Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Environment, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean, Poverty & SDGs

BRAZIL: Amazon Logging Means Short-Lived Prosperity

Roberto Villar Belmonte* - IPS/IFEJ

BELEM, Brazil, Sep 19 2007 (IPS) - Devastation, violent land conflicts and rapid – but short-lived – economic growth are the traces left by deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon over the last 30 years, according to a new study.

Recently deforested areas in the Amazon jungle. Credit: Photo Stock

Recently deforested areas in the Amazon jungle. Credit: Photo Stock

In the past three decades, 700,000 square kilometres of jungle have been consumed, 17 percent of the original forested area. Logging produces an initial boom of prosperity, because the extraction of timber, in most cases illegal, is very lucrative. Then come the farmers and ranchers.

But the wealth lasts, at most, 20 years. Because of the Amazon’s abundant rainfall, farming is complicated. When the timber runs out, there is a tendency of the local economy to collapse. Only a few, mostly those working in mining, escape this pattern.

This dynamic was revealed by researchers Adalberto Veríssimo and Danielle Celentano, of Imazon (Institute of Man and Environment of the Amazon) in a study published in August, “The Advance of the Frontier in the Amazon: From Boom to Collapse”, which analyses the region’s economic, social and environmental indicators.

Celentano describes the deforestation as a wave that cultivates jobs and income through the exploitation of timber. But it also cultivates violence and degradation of natural resources.

After the wave passes, “the conflicts diminish, as do the benefits of logging, which is especially predatory, given that agriculture cannot absorb the same amount of labour or generate the same income,” said Celentano in an interview.

The experts divided the 770 Amazonian municipalities into four zones: the non-forest, which covers 24 percent of the area of sites in transition between the savannahs of the Cerrado and the jungle; areas currently being exploited (14 percent, with 26 municipalities); the already deforested (10 percent, with 218 municipalities); and the forested (52 percent of the region, with logging at five percent).

Their research shows that the destruction of the forest has produced more harm than wealth in the local economy – a debt that the entire planet ends up paying. The Amazon contributes just over eight percent of Brazil’s gross domestic product (GDP), but its deforestation is responsible for nearly 70 percent of the country’s climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions.

Rural Amazon producers argue that if Europe and the United States logged their forests in order to grow, “we can do it too.” In the short term, their argument is valid. But the Amazonian per capita GDP (2,320 dollars) has risen just one percent in the past 15 years, and remains 40 percent below the national mean.

In São Francisco do Pará, which has experienced some periods of prosperity, 96 percent of the jungle has disappeared. Of its 14,000 inhabitants, 62 percent are poor, and 31 percent indigent.

This is repeated in many municipalities of the northern state of Pará. In Primavera, for example, GDP feel 20 percent in the past two decades. Deforestation hit 95 percent and nearly half the population lives on less than one dollar a day.

However, the Institute researchers note that it is impossible to be sure that this will be the fate of the areas currently being deforested.

Meanwhile, 60 percent of the 386 rural murders reported in Brazil between 1997 and 2006 were committed in the Amazon, nearly half in areas under intense logging. In that period, land conflicts in the region more than doubled, from 156 to 328. Of the 1,012 cases of slave labour documented between 2003 and 2006, 85 percent were in Amazonian areas.

The Imazon study shows a different pattern in the non-forested area, which is more arid and therefore has better conditions for agriculture. The best example is Sinop, one of the principal cities of the western state of Mato Grosso, with intense lumber processing activity, with the raw material coming from other regions.

Sinop also has vast farm production, especially soybeans. Despite losing 65 percent of its forest, the local economy did not collapse and the city has excellent infrastructure.

Overall, the rate of forest loss is on the decline. It was 25 percent less in the August 2005-July 2006 period. And for this year, officials expect a reduction of 30 percent in total area deforested, for a 12-month total of 10,000 square km – the lowest since satellite monitoring of the forest began.

The improvement is attributed to greater government regulation and to a decline in crop prices – which slowed the expansion of the agricultural frontier.

But there are signs of price recovery, and that could put to the test the will to stop deforestation, because when farmers are turning a profit they tend to expand their areas of cultivation.

A recent episode illustrates these tensions. On Aug. 20 in Juína, a municipality of northwestern Mato Grosso, dozens of farmers, with the support of Mayor Hilton Campos, expelled two French journalists and seven Greenpeace and indigenous rights activists who tried to visit a recently logged area in Rio Preto, which the Enawene-nawe people claim as their ancestral territory.

“The cities along the agricultural frontiers in the Amazon are lawless lands. The reaction of the rural producers here is normal. For them, our objective is to block their agricultural and ranch projects,” Marcelo Marquesina, forestry engineer and Greenpeace campaigner for the Amazon, said in an interview.

In late August, a federal court suspended 99 projects for rural settlement created since 2005 by the National Institute of Colonisation and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) in the west of Pará state. The ruling was the result of a lawsuit filed by Greenpeace.

The complaint argued that INCRA accelerated the creation of settlements in biologically rich areas of the jungle in order to benefit lumber interests.

(*This story is part of a series of features on sustainable development by IPS-Inter Press Service and IFEJ-International Federation of Environmental Journalists.)

Republish | | Print |

acls humanities