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The President and the Amazon

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The challenge is to enforce the Brazilian Forest Code and ensure the management of the areas already assigned

Amazonia

The presidential elections of 2018 gave rise to debates and controversies on, among other things,  the occupation and preservation of the Amazon region. Alarmist pundits denounced the forest’s imminent devastation, the abandonment of conservation policies, and agriculture as a vector of devastation. Even the British magazine The Economist made predictions on the subject. But what is the real situation regarding the protection and preservation of native vegetation in the Amazon biome? What is the role of public policies in forest maintenance? What role does the farming world play in preservation?

A recent study by EMBRAPA (Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation) provides objective responses to these questions and points to the real Amazonian challenge of the new Brazilian President.

Protection of native vegetation – In Brazil, the Amazon biome occupies about 4.2 million square kilometers (1.6 million sq miles), practically half of the country (49.4%). It encompasses the states of Acre, Amapá, Amazonas, Pará, Rondônia and Roraima, in addition to part of Mato Grosso, Maranhão, and Tocantins.

In the Amazon biome, there are 204 conservation units of integral protection such as ecological stations and national parks, taking up an area exceeding 76 million hectares (187 million acres). They cover 18% of the biome, prohibit human presence, and do not allow any productive activity. Extractive and sustainable development reserves are not part of this comprehensive protection set.

In the Amazon biome, there are also 330 legally attributed indigenous lands, under the management of FUNAI. They total almost 107 million hectares (264 million acres) and cover 25.4% of the biome.

There are overlaps among the 534 areas attributed to environmental conservation and indigenous peoples. Discounting the overlays, they total 171.5 million hectares (424 million acres) of protected areas and 40.8% of the biome.

Military areas, registered with national forests, total about 2.7 million hectares (6.7 million acres) and 0.6% of the Amazon biome. Overall, integral conservation units, indigenous lands and military areas protect 174.2 million hectares (430.5 million acres) or 41.4% of the biome today.

Preservation of native vegetation – The contribution of farmers, cattle ranchers and miners to environmental preservation in the Amazon was underestimated and little known until the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR) was established. This mandatory electronic record, created and required by the Forest Code (Law 12.651/12), has become a relevant instrument of agricultural and socio-environmental planning.

By August 2018, more than 468,000 rural properties in the Amazon biome were registered in the CAR, including extractive and sustainable development reserves. Embrapa Territorial analyzed this geocoded big data and mapped within ten meters of detail the area dedicated to the preservation of native vegetation in extractive and agricultural lands in each rural property, municipality, microregion, state and biome (www.embrapa.br/car). The rural world dedicates an area totaling 103.1 million hectares (254.7 million acres) to the preservation of native vegetation. This corresponds to 24.6% of the Amazon biome and 64% of the real estate area. In other words, amid its productive activities the rural world preserves a quarter of the Amazon biome and two-thirds of its properties.

Floresta

A protected and well-preserved biome –In summary, the 534 most stringent protection areas (integral conservation units and indigenous lands) total 171.5 million hectares (423.8 million acres) and make up 40.8% of the Amazon biome. With the military areas, this percentage attains 41.4%. In more than 468,000 rural properties, as per CAR data, the areas dedicated to the preservation of native vegetation total 103.1 million hectares (254.7 million acres) or 24.6% of the biome.

The total of legally protected and preserved areas, duly mapped and detailed, is 277.3 million hectares (685.2 million acres), 66.1% or two thirds of the Brazilian Amazon. For the rural world and for government agencies, this entails a great operational and patrimonial cost still to be calculated.

Without subtracting urban and mining areas whose size is very small in relation to the region’s total, there still are in the Amazon biome about 83.8 million hectares (207.1 million acres) liable to be occupied. Most of them are flooded areas, water surfaces of the Amazon River and lands that are not very favorable to mining and farming, lacking logistical access. In large part, they are vacant lands.

The real challenge – Even in the highly unlikely hypothesis of a full occupation of these areas by the rural world, the Forest Code already imposes the limit of 20% for use and exploitation (legal deforestation). The legal reserve area assigned for native vegetation is 80%. Thus, some additional 67 million hectares (165.6 million acres) or 16% of the region are already legally destined for preservation, as required by the Forest Code.

With all these areas legally destined to the protection and preservation of native vegetation, Brazil has already given up exploiting and using 82% of the Amazon biome, an area larger than India! This fact needs to be more widely known and recognized. What other country in the world devotes 3.5 million square kilometers (1.4 million square miles) to preservation? Let someone try to propose to the United States, Canada, Russia or China to establish such a large preservation area! In absolute and relative values, the environmental protection of the Amazon is an example without parallel on the planet, as international documents confirm (IUCN, 2016. Protectedplanet Reports).

President Jair Bolsonaro’s challenge is not to create more conservation areas, but to enforce the Forest Code and ensure the management of the areas already assigned, public and private. In addition, he needs to find ways to collect from the beneficiaries, urbe et orbi, for the environmental services rendered to the preservation of our Amazon. Maintaining the integrity of this huge natural heritage, especially in the face of illegal activities, requires more resources and less alarm.

* PhD in Ecology, Evaristo de Miranda is director general of EMBRAPA Territorial

O Estado de S. Paulo, 7 November 2018 | 03h30

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