10 April 2012

Rainbow Warrior In The Amazon © Karla Gachet / Panos / Greenpeace

As the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior was sailing down the Amazon I participated in an event that was very different from our day-to-day campaigning for Zero Deforestation in the Amazon. It was a suit and tie summit in London organized by the Financial Times and the Brazilian Government to discuss the future of Brazilian agriculture.  It was a star-studded affair with the heads of the Brazilian cattle, sugar cane, chicken, beef and orange juice associations, two government ministers, and Senator Katia Abreu, head of Brazil’s National Confederation of Agriculture.    

The stated purpose of the event was to look at how, and if, new initiatives and policies in Brazil are helping to address the critical sustainability issues of our times.  What became clear throughout the day was that there was an unstated intent to present Brazil to decision-makers in Europe as a country that can feed the world while at the same time making money and preserving the environment.  We were invited to offer our insights on the sustainability of Brazilian soya following our successful campaign for a moratorium on new deforestation for soya back in 2006. 

Two things really struck me.  The first was the high level of agreement that Zero Deforestation was a desirable and achievable goal for Brazil, along with the sentiment that Brazilian agriculture can expand and increase its agriculture without destroying any more of the Amazon. This was good timing, as last month we proposed a law that would make Zero Deforestation a reality, which has already attracted support from former President Cardoso, former Environment Minister Marina Silva, the Brazilian landless movement (MST) and a broad coalition of Brazilian civil society. This is consistent with what we are seeing in the international marketplace with the need for producers to demonstrate they are not contributing to deforestation increasingly seen as the ‘price of admission’ to these markets.  So we look forward to the cattle, sugar cane, and soya producer associations joining our call for this legislation soon. 

The second thing that struck me was the disconnect between the ambition for Zero Deforestation and the rabid and unanimous support from both industry and government representatives for the changes proposed to the Brazilian Forest Code - the key piece of legislation for forest protection in Brazil - despite widespread opposition from environmentalists, the scientific community, a wide swathe of the Brazilian public and many poor rural farmers.  The proposed changes could lead to a massive increase in deforestation and impunity for past forest crimes, something that is clearly at odds with the desire to end deforestation expressed by all. 

Senator Abreu, the chief proponent of these changes, is a bit like a Brazilian Sarah Palin.  Taking a page from the US Republican party playbook she somehow manages to weave all of the ills of Western society, mix them with many of the most powerful icons of the Brazilian identity, and blame them all on the current Forest Code and its defenders like Greenpeace and WWF. This approach seems to leave little room for an honest debate on the likely consequences for the Amazon from negative changes to the Forest Code, and reminded me more of a confrontational approach of the past than a consensus approach for the future. 

As our experience with the soya moratorium has shown, the conflict between the environment and economy is not an historical inevitability. Brazil can be an agricultural superpower as well as save the Amazon.  There seemed, in London, to be a consensus on this.  So let’s hope President Dilma is listening more to this message of consensus on Zero Deforestation and resists those who want to dismantle legislation that helps protects forests.