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Forest Code: It is time to implement it, not modify it

May 1st, 2019 – The intensive discussions about the legislation Brazil should have in place to allow for the conciliation of the agricultural production with native vegetation’s protection took almost five years. The process that resulted in the approval of the new Forest Code, in 2012 (Federal Law 12,651/2012), was one of the most vivid debates that ever took place in the Brazilian Congress, with large mobilization and participation of the different interest groups.

After seven years since its publication, the Forest Code has already reached important results, such as the more than four million records in the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR) – equivalent to almost 100% of the area required to be registered – creating one of the most relevant geographic information systems on land use and occupation.

However, a constant scenario of legal insecurity prevents greater advances. Until last year, the deadline to register with CAR had been postponed four times consecutively, causing a delay of approximately four years in the conclusion of the registration phase. One of the consequences of this is the low adherence to Environmental Regulation Programs (PRAs); stage in which producers present their plans to solve the environmental liability they identified.

In December 2018, with the end of successive extensions of the deadline to register with CAR, it was expected that the legal security necessary to move to the regularization stage would have been installed. However, a series of Bills and Provisional Measures aiming to change mechanisms that are essential to implementing the Forest Code are being presented at Congress. These initiatives keep the legal insecurity environment and harm the efforts to implement the law.

Among the more than 190 members of the Brazilian Coalition on Climate, Forests and Agriculture, gathering representatives of agribusiness, the forest sector, environmental defense entities, and academia, there is a clear consensus: the implementation of the Forest Code, in its current configuration, is the first step to strengthen the agricultural production and, at the same time, the environmental conservation of the country. This moment has arrived and it can no longer be postponed.

The implementation of the Forest Code is also part of a set of measures against illegal deforestation and represents a way to value the efforts of rural producers that obey the law and are harmed by the unfair competition with violators. Great part of the deforestation of the Amazon is illegal. Fighting illegality should be any government’s priority. Strengthening legal agriculture contributes to the image of the sector abroad, guaranteeing access to the most demanding international markets.

Crosschecking land tenure data with land cover and use data shows us that the country has the second largest forested area in the world. One third of the native vegetation area of the country is found in private properties. This happens due to the legal requirement to keep areas of Legal Reserve and Permanent Preservation on their properties along with the excess kept by some rural producers that are above the percentage required by law.

At the same time, Brazil has the third largest agricultural production area in the world. Both experts on the subject and the Ministry of Agriculture itself agree that there is no longer the need to convert native vegetation into agricultural or livestock production areas.

The agricultural sector is the main beneficiary of conservation since its productivity is highly dependent on climatic conditions. Forests act as Brazilian agriculture’s “sprinkler”. Besides water, there are countless ecosystem services, such as pollination of the crops, that directly benefit agriculture.

Lastly, the implementation of the Forest Code is crucial to meet goals established by Brazil in the Paris Agreement. The Brazilian Coalition has already highlighted the gains the country has in remaining in the Paris Agreement, in view of its historic leading role on the topic.

It is imperative to uphold the law; we cannot waste time with new modifications on its mechanisms. For this reason, the Brazilian Coalition recommends to the National Congress and the Brazilian government that they concentrate their efforts on the next stages necessary to the effective implementation of the Forest Code. Some of the actions that urgently need to be implemented are: to direct resources to speed up CAR’s validation, to advance in PRAs regulation, to implement the instruments necessary to create a real demand for Environmental Reserve Quotas (CRA), and to regulate the article of the law regarding financial incentives to protect native vegetation – including payment for environmental services and the creation of the Brazilian Market on Emissions Reduction.

The Forest Code is the instrument essential for the sustainability of the agribusiness, for the development of the country, and for the welfare of all Brazilians. Its effective implementation can wait no more.

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