Opinion, by Alfonso Stefanini

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – “Veto the Forest Code, Dilma!” This is what you hear on the streets from the Cariocas who want Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to veto the present Código Florestal (Forest Code) bill. And on May 26th, 2012, less than a couple of weeks before the Rio+20 environment summit begins, the President vetoed twelve of the 84 provisions of controversial Forest Code (FC) draft.

Alfonso Stefanini, environmental consultant in Rio de Janeiro.
Alfonso Stefanini, environmental consultant in Rio de Janeiro.

Although she did veto some of the horrendous provisions of draft there is not a doubt the draft has been watered-down due to political compromise. Moreover, once the bill gets to congress in four months congressman and legislators will do everything in their power to protect the interest of large-scale landowners.

The FC has been around since 1965, but has been modified by congress over the years. It basically dictates and regulates the exploitation of land in Brazil by establishing where native forest margins begin and end, and determines the amount of land (and where) available for economic pursuits.

Historically, the Brazilian landscape has been shaped and reshaped by gigantic plantations. The land-agriculture complex in Brazil is an outdated feudalistic system run by “coronéis” (land owners), or colonels in English.

Brazil still has documented slave work in many of these giant plantations. And farm workers, who go work on these plantations on their own free will, work under harsh conditions with very little pay. Some privately held plantations have been reported to be as big as some countries in Europe. By some estimates it is said that there are hundreds of plantations billionaires who are off the radar richest list.

There is present power struggle between two generalized groups: the environmentalists and agriculturalists. The agriculturalist, particularly large-scale landowners and loggers, do not like the Forest Code because it requires them to restore large tracks of land, mainly riparian forest.

There are also fines articulated in the draft for the environmental damages, such as deforestation, that have been caused over the years. Environmentalists do not like the bill because of the myriad of loopholes and complexities of the bill that has historically given the environmental degradation green card to land owners, particularly to the coronéis.

If the new FC bill does get passed in congress the laws will be enforced by IBAMA (the environmental agency in Brazil) who recently was under fire for having some of its high ranking officials getting kickbacks from the logging industry. The new Forest Code bill, if it passes, could potentially create additional bureaucracy that could add layers to the already existing corruption.

President Rousseff is in a tough position because she has to compromise to her parliamentary base and to the coronéis who puppeteer congress. Dilma’s veto on the existing Forest Code provision is a step forward but not enough.

But than again, Rio+20 is around the corner and Dilma needs show the world that she cares about environmental issues in Brazil.

I believe president Dilma needs to integrate the concept of green economies in the FC bill. Brazil needs to create public-private partnerships with companies specialized in reforestation, environmental restoration and environmental monitoring.

Brazil has already started the private-public model at its federal universities, such as UFRJ, with small and big private companies investing in technological and research centers. If the Brazilian government already compromises to the interests of private sector, the agribusiness, why not invest in private green companies?

Hopefully President Rousseff will get some good feedback on green economies and companies at the much anticipated environmental summit. Now we just have to wait 120 days to see if the bill passes.

Alfonso Stefanini has an MA in International Environmental Policy from the Monterey Institute of International Policy in California and a BA from Hampshire College. Alfonso lives in Rio de Janeiro, where he works with environmental detective services throughout the metropolitan area.


  1. The Forestry Code is the modern adaptation of the “guns vs butter” theory. Countries could either spend money on “guns” meaning armaments and such, or on “butter” meaning productive industry of any kind. If you lessened your spending on guns, you could produce more foodstuffs.
    Nowadays, the debate seems to be “trees vs butter” in that the government is being requested to choose between producing foodstuffs and not producing anything at all in certain places.
    The dispute is not going to be solved in the near future.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

six + five =