Samba in the Forest: two steps backward, one step forward

Feature Story - 2006-02-16
An area twice the size of Belgium has been given greater protection in the Amazon after a Presidential decree. This is around the same area of the Amazon that was lost to deforestation over the past three years.

Worm's eye view of a mahogany tree in the Amazon forest, Brazil

The decree by President Lula of Brazil to create the 6.4 million hectare (around 16 million acres) conservation area is a great victory for the people of the Amazon battling landgrabbers, cattle ranchers and loggers. The decree calls for around 1.6 million hectares to be permanently protected and totally off limits to logging and deforestation.

Another 2.8 million hectares will be used for sustainable logging concessions to prevent deforestation and ensure well-managed forests. Development guidelines will be improved in an additional 2 million hectares of forest.

Whilst the 6.4 million hectares is a victory for many communities in the Amazon, it still represents less than two percent of the total Brazilian Amazon. An area one-third the size of the new conservation area is lost every year in the Amazon to logging, soy plantations and cattle ranchers.

"This is a great step towards the protection and sustainable use of the world's last ancient forests but is only a fraction of what is needed. The Amazon and the life it supports is seriously threatened by destructive logging and land clearance to grow crops like soy. We need more initiatives like this to save the world's last ancient forests," said Paulo Adário, forest campaign co-ordinator for Greenpeace Brazil.

The new conservation areas will be created in a crucial part of the Amazon alongside the notorious highway called the BR163. The road cuts through the heart of the Amazon and a promise by the Brazilian Government to pave the road has resulted in accelerated rates of deforestation in the area. Without the increased protection this decree provides, this area would have soon been destroyed for soy plantations and cattle ranches.

In the city of Curitiba in southern Brazil, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will meet in March to work on plans to protect the world's biodiversity from being lost to the world permanently. One of the main aims of the CBD is to create a global network of protected areas that would form the basis for the protection of the world's plants and animals by 2010.

If the goals of the CBD are to be reached, Brazil and many other countries will have to greatly increase the rate of forest protection. The consequences of failing to do so are more than just a broken international treaty. With only 20 percent of the world's original ancient forest still standing, the fate of these forests, the wildlife that lives in them and the millions of people who depend on them everyday for their livelihood is at stake.

Canada recently announced that over two million hectares of the Great Bear Rainforest along the pacific west coast of the country will be protected along with sustainable management for a further four million plus hectares. With Brazil adding another 6.4 million hectares, the global network of protected areas are beginning to fall into place.

However, with around 10 million hectares of forest around the world being destroyed each and every year, there is still much work to be done.

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