Amazon destruction: six football fields a minute

Feature story - 24 May, 2005
Amazon destruction has accelerated to record levels, according to figures released by the Brazilian government. The annual rate has reached 26,130 square km, the second highest ever - an area equivalent to about six football fields a minute are destroyed. Almost half of the deforestation occurred in the State of Mato Grosso, governed by the largest individual soy producer in the world, Blairo Maggi.

Illegal deforestation for soy production, in the North of State of Mato Grosso.

More than 70 percent of Amazon loss occurred between May and July 2004,when President Lula's Action Plan to Curb Deforestation had alreadybeen adopted. The Plan, which was presented in March 2004, took sevenmonths of elaboration and had the participation of 13 Ministriescommitting resources, defining responsibilities and setting atimetable. During the same period, Lula's Government has celebrated therapid expansion in grain production and world leadership in meatexports, with the Minister of Treasury Antonio Palocci declaring,"Agribusiness is the best business of Brazil. "

A national shame

Paulo Adario, our Amazon campaign coordinator, said, "Clearly Lula'sadministration has failed up to now to implement the Action Plan and toprotect the Amazon. Although there have been positive measures taken bythe Government, such as the creation of protected areas and demarcationof Indigenous lands, the fact that the annual average of deforestationhas been more than 23,000 km2 for the last three years is simplyunacceptable. This is a national shame."

The rape of the rainforest

Of the 12,576 square kilometres lost in the State of Mato Grosso, 4,176km2 were authorised by the government. The rest was illegal. Maggidoesn't hide his opinion about deforestation: "A 40 percent increase indeforestation doesn't mean anything at all, and I don't feel theslightest guilt over what we are doing here," Maggi said in aninterview to The New York Times in September 2003, referring to theAmazon deforestation rate of the previous year.  Last week the UKnewspaper The Independent exposed Maggi as being "the man behind ...the rape of the rainforest." But Maggi has reacted angrily, "I canpersonally say that my company (Grupo Amaggi) has carried out nodeforestation over the past few years. I think they (the newspapers)were heavy handed and they exaggerated," he said. However, Maggi is thelargest soy producer in the world. The soya boom is responsible formuch of the deforestation.  "It is turning the rainforest intocattle feed. It is gross," said John Sauven, head of the rainforestcampaign for Greenpeace UK.

Key culprits and solutions

"Agribusiness and illegal logging are key culprits of deforestation,"says Adario. "Lula's administration is facing a fundamentalcontradiction: to fight Amazon deforestation or to promote theexpansion of agribusiness to pay the Brazilian external debt. To make areal difference on the ground, the Government needs to restrict soyplantations only in areas already deforested, combat illegal logging,continue to create protected areas and effectively implement their ownanti-deforestation Plan."

By allowing this level of Amazon destruction, the Government is alsocontributing to the devastating impacts of global warming. Carbon dioxideemissions from deforestation and burning in the Amazon are the mainBrazilian contributions to climate change and there is growing evidencethat climate change is drying out the forests, creating a vicious cycle.

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