Up to Third of Amazon Rainforest Faces Destruction: Governor

Governor Eduardo BragaBy William J. Furney
Managing Editor
The Bali Times
With staff reporter Rian Dewanto

JIMBARAN ~ One third of the mighty Amazon rainforest – along with Indonesia’s primordial and equally endangered rainforests considered the “lungs of the world” – may be lost in the next three decades if rapid measures are not taken to stem the destruction, the governor of the Brazil’s Amazonas State has told The Bali Times.

In an exclusive interview with this newspaper, Governor Eduardo Braga said that despite innovate efforts to save the rainforests, such as paying villagers to not chop down trees, illegal logging was still such a problem that it threatened the entire forest area.

“We have to do much more than we are doing now. Otherwise, in 30 to 50 years, 30 percent of the rainforest will be lost,” he said.

The threat not only came from illegal logging, but also from cattle and soybean farming, whereby large tracts of forested land are cleared to make way for such agricultural enterprises.

But, said the governor, the government was utilizing the latest in technology to prevent illegal logging, monitoring the rainforest by satellite to track any unusual movements in the area.

“We also have a seal program that means any timber being taken out of the Amazonas must bear that seal. If it doesn’t have it, it means the timber has been illegally cut,” he said.

Both the Amazon rainforest and Indonesia’s forests in Sumatra, Papua and Kalimantan, on the Indonesian portion of Borneo island, are being cleared at extraordinary rates, according to environmental groups such as WWF that say up to a football field-size is disappearing each day.

Endemic corruption means illegal logging in Indonesia has become such an industry that it is costing the Jakarta government at least US$1.5 billion in lost revenues each year, the environmental groups say.

The governor says the key to eliminating this behavior is telling people who live in and around forested areas that the trees are more valuable standing than cut. And it’s not just enough telling them, he says; you have to pay them, too. So the governor is working with private industry to fund a payment program to the tune of $50 million a year. This is money paid directly to villagers under a Bolsa Floresta program, or Forest Conservation Grant.

Is this something the cash-strapped Indonesian government could adopt to protect its own forests? “Yes,” says Governor Braga, arguing that, along with adequate patrolling, it is the only way to stamp out illegal logging.

Under the program, an Amazonas family receives $25 a month, via a debit card; communities in protected areas get $2,000 a year; and residents’ associations receive 10 percent of the annual amount paid out to families of dwellers paid once a year.

“Through this program, the State of Amazonas government acknowledges through such a program that forest conservation is the result of people’s attitudes,” says official literature about the program.

The governor said both Brazil and Indonesia had to change their policies towards conservation of their rainforests, which pay a major role in combating climate change as they soak up carbon dioxide. Because of the large scale of deforestation in Indonesia and Brazil, they have become the world’s third- and four-largest emitters of carbon dioxide, respectively, due to great amounts of the gas being released into the atmosphere during the felling of trees.

“We have to manage our forests in a sustainable way, and we have to change our policies in order to do this,” said Governor Braga, adding that currently, 98 percent of the Amazon rainforest in his state was protected and that his goal was to have 60,000 families involved in his conservation program by 2010.

Governor Braga was in Bali with a Brazilian delegation attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Nusa Dua, where he signed a joint declaration between the governors of Aceh, Amazonas, Papua and West Papua on the conservation of tropical forests and climate change.

In the document, the governors state their commitment to protecting both the rainforests of both countries.

“We … realizing we share a common and very special position as stewards of the largest natural forests regions within our countries, are committed to a joint policy of environmentally friendly, sustainable development and reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions from deforestation and degradation, targeted at reducing poverty, protecting community rights over natural resources, stimulating employment and attracting investment for sustainable development,” the document reads.

Governor Braga is head of the biggest of six states that make up the vast Amazon basin. The Amazonas comprises some 1.5 million hectares, and is named after the Amazon River that winds through it, the world’s largest and a massive stretch of water that has no bridges over it.

Meanwhile, Brazil is to export a unique fire suppressant to Indonesia in an attempt to end the annual Southeast Asian haze problem caused by fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra.

Speaking separately to The Times, Iderlon Azevedo, CEO of Brazil-based Pacific Enterprise, said his company planned to export 20 tons of a chemical fire retardant and suppressant to Indonesia at the beginning of 2008.

This follows what he said was a successful product demonstration in Purwakarta, West Java, in July that was attended by government officials, including Forestry Minister MS Kaban. During the demonstration, it was shown that plants sprayed with the chemical, called Licet, did not burn and the fire quickly died out.

According to Azevedo, Licet is the latest in fire retardant and suppressants, and has been proven effective in preventing forest fires from spreading.

“It is manufactured by Rio Sagrado Ltda, a chemical company in Brazil. It took 13 years of research and US$13 million, in cooperation with the Federal University of Paraná,” he said.

He said Licet was launched in 2005 and is being used extensively in Brazil, which has some 200,000 hotspots per year.

“We have been promoting in most tropical and semi-tropical areas. Negotiations have been made with Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, the United States, Spain, Greece, Portugal, China and India. Many of these countries will start using Licet next year.”

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