What has been the impact of COVID-19 on land use?
By Gabriel Lui
The deforestation in the Amazon and the attempts to weaken the legislation and the operation of environmental agencies remains one of the few agendas that have managed to attract attention in the face of the seriousness of the Covid-19 pandemic. The forest suppression numbers in March (326.49 km2) and the first results of April (208.35 km2 April 16) show that deforestation is continuing at a fast pace, following the upward trend of the last two years. Considering the data presented so far, however, it is not possible to state that the Covid-19 crisis has generated an isolated effect of an increase in deforestation. The behavior of local actors in relation to the deforestation in the coming months should respond to three sets of variables:
(i) the action of the control agencies and the public perception resulting from the presence of the inspection,
(ii) the political signs resulting from the alteration of the regulatory frameworks, such as MP 910/2019, and the municipal electoral platforms, and
(iii) the national and international demand for commodities and other agricultural products, which can alter the value of the land.
The public agencies have already started to reduce field operations due to the social isolating of the public officials, which will reduce the inspection presence in the field. This can be perceived as an opportunity for land grabbers and loggers to accelerate the deforestation process. Mining also tends to increase with fewer inspectors in the field and the increase in value of gold. The possibility of the approval of MP 910/2019 continues to mobilize the expectation of consolidating the illegal occupations, even though there has been a strong reaction from civil society and from the media in pointing out the negative impacts of the proposal.
The scenario of the municipal elections remains uncertain due to the possible impacts of the pandemic on the campaigns. In the agricultural sector, there was an increase in internal consumption and exports in March, reflecting a scramble to build up stocks. The devaluation of the real against the dollar has favored the export of commodities, although the instability of the international market and the logistical difficulties may reduce the potential gains in the coming months. Small farmers with little working capital, especially involving fruits, greens and vegetables, are expected to suffer significant losses of market and income in the next months.
From May, the trend is for an increase in deforestation and fires with the arrival of the dry season. Therefore, the deforestation could accelerate quickly depending on the perception of the abovementioned variables. In the political sphere, the National Council of the Legal Amazon, coordinated by the vice-presidency, started its operations, conducting meetings together with representatives of the Federal Government and with the Governors.
The vice-president conceded incisive messages about intolerance with the illegal deforestation and the fires, as well as the need to reactivate the Amazon Fund, indicating a weakening of the role of the Minister of the Environment. At the end of April, the vice-president requested the publication of a new Decree of Guarantee of Law and Order (GLO) to support the inspection actions. If approved by the President, this measure has the potential to increase the presence of agents in the field and to inhibit, temporarily, new deforestations in the region.