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Brazil: Forest code vote shows strength of agribusiness lobby

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Buriti trees on a river bankA new Brazilian Forest Code was rushed through the Brazilian Congress last week to ensure that it was passed before Congress rises for the municipal elections (7 and 28 October). This law is based on a decree issued by President Dilma Rousseff in May, after she vetoed a previous congressional draft of the Code for weakening environmental protection.

According to ISA, the new law is the result of a deal between the agribusiness lobby and the government , and increases amnesties for deforesters while reducing the protection required around river-banks from a 30-metre strip to a 15-metre one. Another provision that weakens protection allows non-native species to be used to replant deforested areas. These are likely to be commercial crops such as fruit trees like papaya and orange, which will not provide such effective protection against erosion.

The reduction in the area of river banks required to be preserved was severely criticised by Professor Ricardo Rodrigues of the Universidade de São Paulo (USP) and a specialist in Forest Restoration. ‘All environmental services are compromised by these reduced strips. This won’t prevent erosion, it won’t act as an ecological corridor. The previous 30 metres were already a problem. With 15 metres I daren’t imagine the consequences,’ said Rodrigues. He was also harsh in his verdict on the President. ‘If she doesn’t veto this law, she will be abandoning any pretence of government. The real government will be the agribusiness lobby.’

The big question in political circles now is whether President Rousseff will use her veto and in what way. ISA says that the talk in Congress is that she will veto the extension of the amnesty for deforestation to medium and large landowners. By doing this she will protect her image as a defender of small producers.