The Amazon Can't Be a Soy Farm

The world's largest rain forest, one that affects global weather patterns, last year saw its biggest one-year loss of trees since 1995. That should put more pressure on Brazil's left-leaning president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, to curb the rapid pace of deforestation in the Amazon.

But Lula, as he's known, also needs to provide jobs and land for Brazil's massive armies of the poor, and the Amazon provides a quick way for him to provide those opportunities. So he still backs road-building into these ancient virgin forests that brings first the tree-cutters, and then those who burn the forests to clear land for cattle ranches, and more so lately, soy farms. Over recent decades, the Amazon rainforest has shrunk about 18 percent from its original size.

At the same time, the president has set up many preserves that aim to protect critical Amazon areas as well as Indian tribes. Enforcing such restrictions has proven to be difficult in the lawless, wild-west atmosphere of the Amazon basin. So it's significant that earlier this month, his government arrested nearly 90 people - half of them officials charged with safeguarding the Amazon - for allegedly allowing illegal logging.

Not only was the number of arrests impressive, but they included top officials in thenational environmental agency as well as the environment chief of Mato Grosso, a state where the worst destruction is taking place. The arrests spurred federal authorities to call a virtual halt to all logging in the state.

Despite these protective measures, Brazil needs constant pressure when it comes to preserving the Amazon, especially since it's trying to gain trade concessions on its soy exports. The world has a stake in a place that contains a fifth of the world's fresh water and almost a third of its species.

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