THE Amazon region in SouthAmerica is being invaded inhordes by huge Asian loggingcompaniesscaring environmentalists and local loggingoutfits. ProceedingfromMyanmarIndonesiaMalaysiaPhilippines and Korea -where they have already devastated more than 50 per cent ofthe original wood areas -these companies are said tohave bought at least 1.5 million ha of forest lands in theBrazilian state of Amazonas.According to Brazilian environmental organisationstheyplan to buy and log in theshort-termanother 7.5 million ha of aforest known worldwide as having theworld's largest biodiversity resources onearth. The target of these companies is abillion-dollar market for precious andendangered species such as mahogany(Swietnia macrophyla king) and ferrule(Virola surinamensis warb).
According to SOS Atlantic Rainforest, a Brazilian NGO the tactics of the foreign logging industry is first to buy lands and obtain exploitation licenses in countries which have both huge wood areas and common borders with Brazil. The next step - logging in Brazil -coincides with their offer of a hundred new jobs thereby putting pressure on the local governments and in doing so gaining political support for the devastation.
Brazil is the most targeted country in Latin America for having relatively low levels of forest devastation serious deficiencies in environmental control and in some of its state seven economic and legal incentives for the logging industry. What scares ecologists is the anti - environmental curriculum of the wood dealers who have Chinese Japanese and Korean backing the world's biggest wood customers. In Indonesia which originally had 116 million ha of woodlands (the world's second largest wood area after the Amazon region) these companies exploited in less than two decades 62per cent of the productive potential of the forests.
Money in the trees SOS Atlantic Rainforest states that the' Latin invasion ; of the Asian logging industry started some three years ago through French Guiana, Venezuela and Peru - countries with huge wood areas and extremely rich biodiversity. In Peru and Venezuela says the NGO companies have been surveying local environmental legislation and available land but have not yet set up factories. "The situation is most terrible in French Guiana where wood exploitation depends on government authorisation. Here Asian logging industries have already bought nine million ha of forests wrote journalist Alessio Fon Meloso in SOS's monthly news letter. Samling, a logging outfit in Malaysia has sent to the Guyana government a request for licensing another three million ha and they have a great chance of getting it he added. The same company has two thousand farm tractors ready to operate in Latin America and recently acquired 210,000 ha of forests in Uatama and 50,000 ha in Itacoatiara. Both cities, are located in Amazonas, a state with 1.5 million sq km area and which to date had only two per cent of its territory devastated - the lowest among Brazilian Amazon states. The Malayan WTK company, say environmentalists bought 200,000 ha in Carauari, a city located Southwest of Manaus, Amazonas' capital. 'Besides the low levels of log Amazonas is extremely rich in precious wood essences has proportionally one of the lowest demographic occupation among Brazilian states and has plenty of legal incentives to offer to the logging industry observed Ronald Bonfim* economic advisor to the Amazonas state Federation of Industries. Bonfirn makes some simple calculations and concludes that companies can raise incredible amounts of money with the logging and processing of wood in Amazonas. The state has 1.5 million sq km area or 150 million ha. In each ha there are 30 cu m of tradeable wood which means a potential value of about 4.5billion cu m of raw wood for Amazonas. At an average value of between us $50-70 per cu m, we find a value between us $225-315 billion which still can be considerably increased by the level of processing one industry can apply over the wood, he says.
These are data regarding only one of the 28 Brazilian states. But the Amazon forest has a huge area of approximately 5.3 million sq km and embraces the states of Acre, Amapa, Para, Roraima and part of the states of Goias, Maranhao and Tocantins. As a whole, the Amazon forest means 63.85 per cent of the Brazilian territory.
Asian logging industries have the same modus operandi. Both SOS Atlantic Rainforest and Ronaldo Bonfim stress that the logging companies buy farms and sawmills in precarious economic conditions and begin to operate with the erstwhile owner's logging license. As Brazilian legislation does not impose any restriction to the amount of land bought by foreign companies, the logging industry is free to buy as much land as they wish.
The criteria used in an environmental impact study - needed to obtain the logging license - is also the same for national and foreign companies. Once the logging industries fill all legal requirements, nothing can be done to impede the authorisations. Unofficial data, put forth by NGOs, estimate that the logging industry has already invested us $350 million and have other us $650 million to buy land and equipment in Brazil.
The strong reaction of environmentalists and local communities managed to temporarily block the action of the logging industry in Guyana. In Suriname, the government temporarily suspended the concession of new logging licenses, in spite of the fact that the logging industry investment would create hundreds of new jobs which the Surinamese are much in need of.
Pressed by public opinion, the Congress and local groups, the Brazilian government announced on July 25 this year a two-year moratorium on the mahogany and ferrule logging. Old logging licenses, however, are still valid. Brazil exports 40 per cent of its mahogany production - in 1995, 98,000 cu m - mainly to United States and England. Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso also agreed that by the end of September every old authorisation for logging the two species must be revised.
Logging control can hardly be implemented by official agencies, say Brazilian ecologists. lbama, the Brazilian environmental agency, has only 650 technicians, 120 vehicles and 30 boats to oversee the Amazon forests, an area equivalent to the whole of western Europe. President Cardoso altered the Brazilian Forest Code (a legislation which was valid since 1964) and increased from 50 per cent to 80 per cent, the minimum area of each Amazon property, which must consist of typical vegetation and where logging is not allowed. In the same series of environmental acts, he forbid new conversion of current native wood areas in to agricultural areas in properties already deforested.
Officially, the coming of Asian logging industries did not provoke Cardoso's acts. The argument that based the presidential measures was induced by official satellite surveys which pointed out that deforestation in the Amazon region increased from 11,130 sq km in 1991 to 14,896 sq km in 1994. However, at the signing ceremony, minister of environment, Gustavo Krause, an ecoliberal economist who pledges for the total absence of legal regulations in every field, attacked what he called "economic delinquency" in Amazon.
The presidential acts caused a controversy among environmentalists. On the one hand Greenpeace-Brazil which has been campaigning against the logging industry for the last four years and had managed to interrupt the operation of a mahogany sawmill, sent a letter to Cardoso cheering the official measures. To Greenpeace now "its crucial to identify and label the existing stocks already cut and to make an inventory of the areas of occurrence of these timber in order to guarantee the success of the presidential act".
On the other Roberto Smeraldi, president, Friends of Earth (FOE) an international NGO said that "the series of acts goes in the right direction but in a confused and contradictory way". Smeraldi stressed that the aerial survey by satellites is not sufficient to identify the effects of the selective wood cut. "It can only register deforestation as a whole which is not uncommon in certain areas of the Amazon region."
He also criticises the government for not having included data regarding the1995 logging. "Exactly in this year illegal logging became more intense. More recent data would have pointed to a much more critical situation." A study conducted by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) shows that the total area deforested between 1992 and 1995 may have reached 59,584 sq km a region as big as Belgium. FOE which has partner organisations based in areas being deforested also points out that the presidential act is unfair. "The measures" says FOE do not differentiate small from huge properties and may intensify the mobility of small farmers in the frontiers of colonisation and, consequently, contribute even more to deforestation.
European and us governments have expressed in different opportunities their concern" over the destiny of Brazilian Amazon. But in spite of the so-called concerns all G-7 countries failed to live up to the promise firmed during the Rio Summit of sending to Brazil us $1.5 billion in financial and technological aid to support environmental protection policies. Only us $20 million in such partnerships has come into Brazil.
Carlos Tautz is a freelance journalist based in Rio de JaneiroBrazil