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Rate of deforestation in Amazon slowing

Brazilia, Brazil - Deforestation rates in the Amazon are declining, but ranching, logging and agriculture activities are still responsible for continued degradation of the world's largest rainforest, according to data released by the Brazilian government.

The new data -- covering the period from 1 August 2005 to 1 August 2006 -- estimates an 11 per cent reduction in deforestation rates.

According to WWF-Brazil, a number of factors may explain the decrease, including a reduction in the price of soy, Brazil's most important agricultural commodity, which may have reduced the incentive to cut down the Amazon to make way for new plantations.

"The decline is encouraging, but we are not out of the woods yet," said WWF-Brazil's CEO Denise Hamú. "More concerted action is required to integrate the government environmental and development policies in order to really crack down on illegal activities that are having an adverse effect on the forest. Encouraging policies that foster a sustainable forestry-based regional economy should be pursued."

Carried out in the right way, sustainable forestry activities can generate income, ensure a plentiful supply of timber in the long term, and ensure that forests continue to be ecologically functional. That is why many of WWF's activities are designed to improve forestry practices, in addition to seeking more protection.

WWF is part of the Amazon Region Protected Areas (ARPA) initiative -- a partnership between the Brazilian government, the World Bank, Global Environment Facility, German Development Bank and the Brazilian Biodiversity Fund -- which has helped create some 20 million hectares of protected areas in the Amazon.

Improved land tenure in the agricultural frontier has been a key element in the reduction of deforestation rates. The setting aside of indigenous reserves and ARPA are two fundamental and complementary tools enabling the government to assert its ownership over public lands in the Brazilian Amazon against land grabbers and speculators. "Through ARPA, we are creating parks and reserves in areas that risk being rapidly deforested in the impetus of the expansion of the agricultural frontier. But the positive impact is double: we are not only ensuring conserving biodiversity in perpetuity in these areas, but we are also bringing order to the land tenure chaos that leads to uncontrolled deforestation," explained Cláudio Maretti, Co-ordinator of WWF-Brazil's Programme on Protected Areas and Support to ARPA (Amazon).

According to experts, around 17 per cent of the natural vegetation in the Brazilian Amazon has already been devastated by development, logging and farming.