There seems to be little doubt about how Brazilian congressman Marcos Medrado will vote on reforms to the Brazilian Forest Code - a vote slated to take place last week but delayed and is still delayed at this writing.
Few Brazilians disagree that the law regarding how forests in Brazil are protected and managed needs to be updated with reasonable changes. Rather, most of the discussion surrounds what we mean by reasonable changes.
Brazil aims to supply up to half of the increased food the world will need to 2050, as there are millions of unused or underused arable acres in this enormous country. On the other hand, environmentalists see an opportunity to prevent the change of - rather than try later to recover - pristine biomes.
Getting much more specific than that would require footnotes, a slide rule, and regression curves. Brazilian environmental legislation is pretty detailed as it applies to agriculture.
In broad strokes, then, there's the deal. If you're acquainted with the following concepts, you can at least get by. That's the best most of us can hope for.
There are at least two types of land you can't touch on your own farm. Brazilian producers are not compensated for setting this land aside - they have to leave it alone or pay a fine and restore it.
The first is the Legal Environmental Reserve: Depending on where you farm, you have to leave 20 to 80% of your property in its original state. The 20% figure covers most of southern and southeastern Brazil. The 80% figure covers the Amazon region in the north.
For my land up in Tocantins state - in the cerrado biome - it's 35%, or 490 of the total 1,400 or so acres. The environmental agency has to approve this reserved area, which has to be all in one piece.
I've heard of some producers who have bought sandy or rocky land to make up their Legal Environmental Reserve, so they can farm 100% of a farm on better land. And, under current legislation, that's okay - as long as both properties lie in the same watershed. The amount of these lands seems unlikely to change with the vote.
But there may be changes in the other major category of farmland you can own but cannot farm: the APP. Areas of Permanent Preservation are 30- to 50-meter strips on either side of creeks, rivers and other bodies of water, as well as hilltops and some other places deemed environmentally sensitive. A proposal for the new Code would reduce that to 15 meters for areas that have already been occupied with agricultural activity. But all new farms - remember, Brazil is still clearing new farms - would have to obey the 30 to 50-meter rule.
APPs account for seven percent of the average Brazilian farm. And you can't count your APP acres toward your Legal Environmental Reserve requirement.
Most proposals I've seen call for the suspension of fines for those who have failed to follow all the legal rules about reserves and other matters related to the environment and its interaction with farming. That ought to be good news to guys like Congressman Medrado, whose alleged infractions against the APP rule could cost him up to $32 million, once the environmental agency makes its ruling on whether he failed to comply with the APP rule.
I'm guessing the congressman will find any such amnesty very reasonable indeed.
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