The 158,000-hectare Serra Ricardo Franco state park is supposed to be a conservation area, but farmers and loggers moved in to clear the land. Photo: Phil Clarke Hill / Corbis / Getty Images

By Jonathan Watts
28 May 2017

Vila Bela da Santíssima Trindade (The Guardian) – To understand why the Brazilian government is deliberately losing the battle against deforestation, you need only retrace the bootmarks of the Edwardian explorer Percy Fawcett along the Amazonian border with Bolivia.

During a failed attempt to cross a spectacular tabletop plateau here in 1906, the adventurer nearly died on the first of his many trips to South America. Back then, the area was so far from human habitation, the foliage so dense and the terrain so steep that Fawcett and his party came close to starvation.

He returned home with tales of a towering, inaccessible mesa teeming with wildlife and irrigated by secret waterfalls and crystalline rivers. By some accounts, this was one of the stories that inspired his friend Arthur Conan Doyle to write The Lost World about a fictional plateau jutting high above the jungle that served as a sanctuary for species long since extinct elsewhere.

In their wildest fantasies, however, neither Fawcett nor Conan Doyle are likely to have imagined the modern reality of that plateau, which can no longer be certain of protection from geography, the law or Brazil’s international commitments.

Today, orange dirt roads, cut into the forest by illegal loggers, lead you to the north-western flank of the elevated hilltop. Now called the Serra Ricardo Franco state park, this is nominally a conservation area set up with support from the World Bank. Instead of forest, however, you find swaths of land invaded by farmers, stripped of trees, and turned over to pasture for 240,000 cows. There are even private airfields inside the park’s boundaries, which exist on maps only.

Far from being an isolated area where a wanderer might starve, this is now – despite its dubious legal status – one of the world’s great centres of food production. In recent months, it has also emerged as a symbol of the resurgent influence of a landowning class in Brazil who, even more than in the US under Donald Trump, are cashing in on the destruction of the wild.

Locals say a member of President Michel Temer’s cabinet – chief of staff Eliseu Padilha – owns ranches here on hillsides stripped of forest in a supposedly protected park. The municipal ombudsmen told the Observer the cattle raised here are then sold – in contravention of pledges to prosecutors and international consumers – to JBS, the world’s biggest meat-packing company, which is at the centre of a huge bribery scandal. [more]

Wild Amazon faces destruction as Brazil’s farmers and loggers target national park

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