By Stephen Eisenhammer
BRASILIA, March 7 (Reuters) - Brazil's federal environmental agency, Ibama, launched on Tuesday a centralized database to track timber from source to sale, a vital step in the fight against illegal logging in the Amazon.
The system, known as Sinaflor, allows individual trees to be electronically tagged and monitored as they are cut down and pass through the supply chain, with regulators able to check the database via their cell phones while on patrol.
With built-in satellite mapping, timber being sold as legal can be checked against the exact area of licensed commercial production it is claimed to originate from.
The system marks a step change from the current system, which environmentalists criticize as being open to fraud and human error as databases are isolated, poorly managed and cannot be easily accessed to verify documentation attached to timber.
"The new system offers a much more comprehensive process of control," Suely Araújo, president of Ibama, said in an interview in her office in Brasilia. "What's not in Sinaflor will be illegal timber."
The system is the result of four years of work and was envisioned under the forest code passed into law in 2012, which gave the federal government power to create and manage a national system to regulate the supply chain of timber.
Illegal logging is one of the greatest threats to the preservation of the Amazon. In the year until July 2016, Amazonian rainforest six times the size of Los Angeles was cut down.
That was the second rise in two years, ending a 10-year period in which deforestation was dramatically reduced. Brazil's Environment Ministry, under which Ibama falls, has vowed to reverse the trend.
Sinaflor has already been piloted in the state of Roraima and is being introduced this week in Rondonia. The states are legally obliged to use the system, and Araújo expects to have it up and running across the country by the end of the year.
"When we manage to implement it in the whole country, I think it will be a step change in terms of control," Araújo said. (Reporting by Stephen Eisenhammer; Editing by Leslie Adler)
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