Greenpeace denounces amnesty to illegal cattle ranchers in Brazil’s Jamanxim National Forest

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

This piece draws extensively on articles published by Greenpeace Brazil and O Eco.

In late December, the Brazilian federal government adopted an interim measure – a Presidential decree – to reduce the size of the Jamanxim National Forest. With the new measure (MP 756/2016), the forest, located in the northern state of Pará, has lost 743,500 of its 1.3 million ha.

Part of the Forest has been demarcated as a Protected Area, a less restrictive category that will allow illegal farmers, ranchers and settlers in the Forest to regularise their properties. Most property owners have no legal titles to their land. This includes ranchers with extensive pastures. The area has more than 250 rural properties and 110,000 heads of cattle. The changes can also facilitate the occupation of areas previously demarcated for conservation.

Greenpeace has denounced the measures as a further amnesty granted to illegal farmers and ranchers, in addition to the amnesty for illegal deforesters already built into the new Forest Code. Greenpeace has highlighted the fact that these measures come at the end of a year that has seen a deforestation rate increase of almost 30 per cent in the Brazilian Amazon.

According to O Eco, the measure does not resolve the “property chaos” in the area, as 20 per cent of “invaders” are still within the Forest’s boundaries. O Eco claims that authorities have no way of knowing which farmers or settlers have legitimate claims to the land (who were there before the creation of the Forest in 2006) and which occupied and deforested the land after 2006. The environmental news portal also draws attention to the fact that illegal cattle ranchers in the Forest have been able to sell their cattle and beef for years, in spite of efforts to block markets for beef from illegal deforestation, such as the voluntary moratorium enacted by some of the largest meatpackers in 2009.

The Jamanxim National Forest has also suffered from land grabbing, falsification of property titles and illegal gold mining. The area was created in 2006 to curb deforestation along the motorway BR-163. Jamanxim is already the most deforested conservation unit in the country; in 2015, over 9,000 ha of the National Forest were cleared.

In addition to MP 756/2016, the federal government also adopted measure MP 758/2016, which changes the boundaries of the Jamanxim National Forest and the Tapajós Protected Area in favour of Ferrogrão, a railway planned to transport grains between the states of Mato Grosso and Pará.

The changes to the Jamanxim National Forest are contrary to the Public Prosecutor’s Office’s recommendation to keep its boundaries intact. In November, the Public Prosecutor requested a court to block any changes to Jamanxim’s boundaries alleging lack of environmental impact assessments or consultations with affected communities.

According to O Eco, political pressure on behalf of cattle ranchers and farmers in the region had been increasing for several years. Since 2009, there have been 8 requests to review the Jamanxim National Forest’s boundaries. A bill to annul the creation of Jamanxim is currently being debated in the Senate. In Congress, at least two proposals to eliminate the National Forest have been debated, with both being shelved.

Image on homepage shows forest loss in Jamanxim National Forest on Global Forest Watch