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Is cocoa a remedy for Amazon deforestation?

MEDICILANDIA, Brazil -- A chocolate factory nestled deep in the Amazonian jungle in Brazil's northern state of Para offers a sweet antidote to rainforest deforestation.

In many areas of the Amazon, cocoa and other crop production have historically contributed to deforestation as farmers wear out the soil and cut further into virgin forest to obtain fresh land for cultivation.

But cooperatives like the one at Medicilandia on the Trans-Amazonian highway aim to preserve biodiversity by replanting on deforested areas in the shade of the canopy, returning cocoa production to its sustainable roots.

“For decades, the Trans-Amazonian has been synonymous with crimes against the environment. We gave an image of Amazon destruction that we now want to change with this initiative,” said cooperative President Ademir Venturim.

The bright-yellow “Cacauway” chocolate factory in Medicilandia takes cocoa from 40 small-time producers in the area.

“For us, the factory is an experiment which can be replicated throughout the Amazon region, by promoting Amazon products,” Venturim told AFP.

“By creating jobs and revenue, we are fostering the economic, social and environmental development sought by Rio+20,” he said, referring to the June 20-22 U.N. summit on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro.

Deforestation will feature strongly at the Rio gathering, which aims to steer the planet toward a greener economy that recognizes the need to protect and restore vital natural resources such as the Amazon rainforest.

Deforestation — caused by logging, agriculture and development — in the tropics accounts for up to 20 percent of global emissions of carbon dioxide, making it the second largest driver of global warming after the burning of fossil fuels.

Amazonia, which environmentalists describe as the “Lungs of our planet” because it produces roughly 20 percent of the Earth's oxygen through photosynthesis, accounts for nearly half of those emissions.

Experts are especially alarmed because the impact cuts both ways: climate change threatens to boost the rate at which the Amazon's delicately balanced rain forest dries up, and could push it to a tipping point beyond which recovery would become difficult or impossible.

The U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that rising global temperatures could transform much of South America's rain forests into semi-arid savannah-like areas within five decades.

Located in the southwest of Para, one of the Brazilian states hardest hit by deforestation from agriculture and logging interests, the “Cacauway” chocolate plant began small by marketing its products in local shops.

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