Brazil’s pride in the Amazon keeps deforestation at bay

By Kristi Foster
“I hope we will not have this conversation,” came Tasso Azevedo’s candid response when asked what new drivers of deforestation we could be discussing 20 years from now.

The question came from a member of the 150-strong audience in a discussion forum hosted by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), called Drivers of deforestation: Exploring regional differences and new patterns. The forum was part of Forest Day 6, held on 2 December 2012, on the sidelines of the 18th United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP18) in Doha.

Tasso Azevedo speaks at ICRAF-hosted discussion forum on Forest Day 6. On the right is Doug Boucher.

But when the audience responded to his comment with laughter, Azevedo – one of the discussion forums panelists and former Director General of the Brazilian Forest Service – insisted he was serious. “I think its absolutely feasible that…we get to a point in 2020 when deforestation is something really marginal.”

And he has the credentials to back up his statements: in addition to the Brazilian Forest Service, Azevedo was founder and director of Imaflora (the largest sustainable forest and agriculture certifier in Latin Ameria), director of the National Forest Program at the Ministry of Environment and secretary general to the National Forest Commission.

What has been the key to deforestation control in Brazil, according to Azevedo? “Realizing that the benefits of deforestation are completely disconnected to the economy.” Over the past decade in Brazil, the years of the strongest economic growth have corresponded to the greatest drops in deforestation rates, he pointed out. He hopes that more people will recognize the connection between reduced deforestation and improved development.

“I don’t buy this idea that the problem is the consumer or there is a responsibility for the countries that buy the products,” said Azevedo, when questioned about how responsibility for deforestation should be allocated. While that might be the ‘politically correct’ solution, he argued, it is not the answer in Brazil. “Losing the forest is very bad for us. It’s bad for our environment. That’s why we have to convince people.”

Azevedo does not want people in Brazil to point fingers at global markets as an explanation for deforestation. We will never stop deforestation by paying people to change either, he argued. Rather, the solution lies at a much more personal level, summed up by Azevedo in two words: pride and shame. “We want to have the people in Brazil proud about the forest. I want the guy on the farm to be proud that he has this piece of forest.” Similarly, he wants people to feel shamed when deforestation occurs.

Stressing the need to make the connection between forest cover and development – including a better economy and a better environment, Azevedo told the audience that the people of Brazil “…are finding out that deforestation is an indicator of bad things.” Drawing on Paragominas, a municipality in the Amazon, he illustrated the point to his captive audience.

Paragominas, he explained, was once known as a hot spot for deforestation and illegal logging. The control of deforestation was placed at the municipal level and over the past 15 years, farmers here have been directly involved in the municipality’s incredible transformation. “Having zero deforestation is an indicator of development for them,” he explained.

While deforestation in the Amazon has dropped from 2.7 million hectares in 2004 to less than half a million hectares this year, Azevedo emphasized that this rate is still incredibly high. “Half a million hectares is big. It’s the second-largest deforestation rate in the world.”

According to Azevedo, focusing on the real drivers of deforestation and their underlying causes —in the case of the Amazon the connection between pastures, deforestation and markets—is critical to success. “People were trying to fight deforestation [in Brazil] by focusing on illegal logging, but that was not the only problem. The problem was also in the pasture.”

Yet the challenges differ across regions, he pointed out. While illegal practices have been responsible for most of the deforestation in the Amazon, this is not the case everywhere – in some places clear-cutting a portion of your land simply requires obtaining authorization.

Moreover, the causes of deforestation themselves are also changing. Despite great strides in decreasing deforestation in the Amazon, today the main driver of deforestation in the Amazon is infrastructure development.

“This shift has changed the dynamics, and we now have to think differently about combating deforestation.”

“We’re learning that things are shifting and changing. Every year things are changing, and the way we understand the problem has to keep up.”

Forest Day 6 was held on 2 December 2012, on the sidelines of the 18th United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP18) in Doha. The “Drivers of Deforestation: Exploring Regional Differences and New Patterns” discussion forum was hosted by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF).

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Daisy Ouya

Daisy Ouya is a science writer and communications specialist with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Over the past 15 years she has been packaging and disseminating scientific knowledge in the fields of entomology, agriculture, health, HIV/AIDS research, and marine science. Daisy is a Board-certified Editor in the Life Sciences ( and has a Masters’ degree in chemistry from the University of Connecticut, USA. Her BSc is from the University of Nairobi in her native Kenya. She has worked as a journal editor, science writer, publisher, and communications strategist with various organizations. She joined ICRAF in July 2012. Twitter: @daisyouya

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