Brazilian presidential decree “a Christmas present to land grabbers”


Imazon's analysis of changes to the National Forest boundaries and illegal occupations Photo: Imazon

New analysis published by the NGO Imazon has found that the downgrading of protection for a huge area of rainforest last December was “a Christmas present to land grabbers”, which will encourage them to continue to illegally occupy land throughout the Amazon.

In December 2016, as reported by Earthsight, a presidential decree issued by Brazilian President Michel Temer altered the boundaries of the Jamanxim National Forest, downgrading 305,000 of its 1.3 million hectares from National Forest status to an Area of Environmental Protection (APA). APA is a lower category of environmental protection, which allows private property and some deforestation. Including some other changes, Jamanxim has lost 57% of its original area.

Brazilian civil society accused the government of effectively granting amnesty to illegal farmers, ranchers and settlers who had illegally occupied land within the forest after its establishment as a protected area.

The industrial agribusiness lobby has pressured the federal government to change the boundaries of Jamanxim for years. It had been argued that the move would allow landholders who had been there prior to the creation of the National Forest in 2006, who therefore have legitimate claims to their properties, to finally regularise their land.

However, according to Imazon’s analysis, between 2010 and 2016 the number of properties registered within the Jamanxim National Forest increased six-fold, from 55 to 352. O Eco, a Brazilian news portal, maintains that these registrations – issued under the Brazilian rural registry, known as CAR – can be made by anyone who claims title to land, and do not necessarily mean that the properties are legal. In fact, the CAR is allegedly becoming a means for landowners to affirm their entitlement to a plot of land without necessarily having a legal right to it.

Imazon’s study confirms these concerns, arguing that the boundary change was “a Christmas present to land grabbers”, by legitimising illegal occupations.

Imazon’s study shows that more than 60% of occupations within the National Forest took place after it was established in 2006, and are therefore illegal. Their analysis of the previous and new forest boundaries, and the deforestation hotspots, indicate that the measure is aimed at removing occupied land from the National Forest.

Imazon says that this objective is only partially achieved with the boundary change, because 80 properties continue to partially overlap with the new Jamanxim National Forest while another 153 fall entirely within it.

Imazon’s study also confirms that large-scale farms represent the majority of occupied areas within the original National Forest, contradicting the claim that the Jamanxim is occupied by small farmers. The original National Forest is estimated to have over 110,000 heads of cattle on extensive pastures and 250 rural properties.

The controversy around the measure continues. The Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation claims that the boundary change will not lead to further land grabbing or deforestation. Imazon argues that the presidential decree signalled that environmental crimes can be worthwhile.

Between 2006 and 2016, IBAMA (the federal environment enforcement agency) embargoed 449 areas within Jamanxim due to illegal deforestation. However, proposals aimed at reducing the Jamanxim boundaries further are currently circulating in the Senate, which if approved would transform almost the entire unit into an APA.

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