Conquering Deforestation

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The portion of the Amazon located in Brazil has shown a 70% decrease in deforestation over the past decade. Brazil went from clearing an average of 19,500 km2 in 2005 to 5,800 km2 in 2013. If the rate of deforestation in 2005 had gone unchanged, 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide would have been added to the atmosphere.

How did Brazil manage to change their deforestation habit? They took a three-pronged approach consisting of bans, better governance in frontier areas, and consumer pressure on companies.

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Trees in the Amazon were being lost at an alarming rate until Brazil managed to implement mechanisms to mitigate deforestation.

The first stage started in the mid 1990s when the Brazilian government started to implement restrictions on the amount of land that could be farmed. Specifically, the Brazilian Forest Code stated that every farm on the Amazon had to set aside at least 80% of its land as forest reserve. However this alone did not alter the rate of deforestation. This was actually the time of the worst deforestation because of high soybean prices and the expansion of farming and ranching.

In 2005, the second stage of the plan began, focusing on increasing the government’s ability to regulate the Amazon. Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s president, spearheaded this initiative by making deforestation a top priority. His position on this made for greater cooperation among the different government sectors and enabled them to expand the farming ban to almost half of the Amazon. During this time, other events occurred that also helped to decrease deforestation. Profit from soybean exports fell due to a rise in Brazil’s currency, cattle breeding improved so farmers needed less land to raise their cattle, and there was a consumer boycott.

The third and final stage started in 2009. This was a test to see if the restrictions would remain intact as the soybean expanded. Government focus moved from individual farms to counties. They denied cheap credit to farmers in the thirty-six counties with the worst deforestation rates until the rates dropped. Amidst the punishments, there were also rewards. The government pardoned illegal clearances that happened before 2008 and gave money from a $1 billion Amazon Fund.

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Rate of deforestation in Brazil. Chart from Economist.com

Despite the decrease in deforestation that might be associated with decreased farming and therefore a loss of food exports, Brazil actually emerged as a farming superpower. Brazil actually increased its food output without destroying more forest, an example for the world that one can still thrive without demolishing the environment.

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