“We are not ashamed of anything,” Abreu said. “What’s important is that Brazil increase production.”
This is not an idle boast but rather a declaration that carries weight, as environmentalists — whom Abreu sees as adversaries — well know.
That’s not just because Brazil has the world’s biggest commercial herd of beef and is the No. 1 exporter of soybeans, orange juice, coffee and chicken. It’s also because Abreu, who is a senator and president of the country’s most important association of growers and ranchers, operates in the highest echelon of power in Brazil.
And her message is clear: We will not back down.
Agribusiness already accounts for nearly 40 percent of the country’s exports and provides 37 percent of jobs in Brazil.
Abreu wants to see those numbers expand. But she believes it can be done on the same amount of land now dedicated to farming in Brazil, 28 percent of the country’s territory. That will happen through the application of agro-technology to improve yields.
“What’s important is that Brazil can increase production by growing vertically, not horizontally,” said Abreu, who also stresses that satellite monitoring of the Amazon has shown a steady decline in deforestation since 2004.
Many in Brazil, though, are not convinced that Abreu’s modern-sounding projections for farm production line up with what Big Agro really wants. Environmentalists and experts on land use in Brazil say there is a latent threat, noting that deforestation rose fast this year in some regions, including Abreu’s home state.
“They’re putting on the best face, but it’s basically a farce,” said Christian Poirier, Brazil campaigner for Amazon Watch, a California-based environmental group. “It doesn’t jibe with what this landowning bloc represents, which is the expansion of the frontier.”
The bitter fight over land was particularly pitched this year as environmentalists and Big Agro tussled over what is known as the Forest Code, a forest-protection law that was enacted in October. Farmers and ranchers fought hard to scrap requirements that obligated farmers to maintain a large forest cover on farms in the Amazon.
That effort failed, said Sergio Sauer, a University of Brasilia expert on rural development. But he said there were alterations made to the old Forest Code that could lead to a reduction in the amount of woodlands that farmers need to preserve.
Critics of the law also worry that environmental enforcement could be weaker than before — giving farmers, ranchers and loggers an opening to carve up the forest.