Even though Jair Bolsonaro’s government plan is far from being transparent, one thing was clear from the outset: with Mr. Bolsonaro as president, we can expect the loosening of regulations concerning the protection of the Amazon rainforest. Among the most important backers of his candidacy is a significant part of the agribusiness sector, known in Brazil as the ruralistas.

These land and business owners’ objective is to further exploit the Amazon region, producing soybeans, growing cattle and mining minerals. Cattle ranching, for instance, requires large portions of land for the animals to graze. Farmers, therefore, clear vast areas to accommodate their cows and bulls. Approximately 12 percent of the Brazilian Amazon is occupied by cattle and soybean plantations. 

The Amazon Institute estimates that the rate of deforestation has grown 40 percent between August 2017 and July 2018, the equivalent to 300,000 hectares—an area over twice the size of New York City. More than 20 percent of the Amazon has been deforested so far. Studies show that when this rate reaches 25 percent, the changes will be irreversible and the consequences could be disastrous for Brazil and the rest the world.

The rain that falls on the southern plantations comes from the Amazon Basin. Destroying the forest could lead to drought and food shortages. The decrease in vegetation also means a diminished capacity of absorbing carbon emissions, therefore accelerating climate change.

From 2004 to 2014, Brazil was able to decrease the rate of this destruction. Under successive Workers’ Party governments, the country created strict laws to protect illegal logging and occupation of land. From 2016 on, president Michel Temer loosened regulations and cut the environmental ministry’s budget. The result is the highest deforestation rate since 2007.

Businesses that protect the forest

But a group of private companies, government and research institutes, and civil society organizations wants to change the grim future which seems to be the Amazon’s fate. The Alliance for the Restoration of the Amazon wants to help plant more than 73 million trees in an area of 300,000 acres. As part of the Paris Accord, Brazil committed to restoring 12 million hectares of trees until 2030. Not coincidentally, Bolsonaro is threatening to leave the international treaty, claiming it threatens the country’s sovereignty.

The alliance’s mission statement says its objectives include reconciling interests and integrating actions to increase the scale and efficiency of reforestation; generating, systematizing, engaging, developing and disseminating new knowledge and information on reforestation, tropical forestry, and agroforestry systems; financing of actions and projects of reforestation; boosting the reforestation economy, stimulating all links in the productive chain, generating business, work and income opportunities; contributing to the formulation and implementation of public policies and economic instruments that favor reforestation, providing protocols and tools that allow the integration of data for the monitoring of reforestation actions and evaluation of the forest dynamics, and developing actions to raise awareness and sensitize civil society about the need for the conservation and restoration of the Amazon.

Its members are already putting their money where their mouths are. For example, Clima Alerta Indígena (Indigenous Climate Alert) is an app which allows local tribes to monitor if there are land invasions, illegal burning, and fishing, among other events. Another app, created by the company Terras, from Belém in the northern state of Pará, aggregates environmental and productive data to help producers obtain credit in banks that do not want to support the destruction of the forest. It has registered 18,000 properties and it aims to reach 200,000 by 2020.

MoneyDec 19, 2018

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BY Diogo Rodriguez

Rodriguez is a social scientist and journalist based in São Paulo.