Paraguay extends forest conservation law

Posted on December, 18 2006

The government of Paraguay has extended a law that seeks to curb deforestation rates in the Upper Parana Atlantic Forest.
Asunción, Paraguay – The government of Paraguay has extended a law that seeks to curb deforestation rates in the Upper Parana Atlantic Forest.

The "Zero Deforestation Law" — which came into force in December 2004 and would have expired at end 2006 — has been extended by two years. To date, the law has helped cut deforestation rates in the Upper Parana Atlantic Forest by more than 85 per cent, from 88,000–170,000ha annually before implementation of the law, to a current level of approximately 16,700ha annually.

Before the law came into force, Paraguay had the second highest deforestation rate in the world. 

The Upper Parana Atlantic Forest is part of the Atlantic Forest, one of the world’s most ecologically important regions. It is known for its rich biodiversity and high level of species endemism — over 90 per cent of all amphibians and 50 per cent of all plants here are found nowhere else on Earth.

But the forest is also one of the world’s most endangered tropical forests. In many areas over 95 per cent of the natural forest has been lost as a result of agriculture expansion, especially for soy production and cattle ranching.

A WWF report indicates that Paraguay does not need to cut down more forest to continue agriculture production, especially for soy and livestock. According to the report, more than 500,000ha of fallow land are available in the Paraguayan Atlantic forest for farming, ranching or reforestation. Ranching and agriculture have already invaded extremely fragile forest lands, which due to the soil qualities, are suitable only for forest regrowth. Although very degraded and fragmented, these forests are still significant for conservation, particularly in restoring green corridors.

Data from Oil World indicates that the deforestation law has not affected soy production in Paraguay, the world's fourth largest soybean exporter. Production has actually increased in spite of the law. In the 2004–05 season, production was 3.9 million tons, up from 3.5 million tons in the 2003–04 season. For the 2005–06 season, production is likely to be 4.2 million tons.

In August, WWF awarded the Paraguayan government with the Leaders for the Living Planet Award in recognition of its efforts in conserving the Upper Parana Atlantic Forest. It also urged the government to extend the Zero Deforestation Law until measures for responsible soy cultivation and sustainable forest management are developed together with a commitment to restore priority forest areas. The law extension had faced opposition from the farming lobby and loggers.

"Decades of deforestation merit more than the two-year extension," said Lucy Aquino, Coordinator of WWF's Paraguay Atlantic Forest Ecoregional Office.

"Still, we are happy with the two years as it will give us the opportunity to implement economic alternatives, reforestation programmes and sustainable management of forests, and to strengthen institutions that administer the forest resources."

WWF will also work with the agencies and organizations concerned to implement the "Tradable Rights Mechanism" over the next two years. This mechanism will continue to ensure that those landowners who protect their forests according to the current legislation will receive benefits, while those who remove or degrade their forests will face prosecution.

End notes:
• The Zero Deforestation Law (Law number 2524/4) was approved by the Paraguayan National Congress on 4 November 2004. It is aimed at assuring the conservation and recuperation of the Upper Parana Atlantic Forest. The law resulted in a series of procedures and penalties for those committing environmental crime by deforestation.

• On 31 August 2006, Paraguay's House of Representatives presented the proposal for the extension of the Zero Deforestation Law to the Senate where it remained under consideration until 13 December 13, when it was passed and returned to the House of Representatives for final consideration and passage into law.

For more information:
Lucy Aquino, Coordinator
WWF Paraguay Atlantic Forest Ecoregional Office
Tel: +595 21 300733
Atlantic forest, Rio de Janeiro State, Brazil.
Unaltered stretch of the São João River running through the Atlantic forest in the Poço das Antas Reserve.
© WWF / Edward PARKER