South-Western College Publishing - Economics  
Brazil Tries to Help the Poor, While Leaving Some Rainforest Intact
Topic Economics and the Environment
Key Words Amazon, logging, deforestation, poverty, Brazil
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Reference ID: A145027406
News Story

Brazil has two things in abundance, the Amazon rainforest, and poor farmers looking for their own land. The Brazilian government has recently enacted legislation to crack down on those who clear Amazonian rainforest for their own uses. How do you balance the survival of both? Very delicately.

Brazil loses about 8,000 square miles of rainforest each year to logging and farming, both legal and illegal. Some of the rainforest destruction ebbs and flows with agricultural prices: When beef and soya prices increase, so does the deforestation, as farmers look to clear more land to plant more crops or feed more stock.

To balance environmental and agricultural interests, Brazil has divided the Amazon into a “legal” area, which includes national reserves and parks, an area of private property that is to remain 80% forested, and the rest empty land – which loses topsoil very easily and quickly and becomes unusable. This erosion has been the ultimate problem with deforestation. The government has had little ability to protect the rainforest from those seeking to despoil it—until now.

The government has just created additional national reserves--off limits to logging--at the edge of the “arc of deforestation” to make logging activities illegal. It also eliminated the trade in permits to log public lands by using bar codes to identify felled trees by owner rather than written documents. This bar-coding has had the added benefit of eliminating duplicate land claims. Further, satellite technology will assist in finding anyone who is illegally logging the forests.

Now, what to do about the poor? They need to be able to farm, and logging provides a source of income as well as clearing land for farming. The Brazilian government is setting up a program in which the cleared land will, over time, be distributed to communities and firms that are committed to “sustainable forestry,” allowing them to continue their agricultural practices while protecting the Amazon.


What do you think is meant by “sustainable forestry?”

2. Explain how this situation has been an example of a “tragedy of the commons.” What was the origin of that term?
3. Why must a solution to this logging problem in the Amazon be done at the government level? Why can’t private individuals solve the problem themselves?
Source “How Green Was my Valley.” The Economist. April 27, 2006.
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