Tag Archives: farmland Amazon

Deforestation Tolerance: Amazon

Guianan savanna. Image from wikipedia

Amazon generates approximately half of its own rainfall by recycling moisture 5 to 6 times as airmasses move from the Atlantic across the basin to the west.  From the start, the demonstration of the hydrological cycle of the Amazon raised the question of how much deforestation would be required to cause this hydrolological cycle to degrade to the point of being unable to support rain forest ecosystems.

High levels of evaporation and transpiration that forests produce throughout the year contribute to a wetter atmospheric boundary layer than would be the case with non-forest.This surface-atmosphere coupling is more important where large-scale factors for rainfall formation are weaker, such as in central and eastern Amazonia. Near the Andes, the impact of at least modest deforestation is less dramatic because the general ascending motion of airmasses in this area induces high levels of rainfall in addition to that expected from local evaporation and transpiration.

Where might the tipping point be for deforestation-generated degradation of the hydrological cycle? The very first model to examine this question  showed that at about 40% deforestation, central, southern and eastern Amazonia would experience diminished rainfall and a lengthier dry season, predicting a shift to savanna vegetation to the east.

Moisture from the Amazon is important to rainfall and human wellbeing because it contributes to winter rainfall for parts of the La Plata basin, especially southern Paraguay, southern Brazil, Uruguay and central-eastern Argentina; in other regions, the moisture passes over the area, but does not precipitate out. Although the amount contributing to rainfall in southeastern Brazil is smaller than in other areas, even small amounts can be a welcome addition to urban reservoirs…

In recent decades, new forcing factors have impinged on the hydrological cycle: climate change and widespread use of fire to eliminate felled trees and clear weedy vegetation. Many studies show that in the absence of other contributing factors, 4° Celsius of global warming would be the tipping point to degraded savannas in most of the central, southern, and eastern Amazon. Widespread use of fire leads to drying of surrounding forest and greater vulnerability to fire in the subsequent year.

We believe that negative synergies between deforestation, climate change, and widespread use of fire indicate a tipping point for the Amazon system to flip to non-forest ecosystems in eastern, southern and central Amazonia at 20-25% deforestation.

We believe that the sensible course is not only to strictly curb further deforestation, but also to build back a margin of safety against the Amazon tipping point, by reducing the deforested area to less than 20%, for the commonsense reason that there is no point in discovering the precise tipping point by tipping it. At the 2015 Paris Conference of the Parties, Brazil committed to 12 million ha of reforestation by 2030. Much or most of this reforestation should be in southern and eastern Amazonia.

Excerpts from Amazon Tipping Point  by Thomas E. Lovejoy and Carlos Nobre, Sciences Advances,  Feb. 21, 2018

Policing the Amazon Jungle

Transamazon Highway, image from wikipedia

The small town of Apui sits at the new frontline of Brazil’s fight against advancing deforestation…  The home of 21,000 people in southern Amazonas state was long protected by its remote location from illegal loggers, ranchers and farmers who clear the forest.  Now those who would destroy the jungle are moving in from bordering states, following the Transamazon Highway, which is little more than a red-dirt track in this part of the rainforest.

First come the loggers, who illegally extract valued lumber sold in far-off cities. The cattle ranchers follow, burning the forest to clear land and plant green pasture that rapidly grows in the tropical heat and rain. After the pasture is worn out, soy farmers arrive, planting grain on immense tracts of land…

Roughly 7,989 square kilometres (3,085 square miles) of forest were destroyed in 2016, a 29 percent increase from the previous year and up from a low of 4,571 square kilometers in 2012, according to the PRODES satellite monitoring system.

Then there are the fires.  Apui ranked first in the country for forest fires in the first week of August 2017, according to the ministry.

At their best the environmental agents can slow but not stop the destruction. They raid illegal logging camps, levy large fines that are rarely collected and confiscate chainsaws to temporarily impede the cutting.  Costa acknowledges that the roughly 1,300 environmental field agents who police a jungle area the size of western Europe have a difficult task, at the very least.

Excerpt from Brazil’s agents of the Amazon fighting loggers, fires to stop deforestation, Reuters, Aug. 20, 2017

National Parks and Interests: Peru

Perú map with vegetation. image from wikimediia

The Sierra del Divisor region in the Peruvian Amazon was identified as a biodiversity conservation priority back in the early 1990s. More than 20 years later and Peruvians are still waiting – some more desperately than others given all the narco-traffickers, illegal loggers and gold-miners in or near the region.

What’s so special about the Sierra del Divisor? It’s the “only mountainous region” anywhere in the lowland rainforest, according to Peruvian NGO Instituto del Bien Comun (IBC), while The Field Museum, in the US, describes it as “a mountain range” rising up “dramatically from the lowlands of central Amazonian Peru” and boasting “rare and diverse geological formations that occur nowhere else in Amazonia.” Its most iconic topographical feature is “El Cono”, an extraordinary peak visible from the Andes on a clear day.

Sierra del Divisor is home to numerous river headwaters feeding into key Amazon tributaries, eco-systems, and a tremendous range of flora and fauna, some of which are endemic, some endangered or threatened – and some with the most wonderful names. Giant armadillos, jaguars, cougars, Acre antshrikes, curl-crested aracaris, blue-throated piping guans and various kinds of monkeys, including the bald – but very red-faced – uakari, all populate the region. Effectively, it forms part of a vast “ecological corridor” running all the way from the Madidi National Park in Bolivia in a north-westerly direction along much of the Peru-Brazil border.

21 indigenous communities and 42 other settlements would benefit from the Sierra del Divisor being properly protected, states the Environment Ministry, while ultimately over 230,000 people in Peru depend on the region for food and water, according to the IBC. In addition, in the absolute remotest parts, it is home to various groups of indigenous peoples living in what Peruvian law calls “isolation.”

In 2006 Peru’s government established a 1.4 million hectare temporary “protected natural area” in this region called the Sierra del Divisor Reserved Zone. Six years later a government commission agreed it would be converted into a national park, and, all that remains now, after a painful administrative process, several key advances made this year and indigenous leaders lobbying various ministries, is for Peru’s Cabinet to approve it and the president, Ollanta Humala, to sign off on it. That is how it has stood since early May 2015 – and still nothing….

Why such a delay indeed, this year or in the past? Might it have something to do with the infrastructure integration plans for the region, such as the proposed – and effectively already underway – road between Pucallpa, the Peruvian Amazon’s current boom city, and Cruzeiro do Sul across the border in Brazil? Or the proposed railway between the same two cities ultimately connecting to Peru’s northern Pacific coast, declared in the “national interest” some years ago? Or the proposed railway running all the way across South America from Peru’s Pacific coast to Brazil’s Atlantic coast, a long-mooted project which has received so much media coverage recently because of Chinese interest in financing it and the visit by China’s premier, Li Keqiang, to Brazil and Peru in May?

Or might the delay be explained by oil and gas industry interests? Perupetro, the state company promoting oil and gas operations, tried to open up what would be the entire southern part of the park for exploration before backtracking in 2008, while the London Stock Exchange-Alternative Investment Market-listed company Maple Energy has been pumping oil for years in a concession just overlapping the west of the proposed park. More significantly, Canadian-headquartered company Pacific Rubiales Energy runs a one million hectare oil concession that would overlap the entire northern part of the park if it was established, and conducted its first phase of exploratory drilling and seismic tests in late 2012 and 2013 in what would be the park’s far north. Clearly, it wouldn’t be good PR for either Pacific or Peru to explore for oil in, or exploit oil from, a national park, although it wouldn’t be the first time a concession and park have overlapped. Indeed, according to the IBC, it has been agreed that Pacific’s “rights” to operate will be respected if the park is created.

Excerpts from David Hill Peru stalling new national park for unique Amazon mountain range, Guardian, July 29, 2015

see also Oil  Pollution  Amazon Peru

Burning the Amazon, greens versus the farm lobby

The Brazilian Amazon is now home to 24m people, many of them settlers who trekked those roads in the 1960s and 1970s, lured by a government promise that those who farmed “unproductive” land could keep it. Chaotic or corrupt land registries left some without secure title. Rubber-tappers, loggers, miners and charcoal-burners came too. The most recent arrivals are 20,000 construction workers building dams on the Madeira and Xingu rivers to provide electricity to Brazil’s populous south. They have attracted some 80,000 camp-followers, many of whom squat on supposedly protected land.

The population of Jaci-Paraná, the nearest town to the Jirau dam being built on the Madeira, has risen from 3,500 to 21,000 in a decade—but it still has just four police. Prostitutes and drug-dealers do well. On payday, says Maria Pereira, a teacher, busloads of construction workers hit town to drink and fight. Knife-killings are common. When the dam is finished, many of the new residents will move on. Behind them, a bit more of the Amazon will be gone.

Brazil’s government no longer encourages cutting down the forest. Nearly half of it now lies within indigenous reserves, or state and federal parks where most logging is banned. Private landowners must abide by the Forest Code, a law dating from 1965 that requires them to leave the forest standing on part of their farms (four-fifths in the Amazon, less elsewhere), and in particular around the sources and banks of rivers, and on hillsides.  But the code is routinely flouted. Less than 1% of the fines levied for failing to observe it are ever paid, because of uncertain ownership and poor enforcement. The Suruí, an Amerindian people, recently mapped its territory in Rondônia, on paper strictly protected. The tribe was shocked to find that 7% had been cleared.  In Brasília 2,000km (1,250 miles) and a world away, politicians are haggling over laws that will affect the fate of the forest. Some legislators are pushing a bill that would give Congress, rather than the president, the power to create new reserves. That would probably mean fewer new ones—a blow for the forest, says Ivaneide Bandeira of Kanindé, a non-profit group in Rondônia. “Indigenous people protect the forest better than anyone else,” she says.

The Senate is poised to vote on a new version of the Forest Code, already approved by the lower house. The president, Dilma Rousseff, wants a final version on her desk before Christmas. Everyone agrees that change is needed. The share of private land that must be set aside has risen since 1965 and farmers who were once in compliance but omitted to update their paperwork can end up lumped in with lawbreakers. Kátia Abreu, a senator who is the president of the main farm lobby, says farmers find such uncertainty “deeply worrying”. Environmentalists dislike it too, since it encourages loggers and land-grabbers by fuelling disrespect for the law.  But the consensus has gone no further. The farm lobby wanted all past land clearance regularised, arguing that if farmers had to replant trees, crop output would fall, food prices soar and poor Brazilians go hungry. Greens countered that an amnesty would fuel future deforestation. So far, at least, the farm lobby is winning. The current draft allows farmers to dodge fines for illegal logging and postpone their obligation to replant by simply declaring that their violations were committed before July 2008 and by enrolling in a vague and leisurely “environmental recovery programme”, to be run by individual states.

“This is an amnesty in all but name,” says Maria Cecília Brito, the head of WWF-Brazil, a conservation group. “Without safeguards, states will be able to postpone forever the requirement to act.” After several years in which the annual rate of deforestation fell, this year it has risen, possibly because landowners think the new code will let them get away with it. Law-abiding farmers are outraged. When Darci Ferrarin bought a large farm in Mato Grosso in 1998, he knew that its riverbanks had been illegally cleared. He paid to replant. “Those who deforested illegally should go to jail,” declares his son, Darci Junior.  The only promising aspect of the new code, thinks Roberto Smeraldi of Amazônia Brasileira, a green NGO, is that it offers benefits such as subsidised loans to landowners who have always stuck by the rules, or who are reforesting faster than the law demands. But he laments the missed opportunity for a grand bargain to align opposed interests. A cap-and-trade system like those used to limit industrial pollution in rivers could have helped farmers short of set-aside to comply with the law by paying neighbours with more than the legal minimum to maintain it. That would both have spared farmers from costly replanting and cut future deforestation by making standing forests financially valuable.

Ms Rousseff promises to veto any amnesty for illegal deforesters. But the figleaf of the “environmental recovery programme” may give her scope to temporise, and with a heavy legislative schedule she may be tempted to do so. If she does, the Amazon’s best hope will lie with the enlightened farmers and indigenous tribes who care for their land better than the state is willing to.

For Mr Ferrarin, the way to halt deforestation is to use existing farmland better. Almost half his farm of 13,350 hectares (33,000 acres) is set aside as forest; the rest supports 3,000 cattle as well as soya and several other crops, farmed in rotation. Innovative no-till methods cut carbon emissions, fertiliser use and labour. The Ferrarins run workshops to teach other farmers about such “integrated farming” techniques. Mr Ferrarin’s daughter, Valkiria, runs a cattle-breeding programme, with an on-site IVF clinic where embryos from prize animals are implanted in surrogates. A productive farm can support an extended family for several generations, he says.

Cassio Carvalho do Val’s father settled in Redenção in Pará in 1959. It was then virgin rainforest: the last 150km of the journey was by donkey, carrying dried meat, rice and beans. Nine-tenths of the 300,000 hectares he was granted has since been sold, but the farm is still vast (the average farm in the United States comprises around 160 hectares), and unproductive, with just one cow per hectare of pasture. But his son has started to fatten his cows with grain and plans to try integrated farming. “It’s the dream of every crop farmer to be a rancher,” he says with a laugh. “It’s so much easier.” But he thinks he needs to keep up with the times.

Some of Brazil’s indigenous peoples are redoubling their efforts to protect the standing forest. The 1,300 Suruí have moved their 25 villages to the borders of their territory to get early warning of incursions. With help from Kanindé and others, since 2005 they have started to reforest where intruders have cleared. To the inexperienced eye, the new trees already look ancient (though to the Suruí the sparser cover is still obvious). Next year the tribe will host other indigenous peoples who want to repair deforestation on their own lands. They hope to start teaching non-indigenous folk, too.

The Suruí are the first Brazilian tribal people to set up a REDD project, an international aid scheme to prevent deforestation. Up to 10% of the income generated will go to local non-Indians, to show them that standing forest can create jobs and income. “We are not saying, don’t use the forest,” explains the chief, Almir Narayamoga Suruí. “We are saying you should think about the medium and long term when you decide how to use it.” That will be easier if the politicians approve a Forest Code that looks to the future, not the past—and then provide the means to enforce it.

Protecting Brazil’s forests: Fiddling while the Amazon burns, Economist, Dec. 3, 2011, at 47