RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva announced a plan Thursday to prohibit sugarcane farming on indigenous lands and in all environmentally sensitive areas of the country, including the Amazon rainforest.
The bill, submitted to Congress on Thursday, prohibits sugarcane production and ethanol plants on 81.5 percent of Brazilian territory and protects three important ecosystems: the Amazon, the Pantanal and the Upper Paraguay Basin.
The plan was unveiled after some environmentalists and governments criticized Brazil’s plans to expand sugarcane farming and increase ethanol production, saying those activities would pose a threat to the environment and the world’s largest rainforest.
Brazil, the world’s leading producer and exporter of sugar and sugar-based ethanol, is pushing the production and consumption of that fuel, arguing that it is less contaminating than gasoline and will create jobs in poor countries.
That country, which has the world’s largest fleet of flex-fuel cars, also is a huge consumer of ethanol.
The plan announced Thursday restricts sugarcane cultivation to just 64 million hectares (247,100 sq. miles), mostly regions that are already important agricultural areas.
Sugarcane currently is being grown on 8.9 million hectares, or 1 percent of the nation’s territory.
That area is already sufficient to guarantee the country a record harvest this year of close to 634 million tons of sugarcane, up 11 percent compared to 2008.
The government also expects Brazil will achieve record production this year of refined sugar and ethanol – 37.9 million tons and 28.6 billion liters, respectively.
Agriculture Minister Reinhold Stephanes said the areas set aside for sugarcane farming were chosen based on two principles formulated by Lula: that the expansion of the area under cultivation not threaten the environment and that mechanical harvesting be possible in those regions.
The bill also includes a measure to end the practice of crop burning by 2017 in all areas suitable for mechanized harvesting.
One of the main criticisms of the expansion of sugarcane farming in Brazil is that crop burning causes emissions of contaminating gases and threatens the health of the surrounding population.
Rights groups also say that because mechanized plantations are not in place nationwide, landowners exploit peasant laborers and force them to work under conditions analogous to slavery. EFE