Thousands of Brazilian farmers demonstrated in the country’s capital demanding an end to decades of legal uncertainty over the amount of forest they must conserve.
Under a 1965 forestry code, ranchers and farmers must maintain 35 per cent forest coverage in the cerrado, or savanna; 80 per cent in the Amazon; and 20 per cent elsewhere. But due to lax enforcement and repeated amendments, as many as 90 per cent of Brazil’s farmers do not comply with the law. Replacing that forest coverage could cost as much as 10,000 reais (US$6,211) per hectare, or 600 billion reais (US$373 billion) in total.
A decree that temporarily suspended fines for those in breach of the code expires in June.
Farmers now want the government to approve stalled legislation that would soften some of the environmental requirements. In their largest demonstration in at least a decade, the farmers gathered before Congress, saying they are being treated as environmental criminals.
“We want them to legalize us so that we are not outlaws, that’s all,” said Angela Herholz, who farms soy, corn and wheat on a 50-hectare plantation in the southern state of Parana.
The bill exempts small-scale farmers from having to replant cleared land and grants others a grace period of 20 years to comply with the law.
“Brazilian farmers don’t have the capital to finance such costs,” said Assuero Doca Veronez, of the national agriculture federation, CNA.
Enforcing the environmental laws could dent profitability in Brazil’s huge agriculture sector, where record world commodity prices are helping to offset rising costs.
– ANGELA HERHOLZ