Environmentalists fear that changes to rules governing agriculture in the Amazon are causing deforestation to rise again

Deforestation in the Amazon jumped by 28% in the year to July 2013, according to the Brazilian government. This has led to fears among environmental groups that Amazonian forest loss is once again on an upward trend following overall decline since 2004.

Official figures indicate that 5,843 square km (2,256 square miles) of rainforest was cleared in 2013, compared with 4,571 square km in the previous year – which was the lowest loss since 1988.

A recent report in Science magazine says Brazil had been making the best progress of all countries in slowing deforestation until the recent relapse. Forest loss had been declining at an annual average rate of 1,318 square km.

According to the World Resources Institute, Brazil and Indonesia currently account for around half of all global tropical deforestation. The two countries are losing roughly the same amount of forest per year, despite the difference in their size.

Forest code and soy moratorium

The reasons for the recent rise are still unclear and will require lengthy field verification. Environmental groups, however, say the increase is a result of changes to Brazil’s forest code passed by the government in 2012 – the result of heavy lobbying from Brazil’s agricultural sector.

Changes include an amnesty for land cleared before 2008, which, say environmental groups, provides a green light to farmers for more land clearance.

The increase in deforestation will focus attention on the upcoming end of the soy moratorium, put in place by the Brazilian soy industry back in 2006 under pressure from McDonald’s, its suppliers and other European soy buyers.

The objective of the moratorium was to stop the trade in soy from newly cleared forest areas. It provided a temporary mechanism to guarantee deforestation-free soy, until Brazil’s forest code was adequately implemented – most notably its requirement for rural property mapping and registration. The moratorium expires in January 2014.

Environmental campaigners now want to see the moratorium extended as will European food retailers and buyers wishing to assure customers of deforestation-free soy.

“A minimum you should see in place before you say the moratorium is no longer needed is the land registration requirements outlined in the forest code,” says Daniela Montalto, Amazon campaign leader at Greenpeace. “Compliance with that, seven years later, remains incredibly low. Until the farms are mapped properly, there is no systematised way for the traders, buyers and public to know where soy is coming from.”

Else Krueck is director of environment and CSR at McDonald’s Europe, as well as acting chair for the European soy customer group. She says: “The moratorium and the efforts of the Brazilian soy working group have been very effective in providing us with assurance that the Brazilian soy we buy is not driving deforestation in the Amazon.”

She adds: “In view of the overarching increase in deforestation, extending the moratorium would allow time for all stakeholders to agree a realistic roadmap towards a more permanent solution that will continue to substantially limit the amount of deforestation caused by soy production in the Amazon”.  

All eyes will now be how the Brazilian soy working group will react, following a meeting in December 2013.

agriculture  Amazon  deforestation  Environment 

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