Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Brazil: Wetlands Versus Agriculture

"In practice, Temer has removed Brazil from the Paris agreement, just like President Trump did, with the difference that he doesn't have the courage to assume that position publicly."
"There's a firm effort to dismantle the government apparatus created over the past decades to support policies that were consistent with the reduction of greenhouse gases."
Marina Silva, former environment minister, Brazil

"It is often said that I, or my government, protects farmers or cattle ranchers. It's the contrary."
"It's farmers and cattle ranchers who protect the national economy and that is the clear reality. We can't be afraid to say that."
President Michel Temer, Brazil

"What we need is to strike a balance."
"They [farmers] don't think about tomorrow. As long as they're fine now, they don't care about what happens next."
Filipe Dias, executive director SOS Pantanal Institute

"They [environmentalists] don't care, they just say you can't plant here."
"Soy is a good business. It's been very good for Pantanal."
Adauto Rodrigues Oliveira, soy farmer, Miranda, Brazil
Gonzalo roping cattle at the Bafo da Onca (Jaguar's Breath) ranch. PHOTO: Anastasia Taylor-Lind
Gonzalo roping cattle at the Bafo da Onca (Jaguar's Breath) ranch. PHOTO: Anastasia Taylor-Lind

So there it is, the wisdom of reality; environmentalists don't give a damn about farmers' livelihoods, and farmers are disinterested in the consequences down the road of their determination to turn tropical wetlands and forests into arable fields for agriculture. And never the twain shall meet. Neither in Brazil, nor anywhere else in the world where the urge to produce turns up hard against the urgency to protect the environment.

The world's largest tropical wetlands, in the Pantanal region of Brazil, is seeing hard times. In the last fifteen years about 2,500 square kilometers of the geography straddling Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia have undergone massive change. Expanding patches of yellow, arid land have entered what was so recently lush biome, covering over 180,000 square kilometers.
Caiman bask alongside the Transpantaneira road. PHOTO: Anastasia Taylor-Lind
Caiman bask alongside the Transpantaneira road. PHOTO: Anastasia Taylor-Lind
While the government of Brazil celebrates its booming soy industry and takes pride in cattle ranches, one of the richest wildlife havens on Earth is threatened. The packs of jaguars, caimans, marsh deer and macaws will before long find their habitat irreversibly and irretrievably altered. It is evident to the jaded environmental eye that Brazil has surrendered its resolve to protect its environment.

Still basking in its achievement of containing the deforestation of the Amazon as its signature environmental dedication, other trends have not been quite so celebratory, such as an increase of 9 percent in 2016 of the country's greenhouse gas emissions, rising from 2015, as a signal failure, marking Brazil's highest emissions since 2008.

The conversion of forested land to farming and allied commercial purposes can claim credit for that rise. And it's become increasingly unlikely now that Brazil will remain committed to honouring its international commitments on climate change. Expanding agriculture into protected areas lacking environment regulations, suffering from lax enforcement, coincides with a period in Brazil where federal lawmakers represent the interests of farmers at the expense of land-use policies.
Jabiru storks swoop over the Pantanal, whose survival depends on an annual pulse of floodwater that submerges 80 per cent of the plains. PHOTO: Anastasia Taylor-Lind
Jabiru storks swoop over the Pantanal, whose survival depends on an annual pulse of floodwater that submerges 80 per cent of the plains. PHOTO: Anastasia Taylor-Lind

A harvest of 216 million metric tons resulted in the 2016-17 harvest season, doubling the crop output in 2005-06. In that same period of agricultural production, farmland increased by 26 percent while protected wetland decreased by the same measure. Brazil's long recession is slowly receding as the country surges ahead in its agricultural exports, generating opportunities for landowners in Pantanal with its swampy natural terrain and prevailing heat.

New technology makes it now possible to turn wetlands into soybean fields. About two million hectares of soy in Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, two states including the Pantanel has seen a 77 percent increase from the last decade. In 2011, a law was introduced in the Brazilian Congress to create a framework for sustainable development in the region, but it was never passed and likely now never will be.

As far as Mr. Oliveira the soy farmer is concerned, people in the region have left poverty behind since farming has been more firmly established. As for the displacement of wildlife, well, that's life, my friend.

Pantanal: The activists fighting to preserve Brazil's pristine wetlands
The Pantanal floodbasin, and agricultural land Photo: Anastasia Taylor-Lind

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