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Democratic polemic policies: the new Brazilian forestry code

May 24, 2013   ·   1 Comments

senator vianna e henrique

The Senators Jorge and Luiz Henrique came to London to talk about the new and highly debated Brazilian forestry code. After years of debate in the congress and highly active discussions to write, rewrite and negotiate terms in accordance to democratic institutions, the forestry code was approved last year.

Brazil is emerging, to sustain the increased levels of production and population growth the nature is impacted. From 2002 to 2012, Brazilian GDP increased from R$ 500 billion to R$ 5.6 trillion.

Moreover, Brazil is currently the 7th biggest world economy and it has the 5th biggest territory and 22% of all forests in world. As an emerging economy, Brazil is trying to promote behavior change and implement sustainable practices in the daily lives of its citizens.

Brazil is the 5th in the world in food production and plays a determinant role in food security internationally. The challenge is to continue the production of agricultural commodities whilst preserving the environment. Unfortunately, the environmental issue is not a priority in the Brazilian Congress. Actually, it is arguable to what extent Brazilian society is more active and aware of the risks of not preserving our natural treasures.

Whilst the topic is not popular in the Brazilian Congress, the Dilma Administration is progressive and takes in consideration sustainability in its policies. The new forestry code is being highly criticized for not being strict enough, however as a document that was developed and voted in a democratic system, it had to address the demands of all parties involved.

Some argue that amnesty would have been provided to those who were illegally destroying land that should had been preserved. However, according to Senator Jorge Viana, the document is providing space for producers to work within the legal requirements. To him, sustainability is a challenge and an agenda, whereby Brazil wants to be known not only for its biodiversity, but also for its sustainable practices.

When speaking about laws, regulations and codes in Brazil, it is important to bear in mind that democracy is relatively new in the country and the current constitution was written in 1988, after the military dictatorship ended. This is the first code pertaining to the environment that was developed under a democratic regime.

Brazil has been producing agricultural commodities for centuries. Currently, the national development bank is lending money for reforestation with a period of 20 years to pay in an effort to bring together social change and sustainability.

The new code brings legal permanent provisions to past actions, whereby deforestation will be punished with fines and lawsuits, thereby obliging deforesters to reforest the areas affected. Although the situation might seem bad in Brazil, 61% of the national territory is covered by forests, 11.3% are rivers and lakes, 27.7% is covered by the agricultural production and only 1% of national territory is occupied by the cities.

75.4% of the Amazon Forest is public territory, and within the 24.6% of private land the landowners are now obliged to preserve 80% of their lands. Additionally, in the river slope, landowners are obliged to preserve 90% of the land and the riparian environment.  This applies for everyone who started occupation after 2008.

In short, the conservation area under the new legal reserves mandate that 80% of the native land should be preserved in its natural form in the Amazon, 35% in the “Cerrado” – a region that is close to a tropical Savannah –, and 20% for ordinary land and in the rest of the country.

Under the new forestry code, every landowner must be registered in its State, and there is not only a fine for landowners who do not register their properties, but they also cannot access credit for their productions.

One may ask, in a country as big as Brazil with so many landowners, how will the government monitor and keep track of what properties are outside the new code?

According Senator Luiz Henrique, Brazil has developed a satellite system to monitor and store data with updated photos regarding every property in Brazil. This will allow to government to keep track of who is acting according to new laws, as well as who is actually implementing measures to reforest.

The former lawsuits against landowners that used to have illegal practices will not prescribe. Rather, the lawsuit will be frozen and a period of time will be given to these landowners to reforest the areas that should have been preserved.

After the areas are restored, the lawsuit will be extinct. With this new practice, one-third of the forest is expected to be restored, bringing back almost 40% of the green lands lost.

The new forestry code also brought improvements in lumber, as all wood sawn needs to prove its origin, otherwise it is considered illegal and cannot be traded. This is an effort to diminish the trade of wood from trees sawed illegally. The EU is starting to embrace this practice and it is demanding origin certificates of trees.

Both senators have admitted that this code is not the one they wanted to implement, but as it took in consideration the requirements of the government, of every parliamentarian, NGOs, organisations connected with the environment, local businesses, landowners, family farmers, local farmers, big farmers, the population, among others, and they argue that the code represents what could be democratically achieved and therefore, it is what Brazil as a whole agreed as a law to protect are most valuable asset, our biodiversity.

Brazil is one of the few countries to have already reached the commitments set up in the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, and currently, there is a national campaign to promote behavior change, with the slogan “a tree on ground is worth more than a sawn tree”.

The biggest challenge will be the effective and practical implementation of the code alongside with social changes and environmental improvements.  Brazil is trying to become a global power and therefore, sustainability is key and will be a determinant to sustain growth and maintain the country’s global position.

Photo: Senator Luiz Henrique (PMDB-SC) and Jorge Viana (PT-AC) during a deliberative session. Photographer José Cruz/Agência Senado

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Tamara Santos

South America Editor at The World Outline
Tamara has earned a BA in International Relations from La Salle University, Rio de Janeiro and a MA in Conflict Resolution in Divided Societies from King’s College, London. She is a researcher, international relations enthusiast and interested in topics related to politics, economics, sustainable development and diplomacy.

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