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Forest guard

Inpe tests new satellites for fighting burning in the Amazon

The National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) has been testing, for two months, the Deforestation Detection System (Deter), which provides information on acts of devastation in the Amazon with a periodicity of up to three days. Deter uses images from the Modis sensor, on board the Terra and Aqua satellites, of Nasa, and from the WFI, of the CBERS (China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite), with a resolution of 240 meters. And it also minimizes the effects of small clouds, which hinder observation. “The program is now ready and is being used in a test, via the Internet. By the end of the year, it will be able to be used by supervision and law-enforcement agencies, for preventing burning and deforestation”, says Cylon Gonçalves, the secretary for Research and Development Policies and Programs at the Ministry of Science and Technology (MCT).

According to Gonçalves, the information from the two satellites will be passed on immediately to the Amazon Protection Service (Sipam) – a program connected with the Presidential Chief of Staff -, which will activate helicopters and aircraft to track the region and repress lawbreakers. Up until now, the information used to be obtained by means of images sent by the Landsat satellite, which passes every 16 days, and whose images permit a visualization of an area with 30 meters of resolution.

Deter represents a significant advance in the system for assessing the deforested areas in the Amazon, according to Paulo Artaxo, the coordinator of the Millenium Institute of the Large Scale Biosphere-Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia (LBA). The researchers from the LBA – an international US$ 80 million mega-project that brings together over 300 researchers from Latin America, Europe and the United States – have no doubt that the new technologies are fundamental tools for preserving the forests without jeopardizing the economic development of the region. They have an effect not only for cohibiting deforestation – facilitated by the use of the new satellites, but also to guide economic activities.

Their use “on a large scale”, as the LBA’s scientific coordinator, Carlos Nobre says, makes it possible to extract more economic and social value from the “standing forest” than from pastures, for example. “The cattle raisers use little technology and get a low yield.” He mentions the case of communities from the island of Marajó that replaced the pasture areas with the planting of assai, when the fruit won over the market. “With this, the deforested areas were recovered again”, he says.

Artaxo foresees, though, that it will still “take a time” for the proposals and suggestions presented by the researchers from the LBA for preserving the Amazon – amongst them, qualifying plant producers and gatherers to carry out a process of bioprospecting and improving knowledge about biodiversity, for example – to be transformed into public policy. The scientist, he argues, is one amongst the several agents involved in the ecosystem. “You have to include cattle raisers, planters, lumber dealers, environmentalists and so many others with their own interests. And the public policies are made from these players”, he says.

Technological innovation
The idea of valuing sustainable production activities with technological innovation is one of the objectives of the Sustainable Amazonia Plan (PAS), drawn up by seven ministries – which now incorporates diagnoses made by the LBA – and that is beginning to be discussed with the governors from the region. The PAS also intends to implement works of infrastructure in the sectors of transports, energy and communications, regarded as crucial elements for sustainable development; to establish a new standard of financing for Amazonia; and for fostering environmental management and territorial arrangement. There are not yet any resources defined for financing the plan. But, as disclosed by Jorg Zimmermann, from the Secretariat for Coordinating Amazonia, of the Ministry of the Environment (MMA), the Sustainable Amazonia Plan is going to give new bearings to the Pluriannual Plan (PPA).

In the ambit of the PAS, the government is developing three programs: one for preventing and controlling deforestation, another for the sustainable development of the areas of influence of the BR-163 – which links Cuiabá, in Mato Grosso, to Santarém, in Pará – and a third, known as the National Forest Program. In Artaxo’s assessment, these plans and programs show that the government wants to “find its depth” in the environmental management of Amazonia. He regards as “dangerous”, though, the government’s intention to make concessions for private exploitation areas of public land in the region, from 2007 onwards, for a period of between three and 30 years, provided for in the Forest Program. “The capacity of the State for supervising and managing public areas is limited, and the use of this modality of concession may be problematical”, he argues.

The draft law for the concession of public lands, drawn up by the Ministry of the Environment, was submitted to the Presidential Chief of Staff before being sent to the National Congress. “The innovation is not the concession. The novelty is that we are inverting the historical logic, in which the public sector conserves its area by means of preservation units, or else privatizes”, says João Paulo Capobianco, the MMA’s secretary for Biodiversity and Forests. Concession may reconcile environmental preservation and economic exploitation.

Public land accounts for about 47% of the forest areas of the region. In all, there are 2 million square kilometers, without counting the area of indigenous reserves and environmental conservation. A portion of this territory – after excluding the areas over which there is a social demand or conflicts, environmental protection, or that are regarded as fragile – may be used for sustainable usage. The choice of these areas will be endorsed in public hearings and will be part of a concession plan, put up for bids according to criteria that prevent monopolization. The largest lots will have 50,000 hectares at the most.