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  WWF 30 Aug 06
Deforestation rates slashed in Paraguay

Asuncion, Paraguay: Thanks to stringent national legislation prohibiting the transformation and conversion of forested areas in eastern Paraguay, massive deforestation rates have been curbed.

Before Paraguay's Zero Deforestation Law came into force in December 2004, the South American nation had the second highest deforestation rate in the world.

But through satellite monitoring, WWF has verified that deforestation in the Upper Parana Atlantic Forest has decreased significantly from between 88,000?170,000 hectares annually before the implementation of the law, to a current level of approximately 16,700 hectares annually--a reduction of more than 85 per cent.

"At a time when governments are getting into the debate on the role of deforestation in greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, Paraguay is already setting an important precedent in tackling the problem," said Leonardo Lacerda of WWF's Global Forests Programme, while presenting the Paraguayan government with a WWF Leaders For A Living Planet Award for its environmental achievements.

The Upper Parana Atlantic Forest is one of the world's most ecologically important regions, known for its rich biodiversity and high level of species endemism--over 90 per cent of all amphibians and 50 per cent of all plants here are found nowhere else on Earth.

But the Upper Parana is also one of the world's most endangered tropical forests. In many areas over 95 per cent of the natural forest has been lost as a result of agriculture expansion, especially for soy production and cattle ranching.

Not only did WWF favour the passage of Paraguay's Zero Deforestation Law, but worked with partners to implement a "social pact" with agriculture producers in the Upper Parana Atlantic Forest.

The pact, which has been signed by Paraguayan President Nicanor Duarte Frutos, agricultural businesses and local governments is aimed at conserving and restoring the forest.

To achieve this, WWF is focusing its efforts on the development of viable economic alternatives, and working at the local and national levels with decision makers for the sustainable use of natural resources.

"Paraguay provides an example and an inspiration for those countries fighting against deforestation all around the world, and we hope that governments of neighbouring countries, particularly Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil, will follow with similar steps to sharply reduce the deforestation of valuable natural habitats and the carbon emissions associated with them," added Lacerda.

"Paraguay is demonstrating that expansion of agriculture and exports can take place without necessarily encroaching on valuable natural forests."

Data from Oil World indicates that the deforestation law has not affected soy production in Paraguay, the world's fourth largest soybean exporter. Production has actually increased in spite of the law. In the 2004-05 season, production was 3.9 million tons, up from 3.5 million tons in the 2003-04 season. For the 2005-06 season, production is likely to be 4.2 million tons.

WWF urges the Paraguayan government to extend the law until such time as measures for responsible soy cultivation and sustainable forest management are developed together with a commitment to restore priority forest areas.

WWF recognises the success of the Zero Deforestation Law, and is concerned by mounting pressure from the farming lobby and loggers to not extend the law beyond its current December 2006 expiration date.

"The deforestation law represents a great beginning for the conservation of Paraguay's Atlantic Forest, but if it is not extended, all of the conservation that has been accomplished will be put at risk," stressed Lacerda. "An extension of this law will help guarantee the development of long-term sustainable agriculture, provide jobs and improve the quality of life in rural communities while at the same time protect Paraguay's unique biodiversity."

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