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Is Brazil now in control of deforestation in the Amazon?
Skip to main content. Land Use and Agriculture in the Amazon Despite deforestation, the Amazon basin rainforest is the largest tropical forest in the world. In addition, the summed effect of deforestation, degradation, and poor harvesting and slash-and-burn agricultural practices puts millions of hectares of forests at high fire risk. Forest exploitation and conversion have not brought true development, employment opportunities, better income distribution for local populations or environmental benefits to the region.
Currently, about 45 percent of the population of the Brazilian Amazon has income below the poverty line. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon results from the complex interaction of many direct and indirect drivers such as mining, logging, subsidies for cattle ranching, investment in infrastructure, land tenure issues, low law enforcement and the high price of grains and meat. In recent years, however, large-scale agriculture has experienced sizeable expansion and become the newest driver of deforestation in the region.
Deforestation and Land Use Change
In the nine states of the Brazilian Amazon, the area under intensive mechanized agriculture grew by more than 3. Particularly during this period, the greatest increase in area planted to soybean was in Mato Grosso, the Brazilian state with the highest deforestation rate 40 percent of new deforestation. By displacing cattle ranchers, soybean production has pushed the Amazon deforestation frontier further north. Between and , the area deforested for cropland and mean annual soybean price in the year of forest clearing were directly correlated Morton et al.
Forces driving the expansion of mechanized agriculture include lower transportation costs as a result of improved local infrastructure roads, railroads, ports and waterways ; higher international soybean prices; increased soybean demand from European markets because of the mad-cow disease bovine spongiform encephalopathy ; and rapid economic growth in China 9 percent per year Nepstad, Stickler and Almeida, , which consumes great quantities of poultry and pork fed with soybean.
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Soybean can also be used for biofuel. The Brazilian Government has declared the obligatory addition of 2 percent biofuel into petroleum diesel starting in In , the proportion will increase to 8 percent, increasing biofuel consumption to 2. This policy, together with the announced interest of other countries in alternative fuels, has encouraged local producers to increase their soybean plantation area. About 2 million hectares will be needed just to meet the new Brazilian demand. In addition, Brazil has built up technological expertise in ethanol production from sugar cane.
Although the increased demand for soybean and the growth of biofuels represent excellent opportunities for Brazil, the challenge is to increase production without encouraging new deforestation. The Ministry of Agriculture states that the total area of already deforested and arable land in Brazil is more than enough to increase soybean plantations without need for further deforestation. For instance, the national production of ethanol could be doubled by using only 3.
However, care must be taken to prevent new deforestation caused by displacement of other economic activities such as cattle ranching, which has already occurred. When biofuels increase demands for crops, prices will rise, farms will expand and displaced ranchers will clear new lands, usually in forested areas where land prices are still low.
New occupation of areas that used to be remote, and which are associated with weak governmental presence and land tenure problems, tends to be chaotic. Agribusiness has been one of the strongest forces for the implementation of new infrastructure in the region, especially roads. The current governmental infrastructure plan for the Amazon includes road paving, new hydropower projects and construction of waterways and ports. It has the potential to change drastically the social, economic and environmental situation of the Amazon.
Paved roads can generate economic and social benefits, but also deforestation and forest degradation if not accompanied by regional planning. The promise of a new highway Br in the central Amazon has already taken many new sawmills to the region and redirected migration. Seeking sustainable development in this particular region, civil society promoted a popular movement for participatory regional planning.
State and federal governments adopted the plan, making a commitment for further actions and public policies associated with Br This initiative demonstrated the influence that well organized local civil society can have. Regional planning demands synergy among public policies. In this regard, decision-makers can benefit from predictive models, which can show, among other things, trends in the forces of deforestation depending on different political choices. For instance, based on the historical relationship between deforestation and roads in the Brazilian Amazon, Soares-Filho et al.
The output is projected scenarios of Amazon development up to According to the model, in this scenario 40 percent of Amazon forests would be lost between and closed-canopy forest formation reduced from 5. The deforestation facilitated by road pavement and low law enforcement could also dramatically increase the annual net carbon emissions from the Amazon. The model predicts that under the business-as-usual scenario 32 billion tonnes of carbon would be emitted by equivalent to four years of current global annual emissions , contrasted with 15 billion tonnes of carbon under the governance scenario.
Soares-Filho et al. By , about mammal species 30 percent would lose more than 40 percent of the forests within their distribution ranges under the business-as-usual scenario, compared with 39 species 10 percent under the governance scenario. Protected areas assume an important role in forest and biodiversity conservation. For instance, almost 40 percent of mammal distribution ranges are within protected areas Azevedo-Ramos et al. Impacts of roads would be felt in 89 indigenous lands, 22 protected areas and 68 priority areas for biodiversity conservation — in 28 percent of protected areas overall IPAM, The analysis of Soares-Filho et al.
On the other hand, protected areas associated with a governance scenario could avoid one-third of the deforestation projected to occur by under the business-as-usual scenario. Most of the recommendations included in the governance scenario of Soares-Filho et al.
The federal government now acknowledges that reducing deforestation is not exclusively the concern of the Ministry of Environment, as it was historically believed to be. The government has established a committee involving 14 ministries to design and execute a plan for reducing Amazon deforestation. Monitoring and control of illegal deforestation have been particularly intensified.
The reports are posted on the Internet www. Collaborative monitoring activities shared by the federal police and the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources IBAMA resulted in the arrest of more than people involved in illegal deforestation or logging in and Moreover, 20 million hectares of new federal protected areas were established in those two years in the Brazilian Amazon about 10 percent of the total.
Currently, 48 percent of the Brazilian Amazon about million hectares is in some kind of protected area see Figure. These actions, together with a decrease in international soybean prices, have reduced Amazon deforestation by 52 percent since INPE, About 20 percent of its energy production comes from renewable sources wood, charcoal, sugar-cane derivatives and others , and if hydroelectric energy is included this percentage goes up to around 60 percent.
By reducing deforestation since , Brazil has avoided the emission of approximately million tonnes of carbon. Strengthening the social, environmental and economic importance of forests, a new public forest management law was established in It stipulates that all public forests should remain public and retain their forest cover. They can be transformed into protected areas, allocated to traditional populations or sustainably used for economic purposes under forest concessions.
The same law created the Brazilian Forest Service, which has the responsibility to manage and protect the public forests. The law also established the National Fund for Forest Development, which supports forest-based activities such as research, capacity building and economic activities related to forest management. Another important change was the decentralization of forest management and monitoring, previously under federal government responsibility.