Deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest

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Timelapse of deforestation in the state of Rondonia in Brazil, from 2000-2010.
The Amazon River flowing through the rainforest.

The main sources of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest are human settlement and development of the land.[1] In the nine years from 1991 to 2000, the most area of Amazon rainforest cleared rose from 415,000 to 587,000 km²; comparable to the total land area of Spain, Madagascar or Manitoba. Most of this lost forest has been replaced with pasture for cattle.[2] In February 2008, the Brazilian government announced that the rate at which the Amazon rainforest was being destroyed had been accelerating noticeably during the time of the year that it normally slows: In just the last five months of 2007, more than 3,200 sq. kilometers, an area equivalent to the state of Rhode Island, was deforested.[3] The Amazon rainforest continues to shrink; recently, the rate of deforestation has been slowing, with the 2011 figures showing the slowest rate of deforestation since records have been kept.[4]

History[edit]

The Chief Raoni, one of the main opponents of deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.

In the pre-Columbian era, parts of Amazonas were a densely populated open agricultural landscape. After the European invasion in the 16th century, with the hunt for gold, western diseases, slavery and later and the rubber boom, Amazonas was depopulated and the forest grew larger.[5]

Prior to the 1970s, access to the forest's interior was highly restricted, and aside from partial clearing along rivers the forest remained intact.[6] Deforestation accelerated greatly following the opening of highways deep into the forest, such as the Trans-Amazonian highway in 1972.

In parts of the Amazon the poor soil had made plantation-based agriculture unprofitable. The key turning point in deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon was when colonists began to establish farms within the forest during the 1960s. Their farming system was based on crop cultivation and the Slash-and-burn method. However, the colonists were unable to successfully manage their fields and the crops due to the loss of soil fertility and weed invasion due to this method.[7] In indigenous areas of the Peruvian Amazon, such as the Urarina's Chambira River Basin,[8] the soils are productive for only relatively short periods of time, therefore causing indigenous horticulturalists like the Urarina to move to new areas and clear more and more land.[7] Amazonian colonization was ruled by cattle raising because ranching required little labor, generated decent profits, and awarded social status in the community. Additionally, grass is able to grow in the poor Amazon soil. However, the abundance of cattle ranching led to extensive deforestation, causing extensive environmental damage.[9] An estimated 30% of the deforestation is due to the actions of small farmers; although small farmers possess smaller total land area than medium and large ranchers, who possess 89% of the Legal Amazon’s private land, the intensity of deforestation within the areas that they inhabit is greater than that within the areas occupied by the larger ranchers. This emphasizes the importance of using previously cleared land for agricultural use, rather the typical easiest political path of distributing still-forested areas.[10] In the Brazilian Amazon, the proportion of small farmers to large landholders changes frequently with economic and demographic pressures.[10]

In 2009, Peruvian President Alan García pushed through by executive decree Law 840[11] (also known as "Ley de la Selva," "the Law of the Jungle" or simply the "Forest Law"), which allowed the sale of uncultivated Amazon land under state ownership to private companies, without term limits on the property rights.[12] While the law was promoted as a "reforestation" measure, critics claimed the privatization measure would in fact encourage further deforestation of the Amazon,[13] while surrendering the nation's rights over natural resources to foreign investors and leaving uncertain the fate of Peru's indigenous people, who do not typically hold formal title to the forestlands on which they subsist.[11][14] Law 840 met widespread resistance and was eventually repealed by Peru's legislature for being unconstitutional.[11]

Causes of Deforestation[edit]

Fires and deforestation in Rondônia
One consequence of forest clearing in the Amazon: thick smoke that hangs over the forest

Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest can be attributed to many different factors. The rainforest is mainly seen as a resource for cattle pasture, valuable hardwoods, housing space, farming space (especially for soybeans), road works (such as highways and smaller roads) and medicines. The annual rate of deforestation in the Amazon region increased from 1990 to 2003 due to factors at local, national, and international levels.[6] 70% of formerly forested land in the Amazon, and 91% of land deforested since 1970, is used for livestock pasture.[15][16] In addition, Brazil is currently the second-largest global producer of soybeans after the United States, mostly for export and biodiesel production;[17] as soybean prices rise, soy farmers push northwards into forested areas of the Amazon. As stated in Brazilian legislation, clearing land for crops or fields is considered an ‘effective use’ of land and is the beginning towards land ownership.[6] Cleared property is also valued at 5–10 times more than forested land; for that reason, more valuable to the owner whose ultimate objective is resale. The needs of soy farmers have been used to validate many of the controversial transportation projects that are currently developing in the Amazon.[6] The first two highways: the Belém-Brasília (1958) and the Cuiaba-Porto Velho (1968) were the only federal highways in the Legal Amazon to be paved and passable year-round before the late 1990s. These two highways are said to be “at the heart of the ‘arc of deforestation’”, which at present is the focal point area of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. The Belém-Brasília highway attracted nearly two million settlers in the first twenty years. The success of the Belém-Brasília highway in opening up the forest was reenacted as paved roads continued to be developed, unleashing the irrepressible spread of settlement. The completions of the roads were followed by a wave of resettlement; these settlers had a significant effect on the forest as well.[18]

Scientists using NASA satellite data have found that clearing for mechanized cropland has recently become a significant force in Brazilian Amazon deforestation. This change in land use may alter the region's climate. Researchers found that in 2003, the then peak year of deforestation, more than 20 percent of the Mato Grosso state’s forests were converted to cropland. This finding suggests that the recent cropland expansion in the region is contributing to further deforestation. In 2005, soybean prices fell by more than 25 percent and some areas of Mato Grosso showed a decrease in large deforestation events, although the central agricultural zone continued to clear forests. However, deforestation rates could return to the high levels seen in 2003 as soybean and other crop prices begin to rebound in international markets. This new driver of forest loss suggests that the rise and fall of prices for other crops, beef, and timber may also have a significant impact on future land use in the region, according to the study. [2]

In 1996, the Amazon was reported to have shown a 34% increase in deforestation since 1992.[19] The mean annual deforestation rate from 2000 to 2005 (22,392 km² per year) was 18% higher than in the previous five years (19,018 km² per year).[20] In Brazil, the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (INPE, or National Institute of Space Research) produces deforestation figures annually. Their deforestation estimates are derived from 100 to 220 images taken during the dry season in the Amazon by the Landsat satellite, also may only consider the loss of the Amazon rainforest biome – not the loss of natural fields or savannah within the rainforest. According to INPE, the original Amazon rainforest biome in Brazil of 4,100,000 km² was reduced to 3,403,000 km² by 2005 – representing a loss of 17.1%.[21]

Period[22] Estimated remaining forest cover
in the Brazilian Amazon (km²)
Annual forest
loss (km²)
Percent of 1970
cover remaining
Total forest loss
since 1970 (km²)
Pre–1970 4,100,000
1977 3,955,870 21,130 96.5% 144,130
1978–1987 3,744,570 21,130 91.3% 355,430
1988 3,723,520 21,050 90.8% 376,480
1989 3,705,750 17,770 90.4% 394,250
1990 3,692,020 13,730 90.0% 407,980
1991 3,680,990 11,030 89.8% 419,010
1992 3,667,204 13,786 89.4% 432,796
1993 3,652,308 14,896 89.1% 447,692
1994 3,637,412 14,896 88.7% 462,588
1995 3,608,353 29,059 88.0% 491,647
1996 3,590,192 18,161 87.6% 509,808
1997 3,576,965 13,227 87.2% 523,035
1998 3,559,582 17,383 86.8% 540,418
1999 3,542,323 17,259 86.4% 557,677
2000 3,524,097 18,226 86.0% 575,903
2001 3,505,932 18,165 85.5% 594,068
2002 3,484,538 21,394 85.0% 615,462
2003 3,459,291 25,247 84.4% 640,709
2004 3,431,868 27,423 83.7% 668,132
2005 3,413,022 18,846 83.2% 686,978
2006 3,398,913 14,109 82.9% 701,087
2007 3,387,381 11,532 82.6% 712,619
2008 3,375,413 11,968 82.3% 724,587
2009[4] 3,367,949 7,464 82.2% 732,051
2010[4] 3,360,949 7,000 82.0% 739,051
2011[4] 3,354,711 6,238 81.8% 745,289
2012[4] 3,350,140 4,571 81.7% 749,860
2013[4] 3,344,297 5,843 81.6% 755,703

One of the most important causes of deforestation in the Amazon is the cultivation of agricultural commodities such as soya, which is used mainly to feed animals. Research conducted by Leydimere Oliveira et al. however has shown that the more rainforest is logged in the Amazon, the less precipitation reaches the area and so the lower the yield per hectare becomes. It can thus be stated that for countries as Brazil, there is no economic gain to be made by logging and selling trees and using the logged land for pastoral purposes.[23]

Future of the Amazon Rainforest[edit]

Using the 2005 rain forest deforestation rates, it was estimated that the Amazon Rain forest would be reduced by 40% in two decades.[24] The rate of deforestation is now slowing; in 2011 deforestation figures were the slowest on record. However, the forest is still shrinking.[4][25]

Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg announced on September 16, 2008, that the Norwegian Government would donate US $1 billion to the newly established Amazon fund. The money from this fund will go to projects aimed at slowing down the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.[26]

New findings (cf[27] or[28]) show that large parts of the Amazon basin has been open, cultivated land and that the rain forest, far from being pristine is rather a result of man's activity. This research is still just beginning, but may totally turn over the current perceptions. However, a careless exploiting of Amazonas may ruin all possibilities to study the archeological remnants of this era.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Various (2001). Bierregaard, Richard; Gascon, Claude; Lovejoy, Thomas E.; Mesquita, Rita, ed. Lessons from Amazonia: The Ecology and Conservation of a Fragmented Forest. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-08483-8. 
  2. ^ Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) (2004)
  3. ^ Staff (2008-02-07). "Amazon Deforestation Rate Escalates". The Real Truth. Retrieved 2008-08-19. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g INPE figures August to July.
  5. ^ Amazonas lost world
  6. ^ a b c d Kirby, Kathryn R.; Laurance, William F.; Albernaz, Ana K.; Schroth, Götz; Fearnside, Philip M.; Bergen, Scott; M. Venticinque, Eduardo; Costa, Carlos da (2006). "The future of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon". Futures 38 (4): 432–453. doi:10.1016/j.futures.2005.07.011. 
  7. ^ a b Watkins and Griffiths, J. (2000). Forest Destruction and Sustainable Agriculture in the Brazilian Amazon: a Literature Review (Doctoral dissertation, The University of Reading, 2000). Dissertation Abstracts International, 15-17
  8. ^ Dean, Bartholomew 2009 Urarina Society, Cosmology, and History in Peruvian Amazonia, Gainesville: University Press of Florida ISBN 978-0-8130-3378-5 [1]
  9. ^ Williams, M. (2006). Deforesting the Earth: From Prehistory to Global Crisis (Abridged ed.). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-89947-0. 
  10. ^ a b Fernside, P. M. (2007). Deforestation in Brazilian Amazonia: History, Rates, and Consequences. Conservation Biology, 19, 680-688.
  11. ^ a b c Polk, James. "Time to Strengthen Ties with Peru". Foreign Policy In Focus. April 14, 2009.
  12. ^ Vittor, Luis. ["The law of the jungle, to sell the Amazon basin"]. Agencia Latinoamericana de información. January 30, 2008.
  13. ^ "Peru: Government intent on privatizing the Amazon for implementing tree plantations". World Rainforest Movement, Bulletin 129. April 2008.
  14. ^ Salazar, Milagros. "ENVIRONMENT-PERU: 'For Sale' Signs in Amazon Jungle". Inter Press Service. February 5, 2008.
  15. ^ Steinfeld, Henning; Gerber, Pierre; Wassenaar, T. D.; Castel, Vincent (2006). Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. ISBN 92-5-105571-8. Retrieved 2008-08-19. 
  16. ^ Margulis, Sergio (2004). "Causes of Deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon". World Bank Working Paper No. 22 (Washington D.C.: The World Bank). ISBN 0-8213-5691-7. Retrieved 2008-09-04. 
  17. ^ "U.S. ethanol may drive Amazon deforestation". mongabay.com. May 17, 2007. Retrieved October 29, 2009. 
  18. ^ Williams, M. (2006). Deforesting the Earth: From Prehistory to Global Crisis. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
  19. ^ Beef exports fuel loss of Amazonian Forest. CIFOR News Online, Number 36
  20. ^ Barreto, P.; Souza Jr. C.; Noguerón, R.; Anderson, A. & Salomão, R. 2006. Human Pressure on the Brazilian Amazon Forests. Imazon. Retrieved September 28, 2006. (The Imazon web site contains many resources relating to the Brazilian Amazonia.)
  21. ^ National Institute for Space Research (INPE) (2005). The INPE deforestation figures for Brazil were cited on the WWF Website in April 2006.
  22. ^ From article by Rhett A. Butler, which is taken from INPE and FAO figures. Retrieved January 18, 2010.
  23. ^ Research paper of Leydimere Oliveira on the amazon
  24. ^ Scott Wallace, 2007, Last of the Amazon, National Geographic magazine, 2007 issue, pp. 40-71, January 2007.
  25. ^ BBC, 2nd Jan 2012
  26. ^ "NOK 5.8 billion to the Amazon fund". [The Norwegian Mail]. September 17, 2008.
  27. ^ "Precolumbian Land Use and Settlement Pattern in the Santarém Region, Lower Amazon". 
  28. ^ "The Forgotten People of Amazonia". 
  29. ^ Bolsa Floresta

Camill, Phil. "The Deforestation of the Amazon: ." (1999): 1. Web. 31 May 2011. <http://ublib.buffalo.edu/libraries/projects/cases/amazon.html>. "Amazon Deforestation Trend On The Increase." ScienceDaily LLC (2009): 1. Web. 31 May 2011. <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090104093542.htm>. Butler, Rhett . "Deforestation in the Amazon." (1994): 1. Web. 31 May 2011. <http://www.mongabay.com/brazil.html>. <http://www.livescience.com/3201-amazon-deforestation-earth-heart-lungs-dismembered.html>. "Amazon Deforestation: Earth's Heart and Lungs Dismembered" LiveScience.com: 1. Web. 9 January 2009. <http://www.effects-of-deforestation.com/amazon-rainforest-deforestation.php>. "The Roots of Deforestation in the Amazon" Effects-of-Deforestation.com: 1. Web. 31 May 2011. <http://blogs.nature.com/news/2011/12/brazil_amazon_deforestation_de.html>. "Amazon Deforestation Declines to Record Low" Nature.com: 1. Web. 31 May 2011.