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Brazil's greens win forest showdown.

Rallying record public and political support, Brazilian environmentalists in May halted legislation that would have paved the way for the country's large land owners to redouble their efforts to clear forests and grasslands to make way for plantations. The firestorm of public protest against the measure built up and eventually "went out of our hands," said Adriana Ramos, coordinator of the NGO Working Group on Forests, a coalition of approximately 20 global and regional environmental groups.

The legislation, drafted by Brazil's Department of Agriculture and the National Farmers Coalition (CNA), which represents approximately 5 million farmers and ranchers, would have allowed clearing of rainforest to increase from 20 to 50 percent on privately owned land in the Amazon. Already fragmented areas, such as the Atlantic rainforest, would be decimated under such regulations.

The CNA is a powerful voice in Brazil, where 3 percent (5.1 million) of the country's 170 million people own approximately two-thirds of the land, according to recent government estimates. The farmers' coalition wants to expand large-scale agriculture near the Amazon River, which is increasingly recognized as a fast and cheap artery for the transportation of crops, particularly soybeans (see "Where Have All the Farmers Gone?" page 12).

The CNA had hoped that a rewrite of the forestry law would pass in December 1999, but environmentalists were able to stall the measure until a counter-proposal could be made by Conama, an official environmental advisory council staffed by government and private sector members. The Conama proposal received support from environmentalists, Brazil's Environment Minister Jose Sarney Filho, and President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who vowed to veto the CNA rewrite after government officials received tens of thousands of e-mails from the public denouncing the legislation. Adding to the pressure, the major media in Brazil--even the country's foremost cartoonist--spoke out loudly against the CNA measure.

Cardoso has made the Conama proposal the operative law until he signs new legislation. Ramos and those backing the Conama proposal hope to see it made into law later this year. However, Ramos estimates that only 5 percent of legislators are immediate sympathizers, and CNA supporters in congress are back in committee renewing their efforts. Even if the Conama proposal is passed in the Brazilian Congress, the greatest obstacle to protecting the environment--in a large country with so few agents of enforcement--continues to be implementation.
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Author:Ruppert, David
Publication:World Watch
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:3BRAZ
Date:Sep 1, 2000
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