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Aerial view of deforestation in Nascentes da Serra do Cachimbo Biological Reserve in Altamira, Para state, Brazil, in the Amazon basin, on August 28, 2019. JOAO LAET/AFP/Getty Images
Aerial view of deforestation in Nascentes da Serra do Cachimbo Biological Reserve in Altamira, Para state, Brazil, in the Amazon basin, on Aug. 28, 2019.

Brazil ablaze

Sovereignty over development in the age of Captain Chainsaw

The Amazon Rainforest has lit up like a Labor Day barbecue, and both Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro and the country’s farmers are being blamed.

Last month, there were almost 31,000 such land-clearing fires across the region, creating smoke that reached even the city of Sao Paulo, some 1,000 miles to the south.

Such fires are common across Brazil at the end of the five-month-long dry season, but the ramp-up of such clearing has drawn the attention of the world: In August 2018, just 10,400 such fires were recorded. And the difference between then and now is Mr. Bolsonaro, who has strongly favored development over conservation. Brazil’s sovereignty to use its resources takes precedence over, say, France’s concern about the “Lungs of the World.” In this view, it seems quite interesting to many Brazilians that one group of nations that developed themselves into wealthy powers wishes to slow development in other countries to protect the environment at the expense of their own development.

Producers, Captain Chainsaw, blamed

We’re reaching the end of the dry season in Brazil, and spontaneous fires are not unheard of. Over three days last month, neighboring Bolivia, Peru and Paraguay—places where Bolsonaro is not president—have also seen increases in such fires. But over in Brazil’s Rondonia state, which is mostly rainforest, the number of such blazes is up 198% over last year, says Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, a state environmental research institute. 

More than that, Bolsonaro has typically gone after his country’s often strict green rules as an impediment to growth. He has reportedly even said “I am Captain Chainsaw.” He fired the head of Brazil’s INPE in July for what many think is the director’s failure to downplay the growing number of blazes.

It seems many farmers are liking the new approach. In fact, a “Day of Fire” demonstration was reportedly held recently among farmers gathered along BR163, Brazil’s mud-mired highway from Mato Grosso to an Amazon port. They reportedly set a series of simultaneous blazes up and down the roadway.

“We need to show the president that we want to work and the only way is deforesting. And the way to clear and prepare new pastures is with fire,” local media quoted one leader of the group. 

So the fires rage to create new pasture. For now, that cleared land will likely be used chiefly for pasture rather than for soybeans, as processors and exporters in 2008 set up an agreement to not process or sell soybeans from the region in an effort to slow deforestation.

It’s interesting to note the Amazon soy ban came about after pressure from European-based environmental groups help cut deforestation. And so the fight goes on between sovereignty and environmental protection.

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress. 

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