Lula da Silva’s promise to end deforestation by 2030 - GulfToday

Lula da Silva’s promise to end deforestation by 2030


Jair Bolsonaro

When Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is sworn in as president of the second most populous country in the western hemisphere Jan. 1, few challenges will be greater than fulfilling his promise to end all deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon by 2030. To understand why, consider the vastly different visions of three daughters from one family of rubber tappers who live on a large reserve in the western state of Acre. The reserve is forest protected in the name of the legendary rubber tapper leader and environmentalist Chico Mendes.

Luzineide da Silva is a third-generation rubber tapper. One of her daughters wants to follow in her footsteps and make a living from the family fields, rubber trees and Brazil nuts, the other two want to cut down the forest, plant grass and run cattle.

“My eldest daughter was dazzled when she took part in a livestock training course. She learned how to produce beef and cheese and even drive a tractor. That changed her worldview,” said da Silva at the end of a day tending her corn, pumpkin, watermelon, banana and gherkin crops under a scorching sun.

“She said: ‘Mom, everyone who raises cattle has a car, a good life and attends private colleges, whereas I can’t afford veterinary school.’”

It’s the same with other families. In the past two decades, many rubber tappers have gradually abandoned the vision of Mendes, who fiercely opposed deforestation by big cattle ranchers.

The forest defender was shot dead in his tiny home in Xapuri city here in Acre in December 1998. A local farmer had ordered the killing. The international outcry that followed led to the creation of “extractive reserves” across the Amazon, a type of federal conservation unit where forest communities could live their traditional lives protected from land-robbing.

Classic rubber tapping is done by slicing grooves into the bark of rubber trees and collecting the latex that oozes out. But that artisanal rubber has fallen into decline over decades, a casualty of synthetic rubber made in chemical factories or rubber grown on plantations.

Finding few opportunities elsewhere, many locals cut down trees and turned to cattle as a more reliable income than seasonal forest products, such as Brazil nuts. Cattle became Acre’s most important economic activity.

In the last four years, this trend of converting forest into pasture reached unprecedented levels under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.  His government tried to shrink protected areas and legalize large-scale cattle herds inside extractive reserves. Land-robbers from the neighbouring state of Rondonia illegally bought land parcels, even on public land. One of them deforested 104 hectares (257 acres), the largest swath of destruction this year, according to environmental law enforcement officials who spoke anonymously as they are not authorized to speak with the press.

Residents also cleared trees to lease the land to nearby cattle ranchers, who finance the destruction. There are even cases where traditional rubber tappers have used money earned from selling rubber to extend their grazing land. Others post ads on Facebook selling their traditional rubber groves.

“What strikes me is that when we had nothing, we were able to bring people together and fight the way we did,” Raimundo Mendes de Barros said while sitting on the porch of his wooden house, whose walls bear pictures of him beside Chico Mendes, who was his cousin, and Lula. All belong to the same party, the Workers’ Party. Thanks to the rubber tappers movement, he said, people now have roads and electricity, and walk around on an equal footing with city residents. But “these improvements ended up benefitting evildoers,” Raimundo Mendes said. Many think that forest products and family farming are worth nothing and they need money to buy a motorcycle and a cellphone. They’ll sell a piece of their own rubber grove and deforest in order to raise cattle. “We fought so hard and built so many good things, but people don’t care about it,” the 77-year-old rubber leader said.

Associated Press

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