By Sarah de Sainte Croix, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Federal Senate’s Environmental Commission concluded voting on the new Brazilian Forestry Code last Friday. The overall outline of the text was approved on Wednesday, and the following day the commission voted on amendments to 77 key details, of which only a handful were approved for incorporation into the new Forestry Code document.

Senator Jorge Viana of Acre, Brazil News
Senator Jorge Viana of Acre, rapporteur for the Forest Code overhaul, photo by Antonio Cruz/ABr.

“It’s a great document for the environment, [and] for Brazil, and it will give farmers the security they need to work within the law,” said Senator Jorge Viana of the northwestern state of Acre, after the voting had taken place.

Prior to last Thursday’s vote, the revised code had already passed through the Chamber of Deputies, the Commissions for Justice, Agriculture, and Science and Technology, and it will now undergo a full Senate vote expected to take place in the coming week.

Following this, the document will be sent back to the Chamber of Deputies to approve the amendments that have been made since their initial approval. They are permitted to reject any of these amendments, in part or in full, but they may not make any new alterations.

The final stage is for the document to be sanctioned by President Rousseff before the new code can become law.

The proposed “modernization” of the original 1965 Forestry Code has generated fierce debate between environmentalists and farmers and land owners over the past year.

The main objection to the new code is that it grants amnesty to those who have deforested illegally prior to 2008, and environmental groups argue that this promotes further deforestation if land owners believe that there is a chance of future amnesties further down the line.

Farmers and land owners, on the other hand, say that it has been practically impossible to keep up with the numerous alterations to the Forestry Code that have been exacted over the years, causing them to unwittingly commit criminal acts. These changes include 61 “temporary measures” with varying expiration dates before 2001, and dozens of presidential decrees issued over the last ten years.

Amendments to Forestry Code in Brazil
Protestors at last week's voting, photo by Jose Cruz/ABr.

They argue that what was legal practice one day would suddenly become illegal the next, with very little communication of the changes.

They also complain that the code stifles agricultural production and therefore economic development in the Amazon region, by requiring land owners to set aside at least eighty percent of their land for environmental preservation with no financial remuneration.

Whereas in other parts of the country, such as the wealthy states of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the set aside requirement is just twenty percent. So far, however, these requirements look set to remain intact.

Greenpeace are calling the new code the “end of the forest” and are asking President Rousseff to, “Remember the promises she made to voters [when she was elected], that she wouldn’t allow more deforestation,” imploring, “There is still time.”

On Friday, in a speech to the Senate, Viana concluded, “Some people try to complicate the issue, which is normal, but in the cold light of day [“mas à letra fria do que está escrito”], when people look, even through passionate eyes [“mesmo com paixões”], they will see that we have maintained all the rigor of the 1965 Forestry Code.”


  1. Likeevery Law, Code or other official document, it is not so much of value if at the same time there is no sufficient control issued and eventual penalties granted for those who will continue in flagrancy with this Code. Landlords are known to have and aplly their own rules, without having to fear for any kind of justice to be done. They just buy impunity!
    Hopefully President Rousseff will take this too in account as she will ultimately sign.

  2. Brazil enters final stretch for approval of new Forest Code that will allow more food production whilst preserving the environment.

    The process of reforming the Brazilian Forest Code is coming to its final stretch as the Environmental Commission of the Brazilian Senate approved proposed changes in the
    current legislation. Over the coming days, the project will be submitted to the Senate’s plenary session to be voted on by all senators. The change in legislation governing the use of land in the country is seen as essential if Brazil wants to preserve its position as one of the largest food exporters in the world and at the same time conserve 61% of its original forestland – 18% of which is in rural landholdings.

    The Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock (CNA), which represents Brazilian farmers, has estimated that if the laws are not altered then Brazil could lose one fifth of all the land it currently uses for agriculture and livestock.
    Senator Kátia Abreu, president of the CNA, said that “This would result in more expensive food and higher inflation as well as a decrease in jobs, in exports and in Brazil’s GDP. These are dramatic consequences in a world of 7 billion people which is suffering from an economic crisis and high food prices – a world that needs the good and cheap food produced in Brazil.”

    On Wednesday, the Environmental Commission of the Brazilian Senate approved the new text for the Forest Code – the last step before it is submitted to the vote in the Senate’s plenary session. The CNA believes that the final text is not ideal but it was the best possible compromise after much debate within a democratic process. It is nevertheless a step forward, as it takes into account the need to regularize food production without giving way to more deforestation.
    The new proposal aims to substitute legislation dating from 1965, which has been amended numerous times by successive governments and which has become very difficult to interpret and apply. According to the CNA, because of these amendments nearly 90% of Brazilian farmers find themselves in an illegal situation, as they have been penalized for acts carried out before any changes in the law. Today, these farmers are unable to get financing to initiate, maintain or increase food production.

    The new Forest Code aims to legalize the situation of rural farmers, but do so without issuing amnesty to farmers who deforested illegally before July 2008. The new law will commit landowners to bringing their farms in line with environmental legislation. Once they have done this, their penalties will be annulled and instead they will have to carry out services for the protection of the environment.

    The proposed bill also aims to consolidate the land used for agriculture and livestock, without increasing deforestation. The decree for a Legal Reserve remains unchanged. This decree states that a farmer must preserve the native forests in 80% of their land, if the land falls within the Amazon biome, or from 20% to 35% if the land is in other regions of Brazil.
    The text, which was approved by the House of Representatives last May, also envisages the preservation of vegetation that grows on slopes, hills and riverbanks, known as Areas of Permanent Preservation (APPs).
    Today only 27.7% of Brazilian land is used for agriculture and livestock, while 11% of the national territory is native vegetation preserved by farmers inside their own landholdings. Brazil has and will continue to have of the strictest forestry laws in the world.

    “The environment is essential for agriculture. We are more dependent on nature than any other economic activity and we want our forests to be left standing”, says Senator Kátia Abreu. The agricultural and livestock industry represents 22.4% of Brazil’s GDP and it employs one third of the country’s workforce, producing food, biofuels and fibers.
    According the World Trade Organization (WTO), Brazil is currently the third largest exporter of agricultural products in the world, behind only the United States and the European Union. It is the leading exporter of beef, poultry, sugar, coffee and orange juice. For both the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Organization for Economic Co- operation and Development (OECD) Brazil will be the country to experience the biggest growth in this sector up to 2019.
    For more information on the new Brazilian Forestry Code, please follow the link below.

    -According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), only 20.3% of
    the Amazonian biome is made up of private areas in which the cultivation of food crops
    and livestock is permitted. The other 79.7% – around 334 million hectares of rainforest
    – remain the property of the Brazilian State and are preserved. And of the area in which cultivation is allowed, a big part has to be preserved as Legal Reserve and/or APPs.
    – Over the last three decades, the production of grains in Brazil has more than tripled,
    whilst the farmed area has grown by only 32.4% – an increase in productivity of 151%.
    – The project for the new Brazilian Forest Code has been in analysis and revision since
    2009 by a special committee of the Chamber of Deputies and, after 33 public audiences
    in Brasília and in 16 of the country’s States, with input from ministers, members of the
    Judiciary Power and Public Ministry, analysts and researchers specializing in agriculture
    and the environment, farmers, environmentalists and jurists.

    About the CNA
    The CNA – Confederação da Agricultura e Pecuária do Brasil (Brazilian Confederation of
    Agriculture and Livestock) is comprised of the rural union system, together with 27 state
    federations and 2,142 unions that operate in the country’s various municipalities. Headquartered in Brazil’s capital city, Brasília, the CNA leads the national forums for discussions on Brazilian agricultural and livestock issue, and works ceaselessly to defend the socio-economic rights and interests of those who live and work in the countryside.


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