Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest
The main sources of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest are human settlement and development of the land. 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. 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. The Amazon rainforest continues to shrink, though the rate of deforestation has been slowing in recent years, with 2012 having the slowest rate of deforestation since records began. However, the rate increased again in 2013.
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.
Prior to the 1970s, access to the forest's interior was highly restricted, and aside from partial clearing along rivers the forest remained intact. 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. In indigenous areas of the Peruvian Amazon, such as the Urarina's Chambira River Basin, 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. 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. 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. In the Brazilian Amazon, the proportion of small farmers to large landholders changes frequently with economic and demographic pressures.
In 2009, Peruvian President Alan García pushed through by executive decree Law 840 (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. While the law was promoted as a "reforestation" measure, critics claimed the privatization measure would in fact encourage further deforestation of the Amazon, 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. Law 840 met widespread resistance and was eventually repealed by Peru's legislature for being unconstitutional.
Causes of deforestation
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. 70% of formerly forested land in the Amazon, and 91% of land deforested since 1970, is used for livestock pasture. In addition, Brazil is currently the second-largest global producer of soybeans after the United States, mostly for export and biodiesel production; 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. 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. 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.
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. 
In 1996, the Amazon was reported to have shown a 34% increase in deforestation since 1992. 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). 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%.
|Period||Estimated remaining forest cover
in the Brazilian Amazon (km²)
|Percent of 1970
|Total forest loss
since 1970 (km²)
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.
Future of the Amazon rainforest
Using the 2005 rain forest deforestation rates, it was estimated that the Amazon rainforest would be reduced by 40% in two decades. The rate of deforestation is now slowing; in 2012 deforestation figures were the slowest on record. However, the forest is still shrinking.
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.
- Belo Monte Dam
- Cattle ranching
- Construction of the Trans-Amazonian Highway
- Flying river
- Population and energy consumption in Brazilian Amazonia
- Selective logging in the Amazon rainforest
- Terra Preta
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