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September 3, 2019

Amazon Fires put into Perspective

Author: Michael Cordonnier/Soybean & Corn Advisor, Inc.

The recent news has been saturated with pictures and articles about fires in the Amazon Region of Brazil. I think that a dose of reality is in order. 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 on land that has already been cleared. Before the native 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.

A lot of the fires are also set by subsistent farmers conducting slash and burn agriculture. This activity is illegal, but the farmers say they are just trying to grow enough food to feed their families. These farmers plant edible crops such as corn, manioc root, rice, and they might have a few animals. Most Brazilians are upset about the fires as well and they view these fires as criminal activity.

The Brazilian farm organizations are also upset because the news coverage makes it seem like all farmers are setting illegal fires, which is not the case at all. The Soybean and Corn Producers Association of Brazil (Aprosoja) and its 16 state associations have condemned the illegal fires in the Amazon Region. They have also indicated that rural producers are also being victimized when illegal fires move onto their properties. Aprosoja has reaffirmed that they are against any deforestation that is not legally authorized by law.

They also want the world to know that sustainability is a key component of soybean production in Brazil and they contend that farmers are some of the chief stewards of conservation in Brazil. They feel it is important to distinguish between illegal clearing and land clearing authorized by the federal government.

According to data from NASA, of the ten largest countries in the world, Brazil ranks seventh in the percentage of land devoted to crop production at 7.6% after India (60.5%), United States (18%), China (17.7%), Argentina (14%), Kazakhstan (9.6%), and Russia (9.5%). The 36 million hectares of soybean production in Brazil represents 4% of Brazil's total land area.

Of the G-20 countries, Brazil is third in percentage of remaining tree coverage including native and planted at 61%, behind Indonesia at 85% and Japan at 71%. Brazil has more tree coverage than Russia (45%), United States (29%, and all the European countries. Germany has 35% tree coverage, France has 31%, Italy has 31%, Spain has 22%, and the United Kingdom has 15%.

The Brazilian Forestry Code, which regulates land clearing, is one of the most rigid environmental laws in the world. It puts the responsibility of conservation on private land owners. The Forestry Code requires that a land owner maintain 20% to 80% of the native vegetation depending on the biome in addition to preserving the native vegetation at the head of rivers, along rivers and streams, and on the margins and tops of hills.

Brazilian farmers contend that no other country in the world conserves as much vegetation while at the same time produces as much food as Brazil. According to data from NASA, 66.3% of Brazil's 851 million hectares is in some form of preservation. Approximately, 14% of Brazil's land area is in indigenous reserves.

Fires prohibited in Brazil for 60 days - The Brazilian government announced last Thursday, August 29, that the use of fire for land clearing and weed and pest control in preparation for planting, is prohibited in all of Brazil for a 60-day period. Controlled fires are routinely used in Brazil in preparation for planting, but they come with numerous restrictions on how and where they may be used. In light of the recent fires in the Amazon region and the subsequent negative news coverage, even those legal fires are now prohibited for 60 days.

ADM and Bunge will not buy grain from deforested Amazon areas - In statements from both companies late last week, both ADM and Bunge reaffirmed their commitment that they will not purchase any grain from areas that were illegally deforested in the Amazon region. Nearly all the international grain companies operating in Brazil have had this prohibition in place since 2006 when they signed onto the Soybean Moratorium. The Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oil Industries (Abiove) reported that there is negligible soybean production in the ten Brazilian municipalities that have reported the highest number of fires in recent months.