Kátia Abreu is considered one of the most influential voices in the powerful Brazilian agricultural lobby. In Brazil, the senator and former Minister of Agriculture has therefore been given a nickname: Chainsaw Kátia.
Now Kátia Abreu suddenly chooses words that could also come from an environmental activist. During an appearance between the first and the crucial second round of the presidential elections this Sunday, she lamented how Brazil’s image abroad had deteriorated since right-wing populist President Jair Bolsonaro took office. This is the result of the illegal deforestation of huge areas of rainforest. The world sees Brazil as irresponsible, as an obstacle in the fight against climate change. Then the agricultural lobbyist spoke out against Bolsonaro and for his left-wing challenger and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva with a view to the runoff election. Only change can restore the credibility of the agricultural sector.
In 2019, Bolsonaro’s first year in office, the world’s eyes were already on Amazonia, when the annual season of slash-and-burn began there. In Europe, the climate debate was booming at the time. Journalists from all over the world traveled to Brazil and reported on the destruction of the rainforest. “Our house is on fire,” French President Emmanuel Macron said at the time.
The deforestation was nothing new. What was new was that a Brazilian president downplayed the problem in such a way. Instead of taking action against illegal deforestation and land grabs, Bolsonaro dismantled the control bodies and reduced penalties for environmental crimes. His first foreign minister even suspected a “cultural Marxist” conspiracy behind the fight against climate change. At the time, the government was considering withdrawing from the Paris Agreement.
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The result of this policy can be seen today. In terms of area, deforestation in Amazonia is less than twenty years ago. But after a massive drop of 80 percent between 2002 and 2014, the deforested area has increased significantly again in recent years and was back to the level of 2006 at around 13,000 square kilometers in 2021. From its goal of illegal deforestation to 2030, Brazil is increasingly moving away.
From the point of view of Roberto Rodrigues, former Minister of Agriculture and current head of the Center for Agricultural Economics of the Fundação Getúlio Vargas, the ongoing deforestation creates a distorted picture of the Brazilian agricultural economy. Deforestation used to be the norm and a government strategy to encourage settlement in the west, Rodrigues says. At that time there were no concerns. That has changed. “The issue of sustainability has arrived, especially among large producers and the younger generation.” The agricultural sector is very productive and clean today, but it is being tainted by the crimes of a small minority of adventurers. Rodrigues advocates vehement action against illegal logging. “It must be radically fought and punished.”