Re: Life Duty Death & Denial

Julie Locascio (
Mon, 25 Sep 1995 12:04:38

>First, the amount of jungle being cleared for cattle grazing is
>miniscule. Normally there is a multi-step process spanning several
>years before the land is turned over to cattle. And that happens
>because by then the land is basically useless for any other purpose.

Miniscule???? By whose definition? Enough Amazonian rainforest has already
been cleared to cause shorter rainy seasons there. Is that miniscule? That
"multi-step process" to which you obliquely refer is very complex. In many
cases, the land is not converted to cattle because it has become useless for
anything else, but because of a variety of factors, including the fact that
cattle ranching requires less labor, govt. and private sector forces together
caused huge rises in land prices that ultimately created an upward spiral of
land speculation, this second factor thus making it inevitable that monied
farmers would continue to squeeze out small farmers (outbidding them for the
land, or violently coercing them into selling), and so forth.

Farmers without an official land title can show "use" by clearing forest and
doing something with it: it is far easier to plant some pasture grass and a
couple of cows, then to till an entire plot and seed it with crops. That is
one key incentive for small farmers. Once larger farmers get hold of the
land, they would rather graze cows because they don't have to hire a lot of
labor to work the fields that way. They used to get tax incentives, too, but
that has mostly been phased out in Brazil now. However, having cattle pasture
continues to make the land have a higher market value.

There are other complexities involved, which vary from region to region and
government to government. Please do not simplify Amazonian issues by implying
that the land logically must become cattle ranches. It is true that degraded
rainforest land can support pasture when it can no longer support most crops,
but it can also be regenerated with secondary growth. The secondary growth
obviously will not have the biodiversity of original rainforest growth, but it
has tremendous long-term potential. In fact, recent research has turned up
significant evidence that large portions of the Amazon rainforest may actually
not have been "primeval" forest at the time the Iberians arrived, but may, in
fact, have been considerably altered over the centuries by the Indians. For
instance, it has become obvious that some tracts have far higher
concentrations of major food trees (like cashew trees, Brazil nut trees,
banana trees), implying that the Indians had probably slashed and burned (to
farm such a tract of land), then replanted food trees during the secondary
growth process. The Indians never slashed and burned enormous (contiguous)
areas, so that it was easier for original species to recolonize over time.

Well, it is a little early in the week for me to have my thoughts organized on
this, but I do not like to see sweeping generalizations made about the Amazon.

>Second, since the land in question is virtually all owned by the
>Brazilian government, and is being used in accordance with the
>dictates of that government, it is less than obvious that turning the
>land over to the government would contribute to a solution.

I'm not sure what you are trying to say here. The Brazilian govt. owns most
of the parts that are NOT yet deforested (in the form of reserves and parks).
The parts that have been deforested were originally owned by the govt., but
sold or given to private landowners. Private landowners have done the
deforesting--often in response to public policy, but acting privately.

Anyway, current farms are never going to be turned over to the government, so
there is no point in discussing it. The two most obvious tasks at hand are:
(a) find technological means (both from modern science and from indigenous
knowledge) to improve Amazonian farming and (b) create job opportunities
outside of the Amazon so that no additional farming communities need to be set
up there.