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Illegal deforestation for soy production, in the North of State of Mato Grosso.

Illegal deforestation for soy production, in the North of State of Mato Grosso.

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Amazon , Brazil — Amazon destruction has accelerated to record levels, according to figures released by the Brazilian government. The annual rate has reached 26,130 square km, the second highest ever - an area equivalent to about six football fields a minute are destroyed. Almost half of the deforestation occurred in the State of Mato Grosso, governed by the largest individual soy producer in the world, Blairo Maggi.

More than 70 percent of Amazon loss occurred between May and July 2004, when President Lula's Action Plan to Curb Deforestation had already been adopted. The Plan, which was presented in March 2004, took seven months of elaboration and had the participation of 13 Ministries committing resources, defining responsibilities and setting a timetable. During the same period, Lula's Government has celebrated the rapid expansion in grain production and world leadership in meat exports, with the Minister of Treasury Antonio Palocci declaring, "Agribusiness is the best business of Brazil. "

A national shame

Paulo Adario, our Amazon campaign coordinator, said, "Clearly Lula's administration has failed up to now to implement the Action Plan and to protect the Amazon. Although there have been positive measures taken by the Government, such as the creation of protected areas and demarcation of Indigenous lands, the fact that the annual average of deforestation has been more than 23,000 km2 for the last three years is simply unacceptable. This is a national shame."

The rape of the rainforest

Of the 12,576 square kilometres lost in the State of Mato Grosso, 4,176 km2 were authorised by the government. The rest was illegal. Maggi doesn't hide his opinion about deforestation: "A 40 percent increase in deforestation doesn't mean anything at all, and I don't feel the slightest guilt over what we are doing here," Maggi said in an interview to The New York Times in September 2003, referring to the Amazon deforestation rate of the previous year.  Last week the UK newspaper The Independent exposed Maggi as being "the man behind ... the rape of the rainforest." But Maggi has reacted angrily, "I can personally say that my company (Grupo Amaggi) has carried out no deforestation over the past few years. I think they (the newspapers) were heavy handed and they exaggerated," he said. However, Maggi is the largest soy producer in the world. The soya boom is responsible for much of the deforestation.  "It is turning the rainforest into cattle feed. It is gross," said John Sauven, head of the rainforest campaign for Greenpeace UK.

Key culprits and solutions

"Agribusiness and illegal logging are key culprits of deforestation," says Adario. "Lula's administration is facing a fundamental contradiction: to fight Amazon deforestation or to promote the expansion of agribusiness to pay the Brazilian external debt. To make a real difference on the ground, the Government needs to restrict soy plantations only in areas already deforested, combat illegal logging, continue to create protected areas and effectively implement their own anti-deforestation Plan."

By allowing this level of Amazon destruction, the Government is also contributing to the devastating impacts of global warming. Carbon dioxide emissions from deforestation and burning in the Amazon are the main Brazilian contributions to climate change and there is growing evidence that climate change is drying out the forests, creating a vicious cycle.

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