Case Study of Brazil
Brazil holds one-third of the worlds’ remaining rainforests, including the world largest tropical forest, the Amazon Forest. It is the most amazingly diverse tropical rainforest on Earth, with more than 56,000 described species of plants, 1,700 species of birds, 695 amphibians, 578 mammals, and 651 reptiles. In the past, Brazil overcame many challenges and difficulties to sustain the existence of this great forest. Ever since 1970s, Brazil has loss more than 600000 square kilometers, 232000 square miles, of the Amazon Forest. The reasons for these great losses are caused by four factors. Between 2000 and 2005 the forest has lost more than 34,660 square kilometers of primary forest per year. (About 0.8 percent of its forest covers)
- One of the factors, and the biggest contributor, to the deforestation activity in the Amazon would be cattle ranching. Cattle ranching started since 1970s where it contributed 38 percent of deforestation in the 1966-1975. But as the market grows, Brazil started to increase their cattle production. And from 1990-2001 a huge increase of beef exported from Brazil, from 40 to 74 percent. With growing growth of cattle, pastures are being devoured a lot faster than it being grown back. Thus, farmers tend to move further away to obtain more pasture for the cattle to graze. But why the increase of cattle rearing?
1. Currency devaluation- The devaluation of currency through the exportation easily doubles the actual price thus creating huge incentives for the farmers. This promotes the increase of ranching area. More trees might be cut down for land and pastures will also be eaten by cattle. Overall, plants are loss at an alarming pace.
2. Diseases- Diseases such as the hand-foot-mouth disease are common and the eradication of such diseases has increased price and demand for beef.
3. Infrastructure- As technology and construction improves; transportation into deeper and more remote parts of the forest is no longer a problem. Thus farmers can reach out to more fields for a fresh patch of pasture.
4. Interest rates- Rainforest lands are used for speculation. When prices of real pasture land exceed real forest land prices, land clearing is a good hedge against inflation. During inflation periods, the appreciation of cattle prices and the stream of services (milk) they provide may outpace the interest rate earned on money left in the bank.
5. Land Tenure Laws- In Brazil, interested parties can gain ownership titles to the Amazon land just by clearing forest and rearing cattle on the land. In addition, rearing cattle are a low-risk investment compared to cash crops which are very risky and are subjected to wild price swings and pest infestations. Essentially cattle are a vehicle for land ownership in the Amazon and it definitely comes with better profit.
- Another factor to deforestation in Brazil is colonization and agricultural activities caused by poor farmers who are encouraged to settle on forest lands by some of Brazils’ government land policies. Every farmer needs to acquire a right (known as a usufruct right) to continue to use a piece of land only if they live on some unclaimed public land (no matter how marginal the land) and occupy the land for a duration of one year and a day. After five years of making use of the land, the farmer, then, acquires his ownership of the land and hence has the rights to do whatever with the land. Up until at least the mid 1990s, government implemented policies that allowed claimants to have the titles to own more than three times the amount of forest cleared thus worsening the current system. This made farmers clear more land to increase their ownership of lands. Poor farmers started to use fire and burn down parts of the forest. After the burning and growing of crops for a year or two, the soil losses fertility and cannot no longer grow crops, thus the farmers move on deeper into the forest by burning away trees which occupied the land. This routine continued for many farmers over a long period of time. Between 1995 and 1998, government policies granted land in the Amazon to farmers as much as 150,000 families. Forty-eight percent of forest loss in 1995 was in areas slightly less than 125 acres (50 hectares) in size, which also suggests that both loggers and peasants are significant contributors to deforestation.
- Road construction in the Amazon is another reason that leads to deforestation. Roads provide loggers and miners access into deeper and more remote places in the forest. Opening forest frontier land to exploitation by poor landless farmers. <BR><BR>Brazil's Trans-Amazonian Highway was one of the development programs devised, and it was a huge failure. In 1970s, after discussions, Brazil has constructed a 2000 mile highway that would split the massive Amazon forest in half, opening rainforest lands to two parts, land for poor farmers to live and make a living from the crowded, drought-plagued north and development of timber and mineral resources. Farmers are given land, money and convenient access to loans to start their farming when they agree to stay in along the highway and helping to convert the rainforest into an agricultural land. This project was going to cost Brazil US$65,000 (1980 dollars) to settle every family, a huge amount especially when Brazil was in the midst of economic recovery.
The project faced several difficulties. The project would have to face many problems because the sediments of the Amazon Basin rendered the highway unstable and subject to inundation during heavy rains, blocking traffic and leaving crops to rot. Harvest yields for peasants were dismal since the nutrients from the forest soils were quickly exhausted, and new forest and great plots of land had to be cleared annually. Logging also became a challenge which is caused by the widespread distribution of commercially valuable trees. Serious erosion problems would occur, up to 40 tons of soil per acre (100 tons/ha), after clearing. Many colonists, unfamiliar with banking and lured by easy credit, went deep into debt.
Not only economic and social problems, there was also problems with long-term environmental costs of sustaining this project. Deforestation rates shot up like never seen before with great amount of the forest cleared and cattle-ranching activities held by farmers, after the construction of the Trans-Amazonian Highway. The Trans-Amazonian Highway is one of the best examples to display environmental havoc that is caused by road construction in the rainforest.
Currently, there is a lot of help from different organizations to curb the deforestation problem. Now, deforestation activities have been reduced by about 50 percent. Talks, like the Copenhagen climate talks have pointed out the situation of Brazil and it has highlighted points that Brazil government could take to cure the current problem. A few measures taken place would be to put a ban on the sale of farm products from illegally deforested areas in the Amazon, with buyers also being held legally responsible; restrictions in rural credit for producers who have broken the country's strict environmental laws or who cannot prove that they legally own their land; and a stepped-up crackdown on deforestation in the 43 municipalities that are the biggest culprits. The global financial meltdown also helped to fight against deforestation as there was a decline in demand for beef thus crippling the farmers.
During the summit, the government has presented ambitious goals for curbing greenhouse gas emissions. With respect to deforestation, which is responsible for over half of Brazil's emissions, the rate will be cut by 80 percent by 2020, compared to the 1996-2005 average of 19,500 square kilometres. Only time would tell if there is still hope for the great Amazon rainforest.