In May 2010, Avoided Deforestation Partners put out a report titled “Farms here, forests there“. The report argues that deforestation to create agricultural land in the tropics has resulted in a “dramatic expansion” in food commodities that compete with food produced in the USA. Predictably enough, agribusiness interests in Brazil have used the report to push for more deforestation – to keep Brazilian agriculture competitive.
On the front page of Avoided Deforestation Partners’ website is a video, that tells us “how protecting tropical rainforests benefits U.S. agriculture”. It’s a piece of propaganda aimed at a US-based audience, in the hope that they are as ignorant of the reality in the Global South as Avoided Deforestation Partners seem to be. The voice-over explains:
Did you know that saving forests can protect American [sic] jobs? Here’s how: Timber and agricultural products from tropical deforestation undercut more environmentally friendly US products putting Americans [sic] out of work. Protecting these forests will create good jobs and conservation for people in tropical countries and make sure Americans [sic] have a fair chance to compete. Now you know.
Indeed, now we know. Avoided Deforestation Partners is pushing arguments that are so US-centric that they are being used by agribusiness to increase deforestation in the tropics. In an interview with REDD-Monitor, Jeff Horowitz, the founder of Avoided Deforestation Partners, echoed this US-centrism: “protecting tropical forests will cut the cost of U.S. climate legislation almost in half – saving [U.S.] Americans billions”.
Glen Hurowitz of Avoided Deforestation Partners defends the report, explaining that it “was written for a U.S. audience relevant to the ongoing debate on climate legislation”. He told SolveClimate that “Some of the interests in Brazil wildly misinterpreted the report.” Avoided Deforestation Partners rushed out another statement titled, “More Forests, Better Farms: Gains for Brazil From Forest Protection“, which estimates that ending deforestation could “boost revenue for Brazil by $146-$306 billion”.
Of course, the challenge to Brazil’s Forest Code started before Avoided Deforestation Partners published their gift to the deforesters. And the proposed changes to the code are the subject of an intense debate within Brazil.
A group of organisations in Brazil have launched a campaign to save the Forest Code: “SOS Forests – the Forestry Code is in Danger“.
Since 1934 Brazilian landowners have been forbidden by the Forestry Code to cut down vegetation that has the “function of preventing soil erosion”, by which is meant vegetation on slopes and hilltops, and to maintain a “legal reserve” of original vegetation. Currently, this reserve is 80% on land in the Amazon and much lower in the rest of the country.
The proposed amendments to the Forest Code would reduce the area for legal reserves in privately owned land and allow larger areas for small landholdings, which have less strict forest protection requirements. Last week, Ecosystem Marketplace published an article discussing the proposed changes to the Brazilian Forest Code: “Will Brazil Change its Forest Code – and Kill the Amazon?“.
In a sidebar to the article, Ecosystem Marketplace speculates the implications of gutting the Forest Code for REDD and highlights one of the serious risks of REDD. If a government has good forest laws that are strictly enforced and the country is already successfully reducing deforestation, then it is less likely to benefit from REDD payments:
Schemes that reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation must, by definition, have threatened forests to protect. Does that mean Brazil could boost the REDD sector by gutting its Forest Code? After all, such a move would certainly endanger forests that today are nominally protected.
Ecosystem Marketplace asks “Do you see gutting the law and using REDD finance as a more sustainable alternative than the current legislation?” REDD-Monitor disagrees with Ecosystem Marketplace’s belief in the market as the solution to, well, everything, but encourages debate on Brazil’s Forest Code. Ecosystem Marketplace is working on a follow up article and is looking for feedback. Please contact Steve Zwick, Editor of Ecosystem Marketplace (SZwick@ ecosystemmarketplace.com), or use the comment section below this post.
What’s missing from Ecosystem Marketplace’s analysis of the challenge to the Forest Code are the views of Brazil’s small farmers. In August 2010, in an article for World Rainforest Movement’s Bulletin, Luiz Zarref of Via Campesina describes how the proposed changes to the Forest Code are for the benefit of large landowners and agribusiness rather than small farmers:
The mode of agribusiness production is based on monoculture, heavy machinery and the uncontrolled use of pesticides. For agribusiness, the PPAs [permanent protection areas] and the RLs [legal reserves] are unproductive areas, obstacles to the advancement of their devastating model. For poor farmers, these areas are key to food sovereignty, energy, water, environmental sustainability and local diversified income generation.
In a recent interview, Zarref explains why agribusiness wants to gut the Forest Code:
Their objectives are clear: to push ahead with the huge destruction they have already caused in the Cerrado, the Atlantic Forest and other regions; and to advance in the destruction of the Amazon, consolidating areas they have already cleared. They want to plant monocultures and palm trees in the few areas of conservation that remain.
But Zarref also sees a positive side to the discussions about the Forest Code in Brazil: “For the first time ever, people from the environmental movement are walking closely with people form the peasant movement.” Unfortunately this doesn’t yet seem to apply to Avoided Deforestation Partners.