BRASILIA, Brazil – On Dec. 6, the Brazilian Senate approved the proposed Forest Code revisions, which will change agricultural legislation and allow Brazil to continue as a leader in environmental preservation while maintaining high levels of agricultural exports.

"It is undoubtedly the most restrictive and rigorous land-ownership legislation in the world," said senator Katia Abreu, president of the Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock (CNA). "For example, the new code mandates that all rural Amazonian land owners must preserve 80 percent of their property as untouched land reserves."

Representing more than five million Brazilian farmers, CNA estimates if the Forest Code revisions did not become law, Brazil could lose up to 20 percent of the land currently used for farming and livestock. "This could result in more expensive food, a rise in inflation and fewer jobs for Brazilians, as well as a decrease in exports and a significant drop in Brazil's GDP," CNA said.

CNA recognizes the final text is the best outcome possible after a comprehensive democratic debate. "It is a step forward, especially given Brazil's need to regulate food production and avoid deforestation,” Abreu said.

Before this new revision, farmers could not obtain funding to initiate, maintain or grow their food production. The new code will regularize the farmers' situation without granting amnesty to those who deforested illegally before 2008. This law requires landholders to stay in strict compliance with environmental changes, and will subsequently convert their penalties into environmental restoration services that the farmers will be required to carry out.

The new law aims to consolidate the land used for farming without increasing deforestation, CAN said. The legal reserve requirement remains intact, stating that landowners must preserve 80 percent of the their holdings in areas such as the Amazon rainforest, and 20-35 percent in other parts of Brazil.

Approved by the House of Representatives last May, the text also ensures the preservation of vegetation growing on hills, mountains and along riverbanks – known as the Areas of Permanent Preservation (APPs).

Today, 27.7 percent of Brazilian territory is used for agriculture and livestock, while 61 percent of the country consists of preserved native vegetation.

"The environment is an essential part of agriculture. We are more dependent on nature than any other economic activity, and we want our forests to remain standing," Abreu said.

Agriculture and livestock account for 22.4 percent of Brazil's GDP and employ one-third of the country's workforce, who produce food, fiber and biofuels. Brazil is the world's largest exporter of beef, poultry, coffee, sugar and orange juice.