BRASILIA, April 15 (Reuters) – Brazil on Thursday lifted a blanket ban on clearing land in the Amazon after loggers and landowners agreed to a measure aimed at slowing the rate of
destruction of the world's biggest rain forest.
The environment ministry said it was revoking a measure
that had suspended all new permits for felling trees in the
Amazon River basin following unprecedented talks during which
all parties involved agreed to new guidelines.
"This is the first time that there is a commitment
involving non-governmental organizations, lawmakers, loggers
and all sectors. The government considers this a great
victory," said a ministry spokesman.
Authorities applied the moratorium in February following
the publication of data showing that an area more than half the
size of Belgium — 6,500 square miles (16,800 square km) — had been cleared in 1998.
This figure represented a 27 percent jump from 1997 — when
the equivalent of 5,000 soccer fields of jungle were lost every
day, according to one estimate.
The agreement signed on Thursday reduces the maximum limits
for land-clearing by small farmers and promises large
landowners faster handling of their clearing applications, the
ministry spokesman said.
Loggers, farmers and others who make their living from the
rain forest also pledged to make better use of areas already
degraded and limit the use of fire to clear new areas.
Environmentalists welcomed the move but cautioned that the
success of the new guidelines depended on the vigilance of the
government's Environmental Agency (Ibama), which has been
plagued by allegations of corruption.
"We think it was good to revoke this ban because it
generated a lot of misunderstanding and conflict," said Roberto
Smeraldi, head of a programme to protect the Amazon with Friends
of the Earth.
Smeraldi said that during a trip last week to Mato Grosso
state, where illegal mahogany logging is rife, he saw
deforestation had increased despite the ban.
Out in the field this ban simply has no effect
whatsoever," he said. "The problem which remains for any
guidelines is the state's lack of capacity to implement them."