25 January 2008

Greed for meat, soy kills rainforest at record speed

Author : DPA

EarthTimes.Org - 24 Jan 2008

Original URL

Rio de Janeiro - Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called a crisis meeting with six top ministers on Thursday in Brasilia on news that the Amazon rainforest was destroyed at record pace in recent months. The government said late Wednesday that the monthly rate of destruction rose from 234 square kilometres in August to 948 square kilometres in December.

Newspapers like O Globo put the news on their front page, and experts and politicians blamed demand for soy and meat for killing the earth's "green lung" at record speed.

"The connections are clear. As the price of meat and soy fell, deforestation decreased too. However, when prices shot up again, the destruction of the rainforest restarted," said financial expert and TV commentator Miriam Leitao.

Environment Minister Marina Silva agreed.

"We should not sacrifice our resources, grown over thousands of years, for the benefit of a few years or even months," Silva said.

Only a few months ago, the Brazilian government celebrated a significant decrease in the destruction of the country's jungle as a consequence of its environmental policies from 2005 to 2007. More control measures were established and protective legislation was enacted.

In late 2006 the largest protected rainforest area in the world was created - with a surface of 16 million hectares, it is about half the size of Germany.

However, even then experts remained sceptical that Brasilia could beat the greed for profit, especially in the beef and soy industries which depend on large swaths of land.

Brazil has become the world's top beef exporter, and the stability of the world's 10th-largest economy depends largely on its exports.

Soy barons - including governor and soy-king Blairo Maggi in the state of Matto Grosso - are obtaining large profits and need ever more land.

Few are surprised that 54 per cent of the jungle area destroyed from August to December 2007 is in Mato Grosso. At least 3,235 square kilometres have been destroyed, but official estimates put the amount at close to 7,000 square kilometres.

"The fight against the destruction of the rainforest is impossible without the cooperation of the landowners. One must convince the great landowners of their importance for environmental protection and also give them financial incentives," said forest engineer Eleazar Volpato, of the University of Brasilia.

Politicians also need "catching-up lessons." Brazilian media reported Thursday on a government crisis, because the Agriculture Ministry did not want to admit that meat and soy are to blame for the deforestation problem. And the Congress in Brasilia has been evaluating for months a project that to reduce the Amazonian protected areas.

"Brazil speaks a double language. While the Environment Ministry tries to put a brake on the destruction, public banks and the Agriculture Ministry finance deforestation with loans and subsidies without imposing any environment-related conditions. Without control of the market, the death of the rainforest advances," said Adrian Garda, head of the Amazonian projects of the NGO Conservation International.

Brazil found the drastic increase in the destruction of the rainforest during the rainy season in the second half of 2007 particularly worrying. That time of the year has traditionally seen a lull in deforestation.

The municipal election of late 2008 also contributed to experts' pessimism.

"Before an election, no one is interested in penalties, there is more leniency," said Jose Capobiano, executive secretary at the Environment Ministry.

"This is a crime against humanity which is happening before everyone's eyes," Leitao complained.

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