation of environmental programmes.

The legislation calls for three forms of management of forested public lands: the creation and state management of national forests as conservation areas, local community participation, and forestry concessions for companies or institutions based in Brazil.

The concessions will be granted through a bidding process for a period of up to 40 years, a period justified by tree growth time. In each concession there are restrictions that allow logging of a maximum of 70 percent of an area, leaving at least 30 percent untouchable.

"In another five years, (the concession area) could be expanded, after evaluating this experience," said Azevedo.




Document last updated on Tuesday 30 August 2011

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