Prompted by a near sixfold increase in Amazon rainforest clearing over the past year, the Brazilian government will form a cabinet post to monitor and respond to deforestation.
Brazil’s Minister for the Environment, Izabella Teixeira, announced the creation of the new cabinet post this week and confirmed that the move is in response to “alarming” increases in deforestation in the Amazon. Brazil’s space research agency, INPE, reported Wednesday that 593 square kilometers of rainforest were cleared between March and April this year, up from 103.5 square kilometers in the year-earlier period. Members of the Environmental Ministry, government specialists, and representatives of the states experiencing the most deforestation will staff the new cabinet post.
Satellite images show that the increase in deforestation largely has largely occurred in the Amazonian state of Mato Grosso, which accounts for a quarter of Brazil’s soybean crop and a substantial proportion of the Amazon’s cattle production. Increased demand for these commodities coupled with relatively easy credit for these agricultural products encourages farmers to clear more rainforest..
Lax and inconsistent enforcement of environmental laws promises impunity for deforesters. Brazil’s Forest Code, now under debate, currently requires that 80 percent of individual landholdings remain forested. But this regulation is rarely followed in many areas of the Amazon due to food security needs on small landholdings, lack of land tenure in many areas, and known absence of law enforcement. Advocates for maintaining the current language of the Forest Code argue that lessening restrictions on deforestation will encourage further clearing on private properties that maintain forest. Supporters of reform say that reducing the 80 percent target could have a limited impact on new forest clearing provided law enforcement capabilities in the Amazon are strengthened.
Karimeh Moukaddem is mongabay.com’s writing intern for summer 2011.