Page last updated at 15:34 GMT, Thursday, 15 May 2008 16:34 UK

Amazon 'needs economic chances'

Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest
Brazil faces the challenge of balancing use and protection of the Amazon

The Brazilian minister in charge of managing the Amazon rainforest has said deforestation can only be halted if people are given economic chances.

Planning minister Roberto Mangabeira Unger told the BBC there was a middle way between preserving the Amazon as a sanctuary and "predatory" exploitation.

Meanwhile, a founder of Brazil's Green Party, Carlos Minc, has been named as the country's new environment minister.

He succeeds Marina Silva, who resigned after becoming isolated over policy.

Environmental groups reacted with dismay to the departure on Tuesday of Ms Silva, a staunch defender of the Amazon.

Brazil faces huge challenges in balancing protection of the Amazon with calls for the rainforest to be used for agriculture and energy production.

Senior officials say they are determined to stick with the Sustainable Amazon Plan - based on large-scale development of roads, waterways and dams.

Mr Mangabeira, in charge of the plan, told the BBC's Fergus Nicoll in Manaus that Brazil would prove that economic development and preservation could be achieved side-by-side.

"Our fundamental commitment to sustainable development in the Amazon remains unshaken and we are determined to go forward now and demonstrate to the world how preservation, defence and development can in fact be reconciled in the Amazon," he said.

He warned that without economic opportunities, the 25 million people living in the Amazon would turn to activities resulting in deforestation.

'Lot of pressure'

New environment minister Carlos Minc is currently the environment secretary in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

Our correspondent says that while he is respected for his environmental work in the south of the country, he has little Amazon experience.

Carolos Minc - file photo
Carlos Minc takes on the job after being Rio's state environment minister

His new post will pit him against powerful federal ministries and agencies, our correspondent says, and without the personal support of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva he may struggle to ensure environmental issues are at the centre of Amazon policy.

Environmentalists reacted cautiously to news of Mr Minc's appointment, saying he had a good track record in Rio de Janeiro.

"He has been tackling serious environmental problems, but those linked to urban areas, completely different to those Marina Silva was dealing with," Denise Hamu, head of the WWF in Brazil, told BBC Brasil.

Amazon projects

Ms Silva had blamed the increasing deforestation of the Amazon on Brazilian cattle ranchers and farmers.

Marina Silva (File photo Oct 2004)
Marina Silva grew up in the Amazonian state of Acre

She unsuccessfully opposed several government infrastructure projects in the Amazon rainforest, including two big hydroelectric dams on the River Madeira, and a major new road.

According to Brazilian media reports, she was also believed to be dismayed at the recent appointment of another minister to act as a coordinator for the government's newly announced strategy for the Amazon.

The government's decision to authorise genetically modified grains, and the construction of a new nuclear power plant, also went against the minister's environmental concerns.


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