Farming slump credited with Amazon felling lull

The rate rainforests are being felled has slowed dramatically over the past year, according to estimates released by the Brazilian government.

But despite the apparent good news environmentalists have given the figures a reserved welcome, saying it is too soon to celebrate.

Environment minister Marina da Silva put official estimates of forest lost in 2004 t0 2005 at 9,000 square kilometres, half the area felled the previous year.

She put the progress down to a combination of stepped-up government monitoring and protection and the promotion of sustainable development projects in settlements on the forest edge.

Many of those fighting for the future of the forests will see the release of the figure as little more than a ray of sunlight in an otherwise cloudy sky, however.

2003 t0 2004 was a disastrous year for the rainforests, with trees being felled at one of the fastest rates on record (see related story).

This poor baseline must be taken into account when making any comparisons.

Also the figure released is only an estimate, so its accuracy is still open to question until it is confirmed in coming months.

Many also argue that the fall is not solely down to government initiatives, but largely due to a bad year for the soya bean market, making land clearance and further planting less attractive for farmers.

Even those sceptical of the government's spin will admit that felling rates dropped rapidly following high-profile police clamp downs on illegal logging in June and July, however, showing government action can have an undeniable effect in the battle to protect the largest rainforest on Earth.

By Sam Bond



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