Amazon Destruction Accelerating in Brazil
BRASILIA, Brazil The amount of land cleared in Brazil's Amazon jungle rose sharply again in 2003-2004, with environmentalists fearing more destruction is inevitable because of a farming boom.
The Environment Ministry said Wednesday destruction of the world's largest tropical forest rose to 10,088 square miles in 2003-2004 -- an area larger than the U.S. state of New Jersey -- from 9,496 square miles a year earlier.
As Brazil grabs an ever larger slice of global agricultural trade, environmentalists have worried that the expansion of soy and cattle farming into the Amazon will be impossible to stop.
The worst year for Amazon destruction was 1994-1995, when 11,216 square miles was cleared. The 2003-2004 figure is the second largest amount of land cleared.
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's government adopted an action plan last year to protect the Amazon after the 2002-2003 figure represented the previous second highest level.
"This number (amount of land cleared) is a tragedy and shows that deforestation is not a priority for the Lula government and that its plan (to fight destruction) is not working," Greenpeace Amazon coordinator Paulo Adario said.
Environment Minister Marina Silva, who is from the Amazon state of Acre, said the figure was "very high, but we will work to fight this in a structured way, with lasting and effective action, involving all sectors."
The Amazon, a tropical forest larger than the continental United States, is home to up to 30 percent of the world's animal and plant species and produces vast amounts of oxygen.
The World Wildlife Fund said that 17.3 percent of the Amazon has been destroyed.
Nearly half the total deforestation took place in Mato Grosso state, whose Gov. Blairo Maggi's farming operations are the world's single largest soy producer. Soy is the country's biggest farm export, equal to about $10 billion last year.
"Maggi is the king of deforestation, but the high court at Brasilia also bears an immense responsibility for this disaster," Adario said.
Maggi representatives were not immediately available for comment.