“Only 2% of rural landowners in Brazil are non-compliant with environmental legislation”

“…Ibama is an ageing Autarchy, facing a significant deficit in its staff…”

Rodrigo Antônio de Agostinho Mendonça is the president of the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources – Ibama since February of 2023, with a degree from the Law School of Bauru, a M.Sc. in environmental science and technology from Unisagrado and a M.SC. in biological sciences from the Metropolitan University of Santos.

AgriBrasilis – What were the main challenges since you took over the presidency of Ibama?

Rodrigo Agostinho – Ibama, Brazil’s main environmental agency, plays a crucial role in the implementation of national environmental policy. With 35 years of existence, Ibama is aging and facing a significant deficit in its staff numbers. Currently, Ibama has only 50% of its maximum staff capacity, which is a considerable drop compared to the 6,000 employees it once had.

Ibama is responsible for preventing deforestation, regulating logging, protecting indigenous lands, caring for fauna, and addressing issues such as chemical safety and environmental licensing. It faces significant challenges due to its ageing structure and shortage of human resources.

AgriBrasilis – What motivated the dismantling of environmental agencies in Brazil?

Rodrigo Agostinho – The previous government launched significant attacks against Ibama, undermining its enforcement operations and impacting areas such as licensing, resulting in a crisis in the agency. The excessive appointment of military officers in various superintendencies and management positions at Ibama has led to an extreme reduction in inspection. Despite this, part of the civil servants, who are career professionals with typical State functions, continued to work in several regions, regardless of government orientation, but in a disorganized manner.

This disorganization has contributed to an alarming increase in environmental crimes, including illegal logging and mining, deforestation, and animal trafficking. Since the beginning of the current administration, we have been committed to the restructuring and reorganization of Ibama, implementing strategies to deal with these challenges.

AgriBrasilis – What actions does Ibama take to reduce deforestation and illegal mining?

Rodrigo Agostinho –  Ibama has been strategically operating in the field of inspection to combat environmental crimes in all biomes of the country, including the Amazon and the Cerrado [Brazilian Savanna]. There was a 49.9% reduction in the area under deforestation alerts in the Amazon in 2023, compared to 2022, as a result of the Agency’s actions. This number is a result of the resumption of environmental and climate policies, and of inspection actions after four years of setbacks.

Among the activities adopted to combat deforestation are the presence of environmental agents in critical areas, remote inspection of deforestation, inspection of fraud in forest control systems, and the seizure of goods and products produced in areas embargoed due to illegal deforestation.

Between January and December of 2023, Ibama increased infraction notices for crimes against flora in the Amazon by 106%, compared to the average from 2019 to 2022. In the destruction of goods and embargoes, there was an increase of 161% and 64%, respectively, in the same period. Seizures increased by 79%.  In the Cerrado biome, infraction notices issued by Ibama for crimes against plant life increased by 45% compared to the average for the same period of the previous four years. Embargoes rose 43%, seizures 25%, and equipment destruction 124% in the Cerrado. Ibama has also been active in the inspection of the production chain associated with illegal deforestation, such as cattle ranching, as provided for in the line of action described in the Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Deforestation in the Amazon.

Regarding the fight against illegal mining, the new management of Ibama has played an essential role in the inspection, coordination and execution of actions in Indigenous Lands, including the Yanomami and Tapajós lands. This involves mobilizing field teams, applying fines and penalties, and coordinating with other agencies and organizations, such as the Federal Highway Police, Funai (National Indigenous Foundation), the National Public Security Force, and the Brazilian Air Force. The operations also aim to weaken mining activities and solve the humanitarian crisis that plagues the Indigenous Lands, through the disabling of materials used by the miners.

In the Yanomami Indigenous Territory – YIT, Ibama has been operating since February of 2023. The main lines of action to put an end to illegal mining are: blocking the flow of supplies to illegal mining (fuel, food, spare parts, etc.), with the aim of making it impossible for miners to stay there; seizure and destruction of infrastructure for illegal mining (aircraft, engines, boats, camps, equipment, etc.), with the aim of decapitalizing and incapacitating offenders. There was an 85% reduction in areas for illegal mining in the Yanomami Indigenous Territory from February to December of 2023 compared to the same period of the previous year.

Between February and December of 2023, Ibama carried out 310 environmental inspection actions, which resulted in:

Environmental actions: 6,907 hectares embargoed; US$ 12.2 million in fines; 245 warrants of seizure; US$ 19.2 million in seized assets; 194 warrants of destruction.

Seizure and destruction of property: 34 aircraft (planes and helicopters); 362 camps; 310 engines; 37 tonnes of cassiterite; 48 thousand liters of fuel; 32 ferries; 43 boats; 82 outboard motors; 172 pieces of communication equipment; 151 logistical structures and support ports; 3 tractors; 6 light vehicles; 45 chainsaws; 87 power generators; 6.3 kg of mercury; 838 grams of gold; 5 thousand meters of hoses; 14 firearms; 451 rounds of ammunition; various other equipment and materials.

Other environmental inspection actions: 205 inspections on airstrips in the YIT and surroundings; 31 embargoed runways; 209 tracks monitored in the surroundings of the YIT. In 2023, Ibama combated environmental crimes in 98 indigenous lands, including the YIT.

AgriBrasilis – What are the risks of oil exploration at the mouth of the Amazon River?

Rodrigo Agostinho – It is an extremely sensitive region, standing out for its vast biodiversity. There, you can find the largest mangrove areas in the world, as well as species such as the manatee, the pink river dolphin, and various migratory species. Due to its proximity to the equator and the influence of the northern Brazilian current, a robust sea current, added to the waters of the Amazon River during the flood, the region is characterized by a remarkable environmental sensitivity.

AgriBrasilis – Do you think that penalties and fines for environmental crimes in Brazil are reasonable? Why?

AgriBrasilis – The adequacy of penalties and fines for environmental crimes is a widely discussed topic. When assessing the reasonableness of these sanctions, it is crucial to take into account several factors, such as the severity of the environmental impact caused by the offender, their repeat offense, and the effectiveness of the legal system in enforcing environmental laws.

Environmental legislation frequently undergoes updates to reflect growing concerns about preserving the environment, resulting in adjustments to the penalties applied. Assessing the reasonableness of penalties for environmental crimes is complex and involves ethical, social, economic, and environmental considerations.

A balanced approach is needed, simultaneously seeking to protect the environment, punish violations proportionately, and encourage compliance with environmental laws. In many cases, the effectiveness of the legal system is crucial to ensure that penalties and fines are applied fairly and effectively, contributing to the sustainable preservation of the environment.

AgriBrasilis – Is agribusiness an “enemy” of the environmental agendas? How is Ibama’s dialogue with the sector?

Rodrigo Agostinho – Brazilian agriculture plays a crucial role in our economy, and a substantial part of it complies with the established norms. Although only 2% of rural landowners are non-compliant with environmental legislation, we face resistance in some sectors.

I am vehemently against generalizations, as the responsibility should not fall on agribusiness as a whole. We face the challenge of reconciling economic activities. I would like to highlight that we have implemented the largest Plano Safra in history and the largest low-carbon agriculture project in the world. Therefore, these initiatives are not mutually exclusive.

AgriBrasilis – If President Lula’s vetoes of Law No. 14785/2023 are overturned, what changes for Ibama in the registration and inspection of pesticides?

Rodrigo Agostinho – Law No. 14785/23 promotes updates in pesticide legislation, notably in the 1989 regulation. Eleven vetoes were applied, most of them in response to requests from Ibama. Together with Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency – Anvisa and Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock – MAPA , Ibama plays a crucial role in the registration, analysis and reanalysis of these products.

Our goal is to enable the commercialization of these products, ensuring the preservation of the population’s health, environmental quality and the safety of agricultural practices. If the vetoes are overturned, Ibama will maintain its priority commitment to the preservation of the environment and human health.



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