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Date: Fri, 6 Jun 97 15:05:35 CDT
From: sejup@ax.apc.org
Subject: Brazil: Disaster threatens savanna lands

NEWS FROM BRAZIL supplied by SEJUP (Servico Brasileiro de Justica e Paz).
Number 275, June 05, 1997.

Disaster threatens savanna lands

From SEJUP, News from Brazil, No.275, 5 June 1997

With the increase in Brazilian agricultural production, the savanna lands (cerrados) have been used more intensively and more extensively. Recently the Brazilian Company of Agricultural and Cattle Research (EMBRAPA) has warned that this region has limits and could easily be over-used and so turn out to be an ecological disaster. The savanna region occupies a huge area in the center of the country and contains approximately 6 thousand species of plants and at least as many species of animals.

The Ministry of Agriculture has also recently alerted that such a situation could easily happen and claims that of the 80 million hectares in the savanna region only 20 million can be used for traditional crops. The spread of crops to extensive areas of the region could lead to problems ranging from largescale soil erosion and degradation to the extinction of plants and animals native to the region. The soil in the region has low fertility and so its' intensive use during successive years could easily lead to its' exhaustion. Signs of such exhaustion are visible in the Barreiras region of the State of Bahia which has been used for the intensive cultivation of soy beans during many years.

Ecologist Jose Felipe Ribeira of EMBRAPA also calls attention to the danger of vegetation clearance near the rivers

and the modification of the courses of rivers for irrigation. 'Clearance in this case is like exposing a water pipe to the sun: it dries up and splits. It is necessary to safeguard the 'piping' so as to guarantee the water supply in the region either for the use in irrigation or for domestic use' he commented.

High level of poisoning by agro-toxins.

The widespread use of agro-toxins in tomato plantations has in recent years caused the poisoning of an increasing number of people in the municipality of Apiai, State of Sao Paulo. Figures released by the local hospital showing the number of patients admitted because of poisoning by agro-toxins during the last three years indicate that such admissions are significantly higher than those of patients with diseases which by law must be reported such as tuberculosis and lepracy.

During 1996, 36 people were hospitalized because of poisoning by agro-toxins. 11 of this group were under 18 year olds. The case of 18 year old Jurandir Rodrigues Werneck is typical of the many children and adolescents who work in the tomato plantations. He first was exposed to the use of agro- toxins when he was 8 years old and frequently helped in preparing the equipment. At 12 he was using such products without protection. He recently spent a period in the local hospital due to poisoning. 46 year old Darci de Pontes Maciel was another victim of agro-toxins during 1996. He was admitted to the local hospital on December 21 last suffering from bouts of vomiting, pains in his arms and weakness in his legs after having used Furadan in a tomato plantation. His 16 year old son, Celio Roberto, was admitted to hospital four days earlier with similar symptoms.

The municipality of Apiai has a population of approximately 27 thousand inhabitants and so the above figures represent an average of 133 per 100 thousand treated last year for agro-toxin poisoning. By international standards this number is considered to be unacceptably high. The number who were poisoned and only needed to attend a doctor is not included here and is not available. 1994 figures were even worse. During that year 59 people were admitted to the local hospital because of agro-toxin poisoning.