Originally published on 4/30/2008 by O Estado de S. Paulo
Chainsaws are active once again in Mato Grosso and Pará in the first three months of the year, precisely when the Federal Government announced measures to fight deforestation in the Amazon. In both states, record holders in destruction, the area which has been devastated has practically tripled in this period, an atypical trend for this time of year when work in the forest is more difficult because of the regional rainfall.
The deforested area in both states has jumped from 77 km2, between January and March 2007, to 214 km2 in the same period this year, 149 km2 in Mato Grosso alone. The Imazon non-governmental organization conducted the survey using satellite images.
“This first quarter growth is symptomatic because, based on the measures taken by the government, deforestation should fall and not rise”, explained Adalberto Veríssimo, Imazon researcher. He acknowledges that those responsible for destroying the forest may be trying to get a head start on the effects of these measures and have cut as much as they could during this period, while they have yet to take effect.
Since the beginning of the year, the Federal Government has announced a series of actions to try and curb deforestation in the Legal Amazon. These include restrictions on credit for rural landowners and the Arch of Fire Operation, carried out by Federal Police, Ibama and the National Force. Cities such as Tailândia, Paragominas and Ulianópolis have already been targeted by the operation.
Pará environment Secretary Valmir Ortega says that there is a lot of pressure on global commodities prices and increasing deforestation could reflect this. He also points out that better control of monitoring methods have changed the way the forest is destroyed. Previously these areas exceeded 50 km2 (5000 football fields). Today some areas being deforested are smaller than 1 km2. “Today there are many, many areas being deforested and control is more difficult.”
The interim secretary in Mato Grosso, Salatiel Alves de Araújo, says that the aforementioned figures do not reflect the true situation. “The livestock and farming industries are coming out of a crisis and as commodity prices rise we would expect increasing deforestation. But not to the extent that these figures show, which in no way reflect reality.”
Veríssimo said that increasing soy bean production, especially in Mato Grosso, may have taken place over areas of land that had already been opened up, without significant deforestation. Soybean farmers try hard not to associate their product with Amazon deforestation. Their fear of losing space on the international market is increasingly linked to environmental issues. However, in Brazil, the pressure on farmers could be driving further deforestation. One source of pressure could be expansion of the sugar and alcohol industry in the South and Central regions of the country, which drives grain farming into the Midwest which, in turn, drives livestock farming into the North.
O Estado tried to contact the Ministry for the Environment to comment on this issue, but has yet to receive a reply.
On an accumulated basis during the annual deforestation calendar, which begins in August, the rate of deforestation has grown in Pará and fallen in Mato Grosso. In the former, deforestation rose from 775 km2 to 1362 km2. In Mato Grosso, it has fallen from 2203 km2 to 1853 km2 (see table above).
Data from Imazon as well as figures presented by the Deter system, run by the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) show that deforestation has once again returned to alarming levels (further information on this page). In relation to the Inpe figures, both states show very different types of reaction. Pará acknowledges the problem, alleging that this situation has been going on for years and says that joint work involving the federal and state governments will generate results in the medium term. In Mato Grosso, however, contrary to its neighbor, most of the land is in private hands and as the land ownership situation has been practically resolved, the state contested Inpe findings and ran an alternative survey at over 600 points around the state to show that deforestation has not broken out again.
Of the 36 principal regions listed by the MMA as deforestation champions, six from Pará and seven from Mato Grosso are among the top 20 in deforestation accumulated since August, according to Imazon. When looking at them on a map, there is a geographic coincidence. Most of them are in the north of Mato Grosso or in the south of Pará. This is what environmentalists called the meat belt, coinciding with the area is undergoing the largest livestock expansion in the Amazon.
Clouds could have covered up additional deforestation
The Imazon survey suffered from an enormous quantity of clouds covering the Amazon during the quarter (81% in Mato Grosso in January, are never less than 65% in Pará). The Deforestation Warning System detects deforested areas in excess of 6.25 ha. This is called clearcutting, when not a single tree remained standing. Deter, from Inpe, also reveals excessive degradation, indicating areas possibly under threat.