Friday, March 21, 2008

Deforestation in Brazil

For the second time this week, the Washington Post has featured an article about Brazil on the front page.

It's a strange article, but more good than bad. Deforestation is an important issue, and enforcement is particularly difficult in the Amazon. The article nods at the question of poverty in Brazil's North, but doesn't look at it in any depth. The North of Brazil is like another country, completely cut off from the greater Brazilian cultural dialog. People are spread out, communities are isolated by the jungle that makes roads difficult, if not impossible, to maintain. The Post mentions that some of the individual charcoal producers have no other source of income, and that some came from far away to start their charcoal operations. Where did they come from? How bad was their situation if making charcoal in isolation is a step up? Where do these people get the money to build $300 charcoal ovens? What are their options now that their ovens have been destroyed? And, most importantly, what is the government doing to offer them a legal means of supporting themselves?

The biggest question, though, is why the article focuses on charcoal producers (throughout the article referred to as loggers) when the author admits that 80% of the deforestation is caused by soy farmers and cattle ranchers? I don't believe that there is any subsistence soy-farming or cattle-ranching going on, so the larger problem is caused by big companies with money to invest, and assets that could be seized.

In any case, it's nice to see that the Post is paying attention to problems in Brazil -- problems that are caused by poverty. It's easy to talk about stopping deforestation, but there are a lot of desperately poor people whose lives depend on it. Until the two problems are linked and approached as part of one greater problem, there will always be people who see the Amazon as their only way to move up from extreme poverty to severe poverty.

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