By Doug Gray, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – As overseas investors continue to speculate on the thriving Rio de Janeiro property market, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva came out against the untethered purchasing of land by foreigners last week, saying that he intends to protect the country from the proliferation of foreign ownership.
The comments came at the launch of the 2010-2011 Agricultural and Livestock Plan, and were specifically directed towards the increasing number of foreigners buying up land in the Amazon Rainforest and claiming ownership of its precious resources. The area covers a total of nine states and occupies 61 percent of the area of Brazil.
After the recent authorization of the Belo Monte dam project, environmentalists were once more drawn towards the region’s protection as a global cause, but there is also a growing number of non-Brazilian companies taking advantage of the difficulty of imposing ownership and logging laws on the vast area.
In 2008 the National Institute of Colonization and Reform (INCRA) called to the government’s attention the increase of land acquired by overseas companies after the sale to a Malaysian company of two farms near Manaus amounting to over 500,000 hectares and a third to a Swiss man were under investigation. “We must set limits to ensure national sovereignty,” said Rolf Hackbart, President of INCRA, before adding, “If there is illegal occupation, we will fight.”
According to the Institute’s figures, some 5.5 million hectares of land are currently in the hands of foreigners, prompting President Lula to address the situation at last week’s gathering.
“We are concerned and we must begin to discuss the purchase of land by foreigners in Brazil. It is one thing for foreigners to come and buy a factory. It is another to buy that factory’s land, or soy land, or mineral. Soon our territory will have shrunk,” the president said.
Despite condemnation of the Brazilian government’s decision to begin work on the world’s third biggest hydro-electric dam from global environmental groups, it is clear that as well as the country’s own industrial and mining interests, several international companies are inflicting environmental damage which could lead to the loss of twenty percent of the Amazon Rainforest by 2020.
In a bid to raise awareness and actively slow the deforestation, the Prolifico Foundation, set up by Englishman Henry Madden in Rio, has developed a unique approach to the problem.
Donations to the foundation will go directly to landowners to stop them from selling out to developers, essentially making the trees more valuable left standing than if they were cut down. For every thousand dollars donated, the foundation can protect twelve and a half hectares of rainforest.
“We think that without a doubt the best people to look after the Amazon are Brazilians. Many of the land owners are involved in politics too so are best placed to take care of it, if they want to. It’s not just about resources though, it’s about the global desire to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and the easiest way to do that is to stop deforestation,” Madden told The Rio Times.