At a conference on sustainable agriculture in London last week, they expressed their support for the controversial modifications of the Forest Code, regulating agricultural activity around the Amazon rainforest, which the European Commission and environmental NGOs have said would increase deforestation.
Osmar Fernandes Dias, vice-president of agribusiness and SMEs at the Bank of Brazil (Banco do Brasil), said the country had made tremendous efforts to reduce deforestation in recent years, and that Western criticism of the Forest Code was out of place. “Soil is Brazil’s biggest heritage, but we cannot follow other countries’ models, and our sovereignty must be respected. The Forest Code requires that we overcome misinformation, because to say that it will increase deforestation is wrong. Brazilian farmers understand that you need to preserve more to produce more,” he added.
He pointed out that the Bank of Brazil did not grant agricultural loans to projects that might hurt the environment and that, with the efforts made by the meat industry, beef production had increased by up to five times in certain areas, “with enhanced productivity, not more land”.
Fernando Sampaio, executive director of the Association of Brazilian Beef Exporters (ABIEC), confirmed the progress made in recent years, and said the Brazilian beef industry was suffering from misconceptions.
“Today we are producing more and more beef, and decreasing the area on which we produce it. So we are producing more, using less area. We don’t need any more land to produce or export beef, and the industry is taking some initiatives to control supply chains to make sure that the cattle they buy is not coming from deforested areas.
“Livestock has always been a frontier activity, it’s the first activity that took place when people moved towards the interior of the country 40 years ago, so people relate deforestation with livestock, but that’s something that has changed in recent years.”
He added that the government’s credit lines increasingly aimed at increasing productivity and efficiency without hurting the environment had allowed farmers to invest in new technologies, but that clear regulations were needed.
“The first step is to have a defined legislation. We need to improve the Forest Code so we can say, ‘this is the law’ and go on to inform farmers. The second step is to improve efficiency and give the best possible information to producers, so they can have access to technology and credit. We have to work on the education of farmers so they can apply technology and have access to improvements and markets.
“There is large room for improvement in livestock production, and that’s why we’re not afraid to say that we don’t need any more area to produce beef, we can produce a lot more with what we have,” said Sampaio.
Speaking at the conference, representatives of Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said they had reasons to believe the new Forest Code would increase deforestation. Asked for specifics by a Brazilian attendee, WWF US livestock director Bryan Weech pointed out three aspects of the law, including an amnesty clause that might lead producers not to take the rules very seriously, the unclear measures for protected areas around rivers, and the general vagueness of the document, “which could lead to loopholes or different interpretations”.
Brazil’s Agriculture Minister Jorge Alberto Mendes Ribeiro Filho denied the idea that the new Forest Code would lead to more deforestation, saying: “We have reduced deforestation by 74% in six years, and greenhouse gases by 37%. Brazil has become a leader in sustainable agriculture, we are advancing in the political field, and the new Forest Code will improve environmental regulation. We voted for the Forest Code with sense.”