Commentary: the moratorium decree on the Amazon fire in 202020.08.2020 • Opinion
The 10.424 Decree of July 15, 2020 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.
In 2019, after the fire in the Amazon Forest reached quite high levels compared to previous years, and its smoke traveled to other regions, the federal government issued a similar decree in August. Concomitant with command and control actions, the decision helped to control the fire 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, 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 Brazilian Minister of Agriculture Tereza Cristina said recently, and as shown by several scientific studies, Brazil has more than enough land already cleared to reach the 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, 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.