Brazil is set to become the world’s biggest soy producer — and that might be bad news for its forests

July 28, 2014

Gerry Hadden – Public Radio International, 7/28/2014

It’s covered by millions of acres of industrial farms and deep green soy fields. If this year’s harvest — the best in Brazilian history — comes in as expected, Brazil is poised to surpass the US and become the world’s largest soy producer. Soy beans have boosted Brazil’s economy and even brought President Dilma Roussef to Mato Grosso to congratulate farmers in person.

But in a nearby indigenous village, no one is celebrating. The boom in soy production coincided with a spike in deforestation. And Hiparidi Toptiro, an activist from the indigenous Xavante people, says local soy farmers are willing to do anything for a chunk of the forest where the Xavante live.

“Throughout our lands, people show up wielding false deeds to the area,” Toptiro says.  “And they have begun to plant soybeans inside our lands. They pay off one of our villages with a little money, which complicates the relationship between all of us in the reserve. “ He calls it dividing and conquering with trinkets.

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Brazil World Cup Fails to Score Environmental Goals

June 20, 2014

Autumn Spanne and The Daily Climate – Scientific American, 6/19/2014

RIO DE JANEIRO – It was supposed to be the “Copa Verde,” a celebration of the greenest World Cup ever, in the country that’s home to the Amazon, ranked first in biodiversity, vital to how the world responds to climate change.

Instead, the “Green Cup” has become a flash point for social injustice. And while it’s proving environmentally unsustainable on several levels, the lasting legacy of the 2014 World Cup may ultimately be a shift in how future global sporting events are marketed and built.

Since the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, most international sporting “mega-events” have tried to market themselves as environmentally sustainable. But various scholars and sustainability experts agree that none of these events – with their massive carbon footprints and huge infrastructure needs – have lived up to that claim in the long term.

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Brazil achieves 70% reduction in Amazon deforestation

June 19, 2014

Tim Radford – RTCC, 6/16/2014

Brazil might or might not win the World Cup, but it so far seems a clear winner in the race to reduce carbon emissions, having stopped 3.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide from escaping into the atmosphere during the last decade.

A team of economists and scientists report in the US journal Science that Brazil has achieved this, since 2004, by simply not cutting down 86,000 square kilometres of rainforest. This is, in effect, a 70% decline in deforestation, and in 2013 alone such abstention amounted to a 1.5% drop in global carbon emissions.

It sounds like eccentric accounting – awarding credits for unauthorised destruction that didn’t happen – but it represents a change of course all the same.

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Unease among Brazil’s farmers as Congress votes on GM terminator seeds

December 12, 2013

Jonathan Watts & John Vidal – The Guardian, 12/12/2013

Brazil is set to break a global moratorium on genetically-modified “terminator” seeds, which are said to threaten the livelihoods of millions of small farmers around the world.

The sterile or “suicide” seeds are produced by means of genetic use restriction technology, which makes crops die off after one harvest without producing offspring. As a result, farmers have to buy new seeds for each planting, which reduces their self-sufficiency and makes them dependent on major seed and chemical companies.

Environmentalists fear that any such move by Brazil – one of the biggest agricultural producers on the planet – could produce a domino effect that would result in the worldwide adoption of the controversial technology.


Destruction of Brazil’s Amazon jumps 28%

November 18, 2013

Marco Sibaja – Associated Press, 11/14/2013

Brazil’s government reported Thursday that annual destruction of its Amazon rainforest jumped by 28 percent after four straight years of declines, an increase activists said was linked to recent loosening of the nation’s environmental law meant to protect the jungle.

However, the destruction was still the second-lowest amount of jungle destroyed since Brazil began tracking deforestation in 1988.

The increase in deforestation came in the August 2012 through July 2013 period, the time when Brazil annually measures the destruction of the forest by studying satellite images. The country registered its lowest level of Amazon felling the year before.

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Inter-American Development Bank: Brazil will receive $16.45 million to support forest and climate information gathering and systematization

November 5, 2013

IDB News Release, 11/04/2013

The Forest Investment Program (FIP) Sub Committee, held in Washington DC, has approved $16.45 million that will support an initiative for forest and climate information gathering and systematization in Brazil. The project’s objective is to generate and disseminate forest information to support public and private sectors in management initiatives aimed at the conservation and enhancement of carbon stocks and forest resources in the Cerrado area.

The Cerrado Is a large tropical savannah ecoregion in Brazil that accounts for 22 per cent of the of the country’s extension with almost 2 million km2, and which includes vast areas in the states of Goias, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Tocantins, Minas Gerais, Bahia, Maranhao, Piaui, Sao Paulo and Parana.

The Cerrado biome is characterized by high concentrations of carbon and its rich biodiversity. However, the area has been subject to the threat posed by the expansion of extensive agriculture, particularly soy, and charcoal production.


Worst drought in decades hits Brazil’s northeast

January 4, 2013

Caroline Stauffer – Reuters, 01/04/2013

Brazil’s Northeast is suffering its worst drought in decades, threatening hydro-power supplies in an area prone to blackouts and potentially slowing economic growth in one of the country’s emerging agricultural frontiers.

Lack of rain has hurt corn and cotton crops, left cattle and goats to starve to death in dry pastures and wiped some 30 percent off sugar cane production in the region responsible for 10 percent of Brazil’s cane output.

Thousands of subsistence farmers have seen their livelihoods wither away in recent months as animal carcasses lie abandoned in some areas that have seen almost no rain in two years.

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How illegal logging in Brazil’s Amazon turns ‘legal’

November 29, 2012

Sue Branford – BBC, 11/28/2012

Small settler communities are seeing their land targeted by loggers, BBC.

Deforestation in Brazil’s huge Amazon region has slowed in recent years, and this week the government said it was at its lowest level since monitoring began 24 years ago. But despite tougher regulations, unscrupulous loggers are still finding ways to get timber out of the jungle and selling it as legally felled wood, locals say.

Fabio Lourenco de Souza, a young Brazilian farmer, lives in a settlement known as PDS Esperanca (Hope), in the Xingu river valley in eastern Amazonia.

Although the land is rich in tropical timber, along with most of the 300 families in the settlement, he wants nothing to do with loggers.

“It makes no sense at all for us to start logging the timber on our settlement,” says Fabio, who stops work on the construction of a new wooden house for himself and his family to talk. “The logging companies would not pay us enough for the wood, and would destroy the forest, and we need it for the future of our children.”

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Brazil’s Amazon rangers battle farmers’ burning business logic

November 15, 2012

Jonathan Watts – The Guardian, 11/14/2012

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/video/2012/nov/14/brazil-halting-deforestation-amazon-video

As his helicopter descends through the smoke towards an Amazonian inferno, Evandro Carlos Selva checks the co-ordinates via a global positioning satellite and radios back to base a witness testimony to deforestation.

Flames lick up from below the canopy, smoke billows across the horizon, and down below, the carbon that has been stored in the forest for hundreds of years is released into the atmosphere.

Skeletal trees are charred grey, others burnt black. Nearby, what was once forest is reduced to an expanse of ash, dust and embers. Trudging through the debris, Carlos Selva points to a soya farm: “They’ve been paid to do this. Forty per cent of next year’s harvest on this land has already been bought.”

The clearance is illegal and Carlos Selva – a ranger with Brazil‘s environmental protection agency, Ibama – sets in motion the process of levying fines, business embargos and other penalties that have helped to slow the pace of deforestation by almost 80% in the past eight years. This represents impressive progress, but it is at risk. The pressure to convert more Amazonian forest is growing stronger due to drought in the US, rising world food prices and a weakening of Brazilian laws.

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The GM tree plantations bred to satisfy the world’s energy needs

November 15, 2012

John Vidal – The Guardian, 11/15/2012

It’s a timber company’s dream but a horrific industrial vision for others: massive plantations of densely planted GM eucalyptus trees stretching across Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia and China, engineered to grow 40% faster for use as paper, as pellets for power stations and as fuel for cars.

The prospect is close, says Stanley Hirsch, chief executive of the Israeli biotech company FuturaGene. All that is missing, he says, are permissions from governments for the trees to be grown commercially, and backing from conservation groups and certification bodies.

FuturaGene has spent 11 years trialling thousands of GM eucalyptus and poplar trees on 100-hectare plots in Israel, China and outside São Paulo in Brazil, and is now at the last stages of the Brazilian regulatory process for commercial planting. Thanks to a gene taken from the common, fast-growing Arabidopsis weed, the company has found a way to alter the structure of plant cell walls to stimulate the natural growth process. The company says its modified eucalyptus trees can grow 5 metres (16ft) a year, with 20%-30% more mass than a normal eucalyptus. In just five and a half years they are 27 metres high.

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