SAO PAULO May 6 (Reuters) - The Brazilian government published a final set of regulations on the use of its forests on Tuesday that could push farmers to restore a huge amount of illegally cleared native vegetation and encourage the use of "tradeable forest credits" to help protect the environment.
The new rules come two years after the approval of a law, known as the Forest Code, that was designed to safeguard the country's forests, although some environmentalists still think it is too timid to do the job.
Under the regulations, owners of almost 6 million rural properties in Brazil will have a year to register with an online information database called CAR, giving details of land use. The government will use the database to enforce legislation on how much native forest should be left untouched.
Commodities buyers, large food processors and retail chains can also gain access to the system to check if they are buying raw materials produced in violation of local environmental laws.
Landowners who cleared forests in excess of legal limits can now buy certificates representing portions of intact forests elsewhere where landowners have original vegetation in excess of what is required by law.
Replanting trees will also allow landowners to comply with legal requirements for maintaining a minimum forested area.
The forest credits are the main asset to be traded on a new green exchange opened in Rio de Janeiro. The exchange, BVRio, was founded by Pedro Moura Costa, former owner of EcoSecurities, which once dominated the global trading of carbon credits.
"The final regulation will strongly impact landowners in Brazil", said Mauricio Moura Costa, Pedro's brother and a BVRio director. He said the option to buy credits is simpler and cheaper than restoring vegetation on the ground.
A study published by Science magazine last month estimated that Brazilian landowners will have to restore 21 million hectares of illegally cleared forests.
The article praised the option of compliance through the forest credits, saying the credits are also a financial incentive to keep standing forests that could be destroyed legally.
Environmentalists who have been critical of the delay in establishing the Forest Code's regulations, now warn of a lack of access to the necessary computer systems.
"So far, most Amazon states have not set up the necessary mechanisms to allow for compliance," said Valmir Ortega, a consultant at Conservation International in Brazil. (Reporting by Marcelo Teixeira; editing by Peter Galloway)