According to all that I have read, NOBODY has every made sustained profits from ventures in the amazon region. In the 1920’s, Henry Ford saw the Amazon as a cheap source of rubber (for tires for his automobiles). He failed – miserably (his investment was a total loss). Later, in the 1970’s, D.K. Ludwig tried again-he tried to farm pulpwood trees (and convert them into paper) in the region-he lost (by his own reckoning) over $2 billion. Plus, scores of smaller entrepreneurs have tried to farm the jungle-they have usually gone bust as well. Now the Brazilian govt. seems heel-bent to lose even more money-they are completing the Trans-Amazonian Highway, which will connect the Atlantic and pacific coasts of S. America. This will cost them several billion dollars as well. My question is-why do people believe that vast riches await them in the Amazon rainforest? Given the concern about the loss of the rainforests, wouldn’t history be enough of a guide to just let the place alone? True, there might be gold or oil in ther-but getting it out would probably involve an economic loss>
It’s the golf course theory.
Nobody makes any money (except the builder,) when one develops a golf course from raw land. It’s too expensive to service the debt and turn a profit. So, golf courses are built, and designed to go bankrupt, losing all the money for the original investors. Somebody then buys the course for a fraction of its development costs, and makes money. It raises surounding land values, and one who speculated in that land before the course was developed can turn it into residential properties at a big profit.
Once the course is there, it benefits the entire community. Net of everything it’s worth doing in spite of the poor saps that go bankrupt at first.
Same thing with the Amazon basin. The infrastructure needs to be in place before money can be made. The infrastructure by itself cannot be implemented profitably by itself, so somebody has to take the hit to get it done.
The first thing to know is why Ford and Ludwig lost money. Was there an inherent problem with the Amazon rainforest? (Heat? Humidity? rainfall? Endemic disease? Whatever?) Was Ford’s problem (which I would have WAGged to be inadequate transportation and, perhaps, the wrong soils to raise rubber) the same as Ludwig’s problem (which I would have WAGged to be corrupt politicians and a debt and inflation riddled local economy)?
If there was some common problem that defeated each of them, has that problem been addressed, either through advances in technology or in the modest reforms that have finally made inroads into Brazilian politics.
As to Why would anyone want to try it? It is the largest area in the world that is relatively unexplored by modern society. The potential to find wealth is enormous.
As to Why don’t they just leave the rainforest alone? Because with a country nearly as large as the Continental U.S. or Australia and an immense population on the coast, developing that land gives them the opportunity to become a world power. (Of course, going broke and destroying the world ecology is also an option, but to gain much you must risk much.)
Nice analogy, Scylla…
As Scylla pointed out, the Brazilians know that in order for them to have any chance to exploit the resources (known and possible) of the Amazon Basin, they need to develop a reasonably adequate infrastructure. Generally, whenever a country invests in developing/improving its infrastructure, it tends to spur development in those areas so affected. Of course, all of this infrastructure development/improvement has to occur within a (relatively) stable political/economic climate in order for the benefits of said improvements to have any kind of impact. True, the Brazilians are taking a huge risk, but as tomndebb pointed out, the rewards are potentially great.
Think of a parallel situation in Russia. Russia has HUGE oil and natural gas reserves. Whay hasn’t Russia taken advantage of this situation (other than the current political/economic circumstances in Russia)? The problem is that many of the large reserves are located in Siberia. Due to the harsh climate and topography, the current infrastructure in place (roads, railways, pipelines, etc.) is grossly inadequate. Unless the Russians (or outside investors) are willing to take risks to develop an adequate infrastructure in Sibera, then those reserves will remain unexploited. And that seems remote (at present) until the political and economic climate of Russia improves.
Not tyring to hijack this thread (OK, maybe a little), but you also might want to consider this - what factors are responsible for a country’s current state of economic development, and more importantly, how can a country improve its current “economic lot in life”?
Thanks for the replies. From what I read, FORD’s big problem was that he tried to grow the rubber trees in plantation-style (ie. a monoculture). The local fire ants just ate them up. Ludwig actually had a daring master plan-he imported his whole plant on a barge from Japan! Apparently, he consulted the best minds in forestry around the world, and tried to avoid the mistakes of Ford. Dispite his huge investment, he had all kinds of trouble (political corruption was a big one).
I don’t think that equatorial jungles will ever be inhabitable by man-there is too much disease, it is too hot, and the torrential rains tend to wash roads away. The brazilians would be better served if they stayed on the coasts, and spent the money on housing their poor people-if their poor were better housed and fed, this would benefit their economy FAR more than blowing it in the Amazon!
<I don’t think that equatorial jungles will ever be inhabitable by man-there is too much disease, it is too hot, and the torrential rains tend to wash roads away.>
Correct me if I’m wrong, but haven’t people been living in these rainforests for thousands of years? Or are these humans who somehow don’t succumb to disease and are heat tolerant like camels? This sort of argument was used for the ‘importation’ of a ‘tropical’ workforce into the southern United States, the West Indies and northern Australia. What people know now of course is that any healthy person can live in these areas. I’m a caucasian of Scottish descent living happily (if not comfortably) in city of 70,000 similar people where we call it a cool summer if we don’t get at least one solid week of sub-forty degree days. Of course there are plenty of other cities throughout the world that experiece higher temperatures and have much higher rainfall, and there dosen’t seem to much of a problem with either heat or roads washing away.
As for disease I wasn’t aware of there being any major endemic human diseases of the Amazon basin, though I could be wrong. If there are of course why isn’t research being done to control them? Is it because because of a lack of interest due to a lack of development in the area, in which case develeopment would proabbly lead to an immediate improvement in the quality of life of the locals.
<The brazilians would be better served if they stayed on the coasts, and spent the money on housing their poor people-if their poor were better housed and fed, this would benefit their economy FAR more than blowing it in the Amazon! >
I would probably leave that to the Brazilians to decide. The United States itself was once heavily timbered and considerable effort and expense was put into clearing and cultivating it, as was the case in Europe and Australia. Just because something is initially expensive doesn’t mean that there will not be a long term benifit. In Australia, for example, the Governments invested huge amounts of money in clearing the Acacia woodlands. There will probably never be a monetary return on the investment. On the other hand it had immediate benefits in job creation and providing economic growth. The other major benefit has been an increase in the country’s agtricultural base meaning we are more able to support the growing population needed for economic growth, as well as adding a valuable export industry and adding to the countries total self suffiency in times of crisis. You can’t put put a dollar value on that sort of social return and they have benefits that cannot be achieved by pouring money into the black whole of social welfare. The same arguments undoubtedly apply to the development of the Amazon basin.
I appreciate that there is an unspoken concern about the ecological effects of all this, and it is well based. There is, unfortunately, a tendency for people in developed nations that have totally screwed up their ecological resouces by overclearing and overutilisation to assume that developing nations should pay for their sins. I don’t know what percentage of the land mass and water resources of Brazil lie in the Amazon basin, but when the United States is prepared to return a similar percentage of its landmass to ‘natural’ woodland and not harvest a comparable amount of water from even the Colorado River then its people can probably criticize. Of course the same arguments should also be applied to any other developed nation including my own. When I have the moral fortitude to sacrifice every cent I earn to compensate the Brazilian people for the lost income from the Amazon then I will criticise their development of the area. After all I am only fortunate enough to earn that money because of the development of my own wilderness.
I’ll get off my soapbox now.
For gaspode: the Amazon basin is home to numerous parasitic , bacterial, and viral diseases. One charming one is Chaga’s Disease, which you contract via the bite of a common beetle. No immediate symptoms, but 15-20 years later you drop dead-your internal organs have all rotted away!
There are lots of other nasty things-poisonous spiders, snakes, and army ants (which eat EVERYTHING in their path.
I went there several years ago, and I can ssure you that the climate is very uncomfortable. I just think that it too difficult to live thre.
On your other question, Brazil has PLENTY of open land-it has a landmass larger than the continental USA. In fact, outside of the cities, the population density is lower than that of Canada
*Originally posted by Gaspode *
True, but I don’t think the Brazilian government is building the Trans-Amazon highway in order to clear the rain forests strictly for agricultural purposes. The soil quality of the Amazon Basin will never make it a major crop-growing region comparable to those found in the temperate climates (e.g. Europe, US, Southeastern Australia). Granted, crop growing can be done in the tropics - but different techniques (i.e. “slash and burn” versus sedentary farming) are required.
See above. Again, I reiterate my belief that the Brazilians are not building the Trans-Amazon highway primarily in order to substantially increase their agricultural base. My guess is that the road (and feeder roads connecting the major Amazon Basin settlements) will be used primarily in order to exploit known/possible mineral and fossil fuel resources. The ecosystem of the Amazon Basin prohibits any large scale commercial agriculture as practiced by countries located in more temperate climates. About the only extensive agricultural activity that might see some long term benefits from instrastructure improvements are logging (naturally), cattle grazing (from cleared forest land), and commercial crop farming (crops that thrive in tropical climates). And again, because of the soil quality, different techniques need to be employed. And even if these techniques are used, the Amazon Basin will never be a major agricultural producing region comparable to those found in temperate climates (like those of Europe and United States).
The ecological concerns come in to play whenever tropical rain forests are cleared - the damage is longer lasting. Its much easier for countries situated in more temperate climates (the soil quality is generally better) to regenerate forest cover than those situated in the tropics. That is, if the United States and Europe wanted to replenish their forest cover, it would be much easier for them to do so because of the climate and soil quality. I don’t think there would be as much hand wringing by environmentalists and scientists (OK, I’m proably wrong about that) if the rain forests of the Amazon Basin weren’t so “ecologically sensitive” (easily damaged and difficult to repair via-a-vis other climate/ecological zones around the world).
Will the Trans-Amazon highway help Brazil develop? Not if its goal is to increase agricultural production (and I highly doubt that this is the reson for Brazil doing so). Personally, I only see benefits (in the long run) if fossil fuel and mineral resources are found and exploited.
<the Amazon basin is home to numerous parasitic , bacterial, and viral diseases…>
I did say major endemic diseases. Tropical Australia too has several lovely diseases, such as Ross River fever, along with a particularly disgusting rainforest bacterium that digests a persons skin slowly, a spider inflicted infection that liquefies skin and often requires limb amputation, a bat-borne virus very similar to rabies and most of the worlds most poisonous snakes, spiders, fish, mammals, spiders etc. None are what you would call major diseases or threats in the way that malaria or smallpox are. I’m sure any tropical region could ‘bost’ the same. As far as army ants eating ‘everything’, most of the stuff in "Green Hell’ has long been dispelled as myth.
<I went there several years ago, and I can ssure you that the climate is very uncomfortable. I just think that it too difficult to live thre.>
I’m sure you did, but are you a tropicalised animal yorself? I find it hard to imagine the climate any less uncomfortable than any other wet tropics location. After all people do live and work there. Do you actually have any figures on summer tempeartures and humidity?
<On your other question, Brazil has PLENTY of open land-it has a landmass larger than the continental USA. In fact, outside of the cities, the population density is lower than that of Canada>
The same of course applies to Australia and applied to the USA in the 1800’s, but we still need/needed to develop for economic growth.
<The soil quality of the Amazon Basin will never make it a major crop-growing region comparable to those found in the temperate climates (e.g. Europe, US, Southeastern Australia). Granted, crop growing can be done in the tropics - but different techniques (i.e. “slash and burn” versus sedentary farming) are required. >
Australia, India, Southeast Asia and large chunks of Africa are all tropical regions with very permanent agricultural methods, and are very productive. Rice, sugarcane and tobacco are just three tropical crops that spring to mind that don’t require ‘different’ farming techniques. Australia has the poorest soils in the world, and our areas of cleared rainforest are some of our highest production areas. The thing about the Amazon is it’s rainfall, and with any soil at all you can grow crops with fertilisers, provided you have water. Heck in parts of Asia they grow rice standing in a quarter inch of soil mixed with faeces and water.
<ecosystem of the Amazon Basin prohibits any large scale commercial agriculture as practiced by countries located in more temperate climates… And again, because of the soil quality, different techniques need to be employed. And even if these techniques are used, the Amazon Basin will never be a major agricultural producing region comparable to those found in temperate climates (like those of Europe and United States). >
Whay would anyone living in a tropical region want or need to practice temperate agriculure? There are huge amounts of foos produced in tropical Asia, Austalia, India, the West Indies, Hawaii and other wet tropical regions that tend to suggest that the wet tropics are very highly productive, major agricultural producing regions. It stands to reason that the areas of the Earth that recieve the most sunlight and water are inherently going to be the most productive if you can provide nutrients. What exactly leads you to believe that tropical agriculturitsts are required to utilise ‘special’ as opposed to regionally modified techniques? As for the ‘ecosytem’ prohibiting agriculture, it never stopped us in North America, Europe or Australia, we just eliminated the natural ecosystem.
<The ecological concerns come in to play whenever tropical rain forests are cleared - the damage is longer lasting. Its much easier for countries situated in more temperate climates (the soil quality is generally better) to regenerate forest cover than those situated in the tropics. That is, if the United States and Europe wanted to replenish their forest cover, it would be much easier for them to do so because of the climate and soil quality… (easily damaged and difficult to repair via-a-vis other climate/ecological zones around the world). >
There seems to be very little evidence for any of this. It’s one of those things that ‘Everybody’ knows but no-one seems to have any empirical evidence for. The main factor involved in returning any woodland to it’s pre-disturbance state is the age of the original trees. A forest of 2000 year old Redwood would sustain far longer term damage than a 100 year wet sclerophyll forest. Of course the biodiversity in tropical forests tends to be higher, and so it may be harder to return all species that have been removed, but if even one species is removed from either system than the damage becomes permanent and there is no point talking about long or short term damage. Even on a more human oriented scale, the absence of trees capable of bearing nesting hollows for birds or squirrels means that a forest in temperate regions, being slower growing, will take longer to return to something looking like pristine foest than a fast growing tropical forest. Tropical forests, being regularly subjected to disturbance both natural and anthropogenic are in fact harder to damage and faster to self-repair than temperate forests. If you’re just talking about ‘forest cover’, in terms of canopy then you couldn’t be more wrong. A plantation of fast growing tropical trees such as Paulownia, some Acacias or even god-forbid bamboo will give in excess of 25% canopy cover in under 36 months. Theres no way that any temperate woody species will match that growth rate. Of course it stands to reason - more sunlight, higher temps, more water= faster plant growth.
Of couse all this is acadamic, no industrialised country is about to return 25% of it’s landmass to natural woodland so why should we criticise Brazil by saying we could if we wanted to.
<Will the Trans-Amazon highway help Brazil develop? Not if its goal is to increase agricultural production >
I can’t see how it could fail to do so. Pretty as rainforest is to look at, it doesn’t do jack fo a country’s development unless the removal of it completely detroys the tourist trade.
<my belief that the Brazilians are not building the Trans-Amazon highway primarily in order to substantially increase their agricultural base. My guess is that the road will be used primarily in order to exploit known/possible mineral and fossil fuel resources.>
And what is wrong with that? Haven’t we exploited our mineral resources and put in the infrastructure to do this? Why should Brazil be asked to pay because we have already destroyed much of our own natural heritage by doing exactly what they are attempting to do now?
Basically I think we’re too keen to say that we’re sitting pretty thanks to our exploitation of the natural environment when we ‘didn’t know any better’, and that countries like Brazil, who haven’t had the chance to develop will have to bear our cross for us with no mention of compensation.
*Originally posted by Gaspode *
Agreed…I’m not saying that there aren’t any productive agricultrual regions in the tropics. It’s just that the tropical rain forest regions aren’t as productive relative to others that aren’t as ecologically sensitive.
Is this in Northern Australia (area situated in the tropics)? Just curious - I wasn’t aware that tropical Australia was a major agricultural producing region. Also, is it sustained by intensive agriculture and proper land management (soil erosion measures and the like)?
Right - but without proper land management, you can’t clear the forests and apply fertilizer and expect it to be productive farmland. It’ll all wash away.
Sorry, I wasn’t implying that they should (or could). I was trying to point out that one needs to take in consideration climate/environmental factors before using the appropriate agricutltural methods. They’ll differ depending on the such things as soil quality, available water, and such.
If you provide nutrients and you can apply appropriate land management techniques. Again, if you cut down the trees, your erosion rates will increase. It dosen’t matter how much fertilizer you use if you can’t keep it in place. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it’s much easier to grow crops in regions where the soil quality is higher and the land is easier to manage properly.
Special in the sense you need to be more sensitive to environmental conditions. Heavy rains mean you can’t indiscrimantly cut trees without creating erosion problems. That means you’ll need to maintain a greater percentage of forest cover. As a consequence, you’ll have less available land to farm. In addition, on needs be careful how often you use a particular plot of land due to the poor soil quality - your fallow periods will be longer before the soil returns to quality. True, fertilizers will help increase yeilds per plot of land, but one needs to apply effective land management methods in order for fertilizers to be effective.
True, but it was a different ecosystem, much less sensitive than the clearing of the tropical rain forests.
I agree - but it depends on what you mean by development. I hope I wasn’t implying that NO productive agricultural activity would occur - I apologize if my response came across that way. I’m just saying that I find it highly unlikely that the ONLY reason that the Brazilians are building the highway is to open up the Amazon Basin strictly for agricutlural purposes.
I find it more likely that (from an economic development perspective) it seems more reasonable that they would do so in order for them to exploit the mineral/fossil resources needed to spur development in their manufacturing/industrial sectors. Portions of the Amazon Basin becoming agriculturally productive would be a side benefit.
There’s nothing wrong with Brazil exploiting their mineral/fossil fuel resources - in fact, I see it as a good thing. The Brazilians realize that in order for their country to develop economically, they need the required infrasctructure to exploit those mineral/fossil resources. More power to them…
And I heartily agree with you. If the Brazilians are tyring to exploit the Amazon Basin for mineral/fossil fuel resources, then it holds great potential for Brazil’s future economic development. That will spur further advances in their industrial/manufacturing sector and lessen their reliance on the agricultural sector for jobs/income.
Simply not true. As an example (Referring to PNG highlands) : “Erosion from these peaks has produced wonderful soils…Today the highland valleys of New Guinea support some 1614 people per square kilometre, the highest rural population densities anywhere on earth” Dr. T. Flannery 1998
Certainly is in tropical Australia. Areas from Mackay to Innisfail are under sugarcane and dairy, while the really wet areas around Tully and the Atherton tableland are under cultivation to coffee, tobacco and several other crops. Large areas of monsoonal NT are under rice. I guess it’s sustainable in the sense that we westerners like to use. It’s been under cultivation for 150+ years now and still highly productive. Whether it is or not is relatively irrelevant to my point anyway, which was that developed nations have stuffed up so many areas irreparably before discovering a sustainable method that I don’t think we should condemn Brazil for trying the same thing. As for northern Australia, calorie for calorie and Tonne for Tonne it would be by far the largest net food producing area in Australia, simply because there’s so much of it that isn’t desert or city, but remember that virtually none of it is rainforest.
Like so much of Asia has, or blow away like the mid-western USA in the 1930’s. I appreciate what you’re saying, in fact my job is to try to encourage sustainable agriculture, I simply feel that Brazilians have the right to develop this area and make their own mistakes. By the way there are of course huge areas of productive land in Asia (mostly under rice) that are ex-rainforest that don’t wash away, and the same hold true for areas in Australia. Trees are good at holding soil, but if grass cover can be maintained (and it can be in high rainfall areas) then it achieves much the same end.
All true of course, and equally true of the rest of the world. It was easier to grow crops in Europe and North America on natural prairies and would have caused less erosion, but it never stopped anyone cutting down the forests to grow cattle and crops.
I tend to agree with your general thrust (though not specifically, see my response to your third point). The need to use management appropriate to the region is vital anywhere, as they discovered in Oklahoma in the '30s. I simply fail to see why any of this should in any way preclude the development of the Amazon basin, which is what** egkelly** was stating.
Since you read my previous post concerning the relative physical sensitivities of temperate forest and tropical rainforest I assume you mean politically sensitive. It is this of course, but I don’t see myself as having the right to foist my political sensibilities on someone on the other side of the world without compensating her.
So do I. I’ve never yet known a human to do anything for only one reason. Railroads, telegraph lines and roads weren’t hacked across continental Australia and USA solely for agricultural purposes, and I cant see a problem with that.
In much the same way that most of the forests in Europe and England in particular were cut down for iron production at the beginning of the industrial revolution, giving more land to feed an expanding urban workforce at the same time?
We seem to be in wholehearted agreement on this basically. The whole discussion between us seems to have stemmed from my viewing the development from a purely agricultural standpoint, which is apparently wrong. Not surprising since I know next to nothing of Brazil aside from the agricultural side. So in response to the OP - Why develop the Amazon? Because human beings have a need to better themselves, and in Brazil’s case they seem to feel they can achieve this by developing their unexploited natural resources.
*Originally posted by Gaspode *
I stand corrected. I would be interested if you could provide more cites regarding the agricultural capibilities of tropical rain forests. I guess I have to learn that there’s sometimes as much propoganda and misinformation in academia as in other areans. Chalk it up to the perpetual fighting of ignorance!!
And I thank you for enlightening me on the agricultural potential/capabilities of tropical rain forests. I see Brazil’s development path similar to that undertaken by other developed nations - such as the US, Australia, Japan, etc. Building the infrastructure in the Amazon Basin is a necessary step in staying on that development path.
Exactly - good debating with you…