NGOs unite to defend Brazil's forestsBrasilia (18 April 2001) - A new phase of the SOS Forest Campaign was launched yesterday to stop legislation in Brazil being weakened to allow increased clearance of forests for agricultural use.
The SOS Forest Campaign was initiated by WWF-Brazil last year. It brought together almost all Brazilian NGOs to defend a Forest Code which prevents unsustainable clearance of the forest.
The campaign led to one of the greatest mobilizations of public opinion in the country's history in the form of a e-mail petition. 100,000 members of the public sent messages to Congressmen demanding proper protection of Brazil's forests. This, along with intensive media coverage, resulted in the withdrawal of proposed legislation that would have weakened the laws safeguarding forests.
However, the issue is now due to be discussed again by the Brazilian Congress and could be voted on next month. This has led WWF and other NGOs to formally announce a coalition to defend Brazilian forests.
"There are 160.000 km2 of degraded land in the Brazilian Amazon already clear cut and abandoned, which could be used for agriculture and cattle farming. There is no need for further forest conversion for agricultural use", said Dr. Garo Batmanian, Chief Executive of WWF-Brazil. "And agricultural production in Brazil has been increasing year on year under the existing rules which have been in place for the last 5 years. This clearly demonstrates that the current Forest Code does not oppose development".
The 1965 Forest Code was designed to promote sustainable use of the forest. It stipulated that at least 20 per cent of any property area covered by forest should be kept as forest - thus allowing the owner to clear- cut up to 80 per cent of its area. In the Amazon region, 50 per cent of property in areas covered by native forest were designated as Legal Reserves. These areas are intended to protect the forest from being clear- cut while allowing sustainable forestry to continue within their boundaries. However, the lack of law enforcement frequently led to deforestation beyond these limits.
After record deforestation in 1995, when 29,000 km2 of Amazon rainforest was destroyed in a single year, the Brazilian government used a Presidential Transitory Act to strengthen the Forest Code. This raised the Legal Reserve area for the Amazon region from 50 per cent to 80 per cent of the property in an attempt to stop the devastation of the rainforest. This has succeeded in bringing the annual deforestation average down to 17,000 km2.
In the face of large landowning interests WWF and other 10 NGOs are campaigning to keep these current rules for forest use and for the Congress to approve them in the form of a permanent law.
For further information, please contact WWF-Brazil:
Ulisses Lacava firstname.lastname@example.org
Regina Vasquez - email@example.com