New Brazil president gives farm ministry powers on indigenous land

SAO PAULO/BRASILIA: New Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro issued an executive order on Wednesday making the Agriculture Ministry responsible for deciding on lands claimed by indigenous people, in a victory for agribusiness that will likely enrage environmentalists.
The temporary decree, which will expire unless it is ratified within 120 days by Congress, strip s power over land claim decisions from indigenous affairs agency FUNAI.
It hands it to the Agriculture Ministry, which will now be responsible for “identification, delimitation, demarcation and registration of lands traditionally occupied by indigenous people.”
The move is likely to stoke concern among environmentalists and rights groups that the far-right new president, who took office on Tuesday, will open up the vast Amazon rainforest and other ecologically sensitive areas of Brazil to greater commercial exploitation.
The executive order also moves the Brazilian Forestry Service, which promotes the sustainable use of forests and is currently linked to the Environment Ministry, under the control of the Agriculture Ministry.
Additionally, the decree states that the Agriculture Ministry will be in charge of the management of public forests.
Bolsonaro, who enjoys strong support from Brazil’s powerful agribusiness sector, said during his campaign he was considering such a move, arguing that currently protected lands should be opened to commercial activities.
Brazil’s 900,000 indigenous people make up less than 1 per cent of the population, but live on lands that stretch for 106.7 million hectares (264 million acres), or 12.5 per cent of the national territory.
Tereza Cristina Dias, Bolsonaro’s new Agriculture Minister, used to be the head of the farm caucus in Brazil’s Congress, which has long pushed for an end to land measures that it argues hold back the agricultural sector.
Bartolomeu Braz, the president of the national chapter of Aprosoja, a major grain growers association, cheered Wednesday’s move. — Reuters