Promoting forest protection and sustainable agriculture in the Amazon region is vital for local livelihoods and biodiversity, as well as for global climate regulation.

In early 2011, the state legislature of Mato Grosso, Brazil passed a controversial new state zoning law (ZSEE) that opened up 50,000 km2 of new forest areas for conversion to agriculture. In February 2012, following a high-profile civil society campaign and a public civil action suit, the law was suspended through an injunction by Mato Grosso’s State Court. The injunction states: “It is true that… there were… vices of form capable of undermining the law… However, more important is that by reason of these vices, there was impairment of natural goods and services and sustainable development, so there is a risk of impairment of human life. This is the strongest argument that… imposes the granting of the injunction.” In March 2012, Brazil’s Federal Zoning Commission ordered the state government to redraft legislation.

The Instituto Centro de Vida (ICV) – a founding partner of the Governance of Forests Initiative (GFI) – led the successful campaign by producing and distributing their analysis of the ZSEE / MT. This analysis was then used by civil society – including indigenous peoples, social movements, and researchers – as well as legislators and prosecutors in Mato Grosso. Civil society used all opportunities—such as seminars, public events, and protest letters—to denounce the new law. Meetings with more 250 people in attendance were convened.

Curbing Forest Loss

Within a month of the Governor sanctioning the new ZSEE, IMAZON, the other GFI partner in Brazil, documented a more than 500 percent spike in deforestation in Mato Grosso. The immediate public outcry, enforcement actions by the state, and the start of the state case in September, however, acted as immediate deterrents, and the rate of deforestation stabilized. However, without the decisions taken by the State Court and the Federal Zoning Commission, this increase in deforestation would likely have lasted longer, as the law effectively sanctioned past clearing and allowed new areas to be cleared.

These decisions marked an important victory for democratic decision-making and government accountability in a region where the rule of law relating to forests and agriculture is sometimes circumvented for political and economic gain.

Making Change Happen: WRI’s Role

GFI is a set of civil society organization partners in the United States, Brazil, Cameroon, and Indonesia dedicated to improving forest governance through evidence-based advocacy.

In 2010, WRI helped ICV to conduct a governance assessment of the Mato Grosso ZSEE process using a diagnostic tool, the GFI Framework of Indicators (v.1), developed by WRI, ICV, and IMAZON. ICV collected information and conducted interviews to compile a record of expert and civil society inputs into the bill’s drafting over 10 years, from 2000-2010. Armed with this evidence, ICV was able to quickly demonstrate the problems with the new law and start the outcry that led to this outcome.