The Amazon and the Pantanal Free of Sugarcane? Well, Sort of

With the new zoning for sugarcane, the Lula government plans to impede the production of sugarcane in the Amazon and the Pantanal, in so far that it will not allow the expansion of the production of these crops in the Amazônia Legal and the Pantanal. Thus, more than half the country will be exempted from sugarcane production? Well, not quite, as Lula com suis. only are talking about the expansion and not about the existing sugarcane production in these areas.

90901-04_MVG_lulaLast month, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva met with the Minister of Agriculture, Reinhold Stephanes, and the Minister of Environment, Carlos Minc, to end the clash between these two about this subject. The new rules will be published mid-September, as the government does not yet know if the zoning will be governed by a presidential decree or by law.

According to people close to the government, the new zoning only applies to future areas of sugarcane planting. In other words areas already cultivated in the region of the Amazônia Legal and the Pantanal (and illegally deforested in the past) will not be blocked.

According to one of the participants of the meeting in which the ministers overcame their differences over the expansion of the area allowed to receive sugarcane plantation, the zoning has as goal to point out areas where the production of sugarcane can be expanded up to 2017.

Government calculations show that some 8 million hectares of Brazilian territory are in use for sugarcane, less than 1% of the total planted area in the country. Confident in a significant increase of bio-fuel demand in the foreign markets in the years to come, the government wants to double the production of sugarcane. By creating a zoning that permits the expansion of planted area the government hopes to avoid (international) criticism in regard to Brazil’s biomes, According to government studies the sugarcane production can grow with 7 million hectares over the next eight years without further contamination of the Amazon and the Pantanal.

Pres. Lula and Minister Stephanes

Pres. Lula and Minister Stephanes

One of the subjects of contention between Minc and Stephanes was the planting of sugarcane in Alto Paraguay area in Mato Grosso. It is an area of some 28.000 km² which concentrates many springs that stream into the Pantanal.

Stephanes accepted the zoning that will preserve the Pantanal and the Amazon, but wanted the Alto Paraguay region included in the production potential. The position of the Minister of Agriculture was however isolated. Minc and the other ministers were opposed to this exception and were able to convince Lula.
“I am determined to be against any change that influences the Pantanal,” Lula told the ministers at the meeting. According to officials close to the presidency, there are two reasons that led Lula to decide for a total protection of the Pantanal and the Amazônia Legal.

One is that Brazil needs to maintain a strong environmental discourse to defend the expansion of ethanol production compared to other fuels in the world. This would open doors for the export of Brazilian ethanol.


The other reason that prompted Lula to refuse the exception requested by Stephanes is that there is no need to use a part of the Pantanal biome for the expansion of the sugarcane production, since the 7 million hectares available in other areas is enough to double the production by 2017.

The discussion about the new zoning of sugarcane has lasted more than a year.