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Changing the law will not solve land tenure regularization and could encourage increased deforestation

The Senate Bill (PLS, in the Portuguese acronym) #510/2021 has again brought to Brazil’s Congress’ agenda a proposal that may actually cause great damage to public forests and traditional populations of the Brazilian Amazon, despite the fact that it promises to deal with the situation of thousands of rural producers who have been waiting for decades for the title of the land on which they produce.

The Bill in question is virtually a reissue of the first report of Provisional Measure #910/2019, which was immensely criticized by several sectors of Brazilian society, including the Brazilian Coalition on Climate, Forest and Agriculture, a movement formed by over 290 agribusiness, civil society, financial sector, and academia representatives.

We understand that carrying out land regularization of occupations that have existed for decades on public lands is a critical step to avoid conflicts, provide legal security and offer economic inclusion to rural producers, while promoting social justice and allowing good governance in the Brazilian territory. However, this is not what the PLS #510/21 is about.

The changes proposed by the PLS go against what is expected from the land regularization process in the country, especially in the Amazon. The Bill aims to change the deadline again so that invasions of public lands are legalized (moving to 2014) and also to allow larger areas (up to 2,500 hectares) to be assigned to people claiming they are occupiers while dismissing an inspection. This constant flexibilization logic regarding the timeframe and the size of the properties to be titled ends up legitimizing land grabbing practices and encouraging new illegal squatting, which increases the pressure on public forests.
The vast majority of public land occupiers are small producers. Well-established and productive possessions have certainly taken place before 2014, which proves that amending the law is a mistake.

One of the claims is that an authorization for remote sensing use is required to support and streamline the verification of information submitted by the applicant. Since 2009, Brazilian legislation provides for such procedure for land regularization of small producers (installments of up to 4 fiscal modules). These installments are equivalent to 95% of all non-titled assets registered with INCRA (National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform). With this legislation, the federal government issued almost 32 thousand land titles between 2009 and 2018. However, according to data submitted by INCRA to the Supreme Court, figures have dropped dramatically since 2019: over the last two years, only 554 titles were issued.

The PLS 510 seeks to extend law coverage to both medium and large producers, which account for only 5% of the total, but hold 36% of the area, while exempting them from on-site inspection. Since satellite images provide limited information on the area, this change will disproportionately increase the risk of fraud, which may even worsen conflicts over land in the Amazon.

The Brazilian Coalition is of the opinion that land regularization needs to be seen from a broader perspective than just granting public land titles to rural producers. The challenge also includes the titling of agricultural and extractive communities, indigenous lands, quilombola territories, land reform settlements, and the allocation of 64 million hectares (Mha) of public forests, of which 30 million are under the Federal Government responsibility. Given the importance of conserving these areas for the climate, they should be used primarily for forest concession and creation of protected areas.

Unfortunately, organized groups of land grabbers act in concert to invade these public lands and never be punished. In order to finally resolve Brazil’s huge land liability, one needs to firmly enforce the existing law and expedite the destination for sustainable use of still standing forests. None of this will be achieved with the Bill in question.

It is an urgent commitment to be taken by the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary Branches against actions that further compromise the fight against the deforestation of Brazilian biomes, especially the Amazon. Our main source of greenhouse gas emissions is proven to be the result of deforestation, which is closely linked to the irregular occupation of public lands. We have reached the threshold of climatic emergency, among other reasons, due to the laxness with illegal behaviors such as land grabbing.

The Brazilian Coalition suggests that the National Congress install a Working Group, with a set deadline and clear mandate, to bring together experts who can provide guidelines and make legislative proposals to improve public forests management. Meanwhile, the Executive Branch should proceed to regularize the land tenure of small possessions, resume the processes of recognition of both indigenous and quilombola lands, and create Conservation Units, based on existing legislation. The Brazilian Coalition will be available to Congress to contribute to this debate.

About the Brazilian Coalition
The Brazilian Coalition on Climate, Forests and Agriculture is a multi-sector movement formed with the objective of proposing actions and influencing public policies that lead to the development of a low-carbon economy, with the creation of quality jobs and the fostering of innovation, Brazil’s global competitiveness and generation and distribution of wealth to the entire society. More than 280 companies, business associations, research institutes and civil society organizations have already joined the Brazilian Coalition – coalizaobr.com.br/en

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