Under new management

Law authorizes private management of public forest to contain deforestation

The federal government is going to create a National Forest (Flona  in the Portuguese acronym) in the Jamanxim Valley, in Pará, in a public area of about 6 million hectares, and implant a pilot sustainable exploitation project. The idea is to encourage handling practices among the local population and to attract private investments to the exploitation of the timber business and biodiversity, by means of a remunerated concession of areas of forest, technological support, technical assistance and credit.  Grounded on the concept of productive forest, the project unveils a new model of protection of biodiversity that is an integral part of the country’s scientific and technological policy.

The Flonas are areas of native vegetation cover constituted by law in 1995 to promote the handling of natural resources, to protect water resources, and to foster the development of research. The Flona of the Jamanxim Valley – located to the northwest of the highway  BR-163, which links Cuiabá to Santarém – intends to be a showcase for the economic potential of responsible handling of the forest and a sort of antipodes to the actions of deforestation/ which, in the period of 2003-2004, degraded 2.6 million hectares in the Amazon, according to the estimates of the National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

The objective is to create an infrastructure for production that stanches, for example, the sale of timber in natura and stimulates investments in its transformation into a product. It provides for everything from an expansion in the number of technical schools to the installation in the region of log processing industries, biotechnology centers and bioindustries. “The problem of  the Amazon is the development model: it has to have a credit policy and training for adding value to the standing forest, by means of the exploitation of timber, oils, extracts, essences etc.”, diagnoses João Paulo Capobianco, the Secretary for Biodiversity and Forests of the Ministry of the Environment (MMA).

The project began to be drawn up by technicians from 21 federal bodies, in March last year, when it was decided to pave the Cuiabá-Santarém highway, to facilitate the outflow of products, above all of the soybeans grown in Mato Grosso. Accordingly, a development model was conceived to make economic activities and the sustainable use of natural resources viable.

Built in 1973, the highway cuts across regions of cerrado(savanna), transition areas and forests inhabited by 2 million persons. In Pará, the road crosses large indigenous areas and public forests that have been used for the extraction of timber and of prospecting, a large part of the time through the occupation of public lands.

Forest management
The implantation of the project for sustainable exploitation in the Jamanxim Valley, though, depends on the approval of the bill for managing of public forests that will authorize the economic use of the area by local communities and concessions for sustainable handling. The project is running its course in the National Congress and has already been unanimously approved by a mixed commission in the Chamber of Deputies. In mid-June, it was the first item on the agenda for voting in a plenary session, behind a string of provisional measures. From the Chamber, the project follows on to the Federal Senate. Capobianco’s expectation is that the law will be voted this year.

Once approved, it is going to allow the public authorities to enter into agreements, partnerships or contracts – including remunerated concessions – for the sustainable exploitation of national forests. The concessions will obey a National Forestry Concession Plan, which excludes, right away, full protection conservation units, collecting reserves, indigenous territories and areas of relevant ecological interest. The term of the concession contracts will obey the cycle of exploiting the products and may not be for longer than 60 years.

The concessionaires will not have access to the genetic heritage for research purposes, bioprospecting or constituting collections, under penalty of committing the crime of biopiracy. Nor any right to real estate ownership.

Accompanying the contracts and managing the programs, amongst other prerogatives, will be the responsibility of the Brazilian Forestry Service, the creation of which is provided for in the law and which wll be part of the structure of the MMA. The Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama) continues with the task of inspecting and punishing those lawbreakers, since the law classifies as environmental crime actions that degrade the forest. Up until now, illegal deforestation was regarded as a misdemeanor and punished with a fine and an embargo. The project also institutes the National Forestry Development Fund, which has the task of fostering the development of sustainable activities and promoting technological innovation.

In spite of the deforestation of the Amazon having grown 6.23% between 2003 and 2004, the latest data registers a fall in the rates in six of the eight states monitored by Inpe. The levels rose only in the state of Mato Grosso – which accounted for a percentage of 48% of the deforestation of the Amazon, according to the Minister of the Environment, Marina Silva – and in Rondônia. “The bookkeeping of the deforestation should be done by region and by state. Each one of them has different conditioning factors”, observes Gilberto Câmara, the coordinator-general of Inpe’s Observatory of the Earth, the sector responsible for the monitoring of the forest by means of satellite images.
In Mato Grosso, the majority of the land is private and its exploitation has to obey the Forestry Code, which establishes areas of legal reserve of 80%, if the property is located in a forest area, 35% for the areas of  cerrado (savanna), and 20% for the farms in prairies.

In Amazonia, on the contrary, only 24% of the areas are covered by title deeds, and the main vector of deforestation is land grabbing of extensive tracts of land. According to Philip Fearnside, a researcher from the National Institute of Amazon Research (INPA), the deforestation produced by a family of farmers does not exceed the 3 hectare mark.

The presence of timber companies is strong. In 2004, according to the Amazon Institute of People and the Environment (Imazon), the timber sector – which in Imazon’s calculations brings together something like 2,500 companies – extracted 24.5 million cubic meters of timber in logs, equivalent to 6.2 million trees. This result confirms the region’s second place amongst the largest producers of tropical timber in the world, behind only Indonesia.

In 1998, the volume of timber in logs extracted was even greater, reaching 28.3 million cubic meters. Imazon attributes this reduction to brisker inspection against illegal exploitation, to the increased efficiency in processing, and to the cancellation of hundreds of handling plans. And the areas exploited under the rules of good handling practices have increased: they grew from 300 thousand hectares in 2003 to 1.4 million hectares in 2004. “By the end of the year, we will arrive at 2.0 million hectares”, Capobianco forecasts.

The expansion of certified exploitation, allied with the actions of Ibama and the Federal Police in inspections, has contributed towards reducing the levels of deforestation in these states, in Capobianco’s assessment. He believes that this rate should fall even more, when the effects are accounted for of the new rules for obtaining a rural registration, having been modified by means of a regulation published in December last year by the Ministry of Agrarian Development and the National Institute for Agrarian Reform and Colonization (Incra) to regularize the possession by occupation in a hundred municipalities of the Amazon. “For 23 years, Incra registered requests for giving title to land without any inspection”, says Capobianco. Anybody could turn up and ask Incra for a Certificate of Registration of Rural Property in an area smaller than 2,490 hectares – “over 2,500 hectares, the authorization of Congress is needed”. In possession of this certificate, it was possible to obtain financing from Banco do Brasil and authorization from Ibama for handling. When the improvements had been carried out – which usually included deforestation –, the next step was to ask for definitive ownership of the public land. The holders of this modality of title deeds had February this year as the deadline for proving the origin of the document. “Those who were unable to prove it have lost their registration certificate, access to credit, and could not sell the property”, Capobianco explains.

Productive forest
In the extraction of timber, for example, there is a provision for the felling of a very small number of trees per hectare of forest and the use of techniques that allow their replacement. To guarantee the return for the investors, large areas for exploitation will be granted. “In two decades, we will have 40 million hectares under this system of exploitation”, estimates Ronaldo Seroa Motta, the coordinator of the Regulation Studies of the Institute of Applied Economic Research (Ipea). “It is all going to depend on the demand from the market.”

The great merit of the project, in his assessment, is that it foresees conservation by private management, an experience that worked in the Scandinavian countries, but that failed in Southeast Asia, because of problems with the concession criteria. The risk lies in the capacity for managing the concession, because of the extent of the areas and the low level of extraction of timber per hectare: the cost of capital is higher, and the investor still has to reduce the impact of transportation. Not to mention the heterogeneity typical of the tropical forests. “The types of wood assimilated by the market are few”, Motta explains. “There cannot be shortcomings in the regulations, to avoid the possibility of the concessionaires passing off as their own timber purchased from third parties”, says Motta.

He advocates that this same model – of remunerated concession and conservation under private management – should also be adopted in exploitation by farming. “The farmer would not have to deforest to acquire ownership”, he explains.

The “business plan” of the forest concession project has yet one more card up its sleeve: the possibility of an agreement to guarantee the country international credit as compensation for the reduction of greenhouse gases arising from deforestation in tropical forests.  It would be a sort of payment for services rendered to the global climate: the deforestation of the 23 thousand square kilometers of forest recorded by Inpe resulted in an emission of 260 million tons of carbon dioxide a year into the atmosphere, something like 70% of the total of Brazilian emissions and 2% of emissions worldwide, in the calculations of the Environmental Research Institute of Amazonia (Ipam).

The proposal, which was presented by Ipam at the conference of the United Nations on climatic changes, in 2003, is gaining more and more adepts at the MMA. The idea is the following: if Brazil is capable of bringing the rate of deforestation down to a level below 16 thousand square kilometers a year – the historical average in the 1990s –, it would have access to international credits for the reduction in emissions. “If the reduction is 5%, the injection of funds may vary between US$ 60 million and US$ 100 million a year”, calculates Paulo Moutinho, Ipam’s research coordinator.

The measure is not part of the compensation mechanisms provided for in the Kyoto Protocol. It is facing resistances, above all from nongovernmental organizations that are afraid that the credit for the reduction of emissions in tropical forests may attenuate, through compensation, the commitment of the most countries that pollute most, like the United States, for example.

According to Capobianco, “there is an intense debate about this issue”. Compensation for reducing emissions is gaining adepts and may become an integral part of the second commitment period provided for in the Kyoto Protocol, from 2012 onwards “But there is nothing to prevent a new protocol from appearing that takes this question into consideration”, he foresees.