Brazil’s new forest bill has been front-page news over the past few months – during (and even after) the run-up to President Dilma Rousseff’s decision on whether or not to veto the controversial bill. As things stand right now, President Rousseff has vetoed 12 articles and made several alterations in the bill. This piece of legislation will now go back to Congress where the house has a month to overturn the President’s decision with a simple majority. This seems unlikely at the moment, but things are still uncertain.
The forest bill has been a bone of contention between the environmental lobby and the agricultural lobby. Opponents say that it spells disaster for the Amazon forest, insisting that, even in its changed form, the bill will put large swathes of rainforest at the mercy of loggers and farmers. Brazil has 40% of the world’s last remaining rainforest, and activists argue that putting this at risk will have serious repercussions for the planet’s ecological balance. Detractors say the only reason the bill has gotten this far is because industrial farmers and loggers constitute a powerful lobby. In spite of the President’s partial veto, environmentalists still aren’t happy – many are calling for a complete veto instead.
On the other hand, supporters of the bill say that it will provide long-overdue relief to small ranchers and farmers who have been forced off the land by rigid environmental restrictions. Agriculture is a key driver of employment and economic growth in Brazil, and supporters of the bill believe that the country desperately needs to convert parts of the forest to farmland in order to deal with steeply rising food prices. Current legal restrictions make this nearly impossible so to this end, the new forest bill is absolutely pivotal. Many Brazilians also believe that the widespread Western opposition to the bill is yet another instance of developed countries trying to pass the burden of ecological conservation to the Global South.
The dispute is all the more significant because Brazil is also the host for the upcoming environmental Rio+20 summit (United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development). The country has a long and proud history of protecting its own environment; however, some environmentalists felt that without the veto Brazil’s credibility as the host may have come into question. The government says that with the alterations, the bill will provide adequate protection to the Amazon rainforest while simultaneously providing a much-needed boost to agricultural growth. In Agriculture Minister Jorge Ribeiro Mendes’ words, “It’s the code of those who believe it’s possible to produce food and preserve the environment.”
What do you think? Is the bill in its current form an ideal balance between environmental protection and agricultural growth? Should the bill be vetoed entirely in order to protect the Amazon rainforest? Or does Brazil need to prioritise its farmers’ welfare and economic prosperity – should Congress override the President’s changes? Tell us, and watch this space for updates on this story.