In light of all the pictures and articles circulating about fires in Brazil’s Amazon, South American Crop Consultant Dr. Michael Cordonnier says a dose of reality is needed. He explains, “Yes, some of the fires are for clearing native forest for primarily agricultural purposes, but most of the fires are being set in order to burn off pastures and clear land that has already been deforested. Before the forested areas are burned, the bigger trees are cut for lumber and a lot of that wood is then illegally exported to mainly Europe. Ironically, it’s the Europeans who are the most upset about the fires.”
He goes on to explain that many of the fires are being set by subsistent farmers conducting slash and burn agriculture—which is illegal. But such farmers say they must do this to feed their families.
Most Brazilians are upset about the fires and view them as criminal activity. Further, farm groups say it paints all farmers in a negative light. Brazil’s association of corn and soybean growers have condemned the illegal fires and point out that producers are themselves victims when illegal fires move onto their land. In addition, sustainability is an important component of soybean production in Brazil. “They feel it is important to distinguish between illegal clearing and land clearing authorized by the federal government,” according to Cordonnier.
He goes on to cite NASA data that shows that of the 10 largest countries in the world, Brazil ranks seventh in the percentage of land devoted to crop production. And of the G20 countries, Brazil takes the No. 3 spot in terms of the percentage of remaining tree coverage including native and planted. Brazil’s forestry code is one of the most rigid environmental laws in the world.
Cordonnier says, “Brazilian farmers contend that no other country in the world conserves as much vegetation while at the same time producing as much food as Brazil.”
And Brazil is taking action to control the blazes. On Aug. 29, it prohibited the use of fire for land clearing and weed/pest control in preparation for planting across the country for 60 days. Controlled fires are routinely used in Brazil in preparation for planting, but such practices are highly regulated. But even those legal fires are now banned for the next two months.
Cordonnier also points out that commitments from ADM and Bunge reaffirming their commitment not to buy grain from illegally deforested regions of the Amazon as a non-event, as production from the areas hit by such fires is negligible.