The 10.424 decree, of July 15, 2020, published in the Official Diary of the Union, prohibits the use of fire in both Amazon and the Pantanal for the next 120 days. As happened last year, it aims to reduce the impact of fire on these two biomes during the driest season for the vegetation.
In 2019, after the fire in the Amazon Forest reached quite high levels compared to previous years, and its smoke reached other regions, the federal government issued a similar decree in August. Concomitant with command and control actions, the movement helped to control hot spots in the subsequent months, reversing the expected growth trend in September and October.
In 2020, the federal government issued the decree before the situation worsened, and we hope that the result will be positive. This is especially important when we consider that more smoke in the air means more respiratory complications for the population in the affected areas, which can overlap to the already existing public health crisis due to the covid-19 pandemic.
However, to make sure that in the future (a near future, we hope) decrees like this are no longer necessary and fire is part of the past, it is necessary to dedicate efforts and resources to structural questions.
First, it is necessary to invest in technologies that replace the fire as an agricultural practice. If fire is still used in Brazil today to control pests, renew pastures and as an immediate nutritional boost to the soil, it is because more modern and sustainable techniques have not reached the producers. Disseminate these technologies leads to more efficient results in pest control and pasture management, and keeps the soil healthy for longer.
Second, strengthen the state governments to oversee the correct use of fire in their territories and monitor granted licenses is a way to track legal activities and to prevent that the authorizations are erroneously used to burn (or deforest) other areas.
Third, it is imperative to end the deforestation. When a land is cleared, that is, its trees are cut down to make room for another use, the fire eliminates remnants of deforested and dry vegetation, and the ashes are used to feed the soil, which in the Amazon is poor in nutrients, to make space for pastures. As the Minister of Agriculture Tereza Cristina said recently, and as shown by several scientific studies, Brazil has more than enough open land space to reach the growth goals of the agricultural sector by the middle of the century.
Finally, we remember that the Amazon Forest, unlike forests in Australia and California, does not catch fire naturally, nor has it evolved into it. With the worsening of climate change, vegetation is more susceptible to any spark turning into a forest fire. In addition, burning produces more greenhouse gases, which in turn aggravate climate change even more, in a perverse cycle. Whether for clearing the land after deforestation or as an agricultural tool, the use of fire must be progressively abandoned and replaced by methods more in line with the challenges of the 21st century.
Read more: Deforested land to be burned in 2020 may exceed 4,500 km²
*This article was originally published in IPAM’s website on July 16, 2020.