Brazilian Minister for the Environment Izabella Teixeira announced yesterday the creation of a high-level commission responsible for monitoring and addressing the deforestation crisis affecting Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. The commission will be filled by government specialists as well as by members of the Environmental Ministry and representatives from the states which have registered the highest levels of deforestation. According to satellite imagery, deforestation of the Amazon has increased from 103 square kilometers (64 square miles) in March-April 2010 to 593 square kilometers (368 square miles) this year—an almost 600 percent increase in one year. Minister Teixeira called the figures “alarming” while noting the concern as a main reason for establishing the commission.
The increase in deforestation is occurring mostly in Mato Grosso state where nearly 25 percent of Brazil’s soybean harvest is produced. Experts say that increased demand for soy and cattle are key factors in farmers’ decisions to clear more forests from their lands. However, activists like Greenpeace’s Maricio Astrini believe the deforestation is due more to a lack of significant legal protections and penalties for land-clearing activities.
At issue is the country’s Forest Code, which has detractors and proponents on both sides of the concern. As the Code currently stands, 80 percent of land in the Amazon region must remain forested while the percentage drops to 20 percent for all other regions. Proponents argue that the percentage must remain at its current levels or risk further deforestation or the appearance that deforestation will be met with amnesty. Opponents argue that the current percentage of deforestation limits economic development.