26 September 2008

The equation of the deforestation in the Amazon

The conservation of the Amazon rainforest becomes a more important topic each day on the discussions on the climatic change and global warming, due to its relevance as a vanquisher of carbon and as a repository of biodiversity and a natural regulator of vapors in the atmosphere and the climate. It is unquestionable that we need to conserve, being that the days of discordance between radical environmentalists and developers of short vision are a thing of the past. Both have changed: environmentalists, in their majority, have started to recognize and to take in to consideration the socio-economic imperative; governments and developers understand the necessity of cooperation in environmental subjects with implications that are as much global as local. Strengthening both views are the economic damages of 2005, a year of simultaneous dry rivers in Amazônia and terrible hurricanes (including Katrina) in the Caribbean and United States.

In this new understanding of economical-environmental damages, it is amazing how we all are not (and by all I refer to the 25 million Brazilian Amazônians) pledged in the preservation of Amazônia. However, the greater part of these 25 million, still adopt the older equation: the fallen forests carry more value than the uncut. Cattle herding, wood harvesting and agriculture are more lucrative activities than the sustainable extraction of chestnut, oils and essences.

            Traditionally, legal wood harvesting is something bureaucratically excessive for small proprietors and excessively risky for large companies, the land is cheap and abundant which promotes the continuous use of new areas, and the monitoring and application of laws are excessively weak to keep the formality valuable. In recent years, the main change to this equation comes from Brazilian institutions that have improved on monitoring and application of laws, what has thus increased the cost of informality, without, however, interfering with the attractiveness of formality. This change in the equation has had the beneficial effect of reducing deforestation. However, as a collateral effect, the productivity level has dropped in many poor areas and, traditionally, more informal, where small entrepreneurs and independent workers are not willing to or cannot adhere to the formal economy. Such is the case when we see the presence of the Federal Police being retaliated against during the Fire Arc operation.

The federal government has dealt with part of the problem by means of social programs as the Bolsa Família, but the most important action, to make the region economically viable, still crawls. The national vision that Amazônia is only an environmental issue in the same way that the northeast is only a social issue contributes with nothing. We are not only an environmental issue and therefore the discussion of our future cannot be only an environmental quarrel. It is also social, economic and political. The solution must be environmentally right, socially just, economically viable, and politically balanced, which has already been said by Prof. Samuel Benchimol.

            Some state governments have developed other innovative solutions in search of this viability. In Amazonas, the state policies have sought to supply incentives to change the economic equation by means of:

·         Setting minimum prices for products of sustainable forms, as oils, essences and latex, so that these can be front-runners in the battle against deforestation;

·         Establishment of the Bolsa Floresta, a program of transference of income for families who inhabit the forest, that demands the compromise for non-deforestation, verified by satellite;

·         Dramatical increase of the investment in science and technology, intended for the development of sustainable technologies that can eventually reveal the forest as more economically valuable in its natural state;

·         Technical support for small proprietors and courses on forestry, forest handling and fisheries, so that we may make use of the best practical strategies of increasing productivity in a sustainable form;

·         Licensing of Deeds of Property of the land so that those in possession may start to be proprietors and can begin to count on the benefits of having an asset of value in the market and financially recognize their obligations and duties;

·         Licensing of Preferential Financing through the agency of state promotion for small scale projects in sustainable sectors such as fisheries, forest handling, production of honey, etc.

The monitoring and the application of the laws are also being improved, but in order to complement the mentioned initiatives.

All these efforts have a clear objective: to re-equalize the valuation of standing forests for those that live in it. From an economic point of view, our objective is to include the externalities in the equation.

It is important, however, to remember that, even though it provides local benefits, the most significant benefits may be observed in other places, by means of the prevention of the climatic changes around of the globe, the change of regional rain averages, and the loss of biodiversity in the world. For example, the energy that is supplied to the southeast of Brazil is, to a large extent, generated by a hydroelectric plant that uses rain waters generated and recycled in Amazônia. Deforestation reduces the rain recycling and can have a harmful impact on the generation of national energy. One arrives, in this way, at the topic of the valuation of the given environmental services to the world (including Brazil) by the Amazonian forest.

Currently, the State of Amazonas and the Brazilian government finance its policies of preservation by means of proper budgets. The budget of Amazonas of approximately R$2.000 per inhabitant per year is not enough to cover the costs of health, education and provision of other governmental services for our population; even less, to finance the rebalancing of the equation. This is a special state, in which a domestic flight can take up to two hours and cost more than R$1.000.

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