INTERVIEW-Brazil land use bill to make forests profitable

by Reuters
Wednesday, 1 June 2011 16:59 GMT

* Lack of clear laws suppresses investment in farming

* Critics of bill unrealistic about current law

* Additional 36 mln hectares land could become reserve

By Reese Ewing

SAO PAULO, June 1 (Reuters) - A new land usage bill before Brazil's Senate will boost farming investment and will also curb illegal deforestation more effectively than environmental groups and other critics believe it will, the head of trade-related think-tank Icone Institute said.

Rodrigo Lima told Reuters late on Tuesday the new bill would reduce long-standing lawlessness in the countryside and bring value to conservation areas -- contrary to criticisms by conservationists who say the bill will spur deforestation.

Lima said the bill could create or reforest 36 million hectares of new reserve areas over the next 20 years and drastically reduce illegal deforestation.

Icone is providing data and research on land use to lawmakers and the government and touting the bill aimed at shaping agriculture expansion and limiting deforestation.

The land usage bill, which will also affect Brazil's clout in the global climate debate, is widely viewed as the second most important piece of legislation to move through Congress since President Dilma Rousseff took office in January. Debate over it has become highly polarized.

Brazil, the world's largest producer of coffee, sugar and orange juice and a major exporter of soybeans, poultry, beef, cotton and corn, needs more farmland. But its Amazon rainforests are vital to fighting climate change because trees consume carbon dioxide blamed for warming the planet.

"Everyone has to give a little bit. This bill has benefits for both sides and bring equilibrium to Brazil's conservation, farming and social responsibilities," Lima said.

Opponents have criticized the bill for reducing the amount of reserve land farmers must maintain, and granting small subsistance farmers amnesty for violations of the current law. But Lima called current laws unenforceable and said they actually contribute to illegal deforestation.

Nongovernmental organizations and conservationists who oppose the bill have unrealistic expectations and have put forth no viable plans to stop deforestation, he said.

"Enforcement of the current patchwork of laws and amendments that started back in the early 1930s would be impossible. You cannot simply move millions of people off their land and there is no political will to do so," Lima said.

In recent weeks, farmers and activists in the Amazon were murdered over land and resource issues, and the government reported a spike in deforestation rates around the Amazon Basin. Conservationists linked those developments to the new bill.

"It's absurd. Nobody in the Amazon who is illegally clearing is reading the papers about this bill moving through Congress thinking 'I better cut down these trees before the bill passes'," Lima said. "The current lack of legal clarity is to blame for the violence and deforestation in the Amazon."


Violence in Amazon: [ID:nN24262512]

Amazon deforestation: [ID:nN18255448]

Farmers' reaction to bill: [ID:nN05152617]


"Brazil's farming sector needs investments to stay competitive. Unclear land regulations are inhibiting these investments," he said.

"Brazil would have legislation to which no other country in the world could compare. It would truly be a modern land usage code."


Under the bill, medium and large producers would be required to bring farms into compliance with the new guidelines for reserve area to tillable land.

Producers in the Amazon biome would need to have 80 percent reserve to 20 percent productive area. In savanna areas such as the grain rich center-west states, only 35 percent reserve would be required and in other areas as little as 20 percent reserve, apart from requirements for forested area on hilltops, steep slopes and around river banks.

Producers who need to come into compliance could replant some land or buy reserve land in their respective biome from private owners of forest, creating increased demand for forest as conservation areas.

Forest area in the Amazon is going for 100 to 150 reais (${esc.dollar}63-${esc.dollar}94) a hectare (2.47 acres), which is why land owners cut trees, Lima said. Productive farm land or pasture is worth thousands of reais a hectare.

"The market value of noncommercial forest is too low," Lima said. "There is only one way to effectively stop (illegal) deforestation, make a reserve area more valuable. This law will create demand for standing trees."

(Reporting by Reese Ewing; Editing by David Gregorio)

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