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

Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest accelerated significantly between 1991 and 2004, reaching an annual forest loss rate of 27,423 km² in 2004. Though the rate of deforestation has been slowing since 2004 (with re-accelerations in 2008 and 2013), the remaining forest cover continues to dwindle.[1]

The Amazon rainforest represents over half of the planet's remaining rainforests, and comprises the largest and most biodiverse tract of tropical rainforest in the world. 60% of the forest is contained within Brazil, followed by Peru with 13%, Colombia with 10%, and with minor amounts in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana.

The cattle sector of the Brazilian Amazon, incentivized by the international beef and leather trades,[2] has been responsible for about 80% of all deforestation in the region,[3] or about 14% of the world’s total annual deforestation, making it world's largest single driver of deforestation.[4] By 1995, 70% of formerly forested land in the Amazon, and 91% of land deforested since 1970, had been converted to cattle ranching.[5][6] Much of the remaining deforestation within the Amazon has resulted from farmers clearing land for small-scale subsistence agriculture[7] or mechanized cropland producing soy, palm, and other crops.[8]


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.[9]

Prior to the 1970s, access to the forest's largely roadless interior was difficult, and aside from partial clearing along rivers the forest remained intact.[10] 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.[11]

In indigenous areas of the Peruvian Amazon, such as the Urarina's Chambira River Basin,[12] 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.[11] 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.[13]

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 typically easier political path of distributing still-forested areas.[14] 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[15] (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.[16] While the law was promoted as a "reforestation" measure, critics claimed the privatization measure would in fact encourage further deforestation of the Amazon,[17] 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.[15][18] Law 840 met widespread resistance and was eventually repealed by Peru's legislature for being unconstitutional.[15]

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 at local, national, and international levels. The rainforest is 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.

A 2009 Greenpeace report found that the cattle sector in the Brazilian Amazon, supported by the international beef and leather trades, was responsible for about 80% of all deforestation in the region,[3] or about 14% of the world’s total annual deforestation, making it the largest single driver of deforestation in the world.[4] According to a 2006 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 70% of formerly forested land in the Amazon, and 91% of land deforested since 1970, is used for livestock pasture.[5][19]

Additional deforestation in the Amazon has resulted from farmers clearing land for small-scale subsistence agriculture[7] or for mechanized cropland. Scientists using NASA satellite data found in 2006 that clearing for mechanized cropland had become a significant force in Brazilian Amazon deforestation. This change in land use may alter the region's climate. Researchers found that in 2003, a peak year of deforestation, more than 20 percent of the Mato Grosso state’s forests were converted to cropland.[8] In 2005, soybean prices fell by more than 25 percent and some areas of Mato Grosso showed a decrease in large deforestation events, suggesting 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.[8]

Until 2006, a major driver of forest loss in the Amazon was the cultivation of soy, mainly for export and production of biodiesel and animal feed;[20] as soybean prices have risen, soy farmers pushed northwards into forested areas of the Amazon.[21] However, a private sector agreement referred to as the Soy Moratorium has helped drastically reduce the deforestation linked to soy production in the region. In 2006, a number of major commodity trading companies such as Cargill agreed to not purchase soybeans produced in the Brazilian Amazon on recently deforested areas. Before the moratorium, 30 percent of soy field expansion had occurred through deforestation, contributing to record deforestation rates. After eight years of the moratorium, a 2015 study found that although soy production area had expanded another 1.3 million hectares, only about 1 percent of the new soy expansion had come at the expense of forest. In response to the moratorium, farmers were choosing to plant on already cleared land.[21]

The needs of soy farmers have been used to validate some controversial transportation projects that have developed in the Amazon.[10] 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.[22]

Research conducted by Leydimere Oliveira et al. 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. Thus for Brazil as a whole, there is no economic gain to be made by logging and selling trees and using the logged land for pastoral purposes.[23]

Rates of forest loss[edit]

The annual rate of deforestation in the Amazon region dramatically increased from 1991 to 2003.[10] In the nine years from 1991 to 2000, the total area of Amazon rainforest cleared since 1970 rose from 419,010 to 575,903 km2 (161,781 to 222,357 sq mi),[1] comparable to the land area of Spain, Madagascar or Manitoba. Most of this lost forest was replaced by pasture for cattle.[24]

Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest continued to accelerate in the early 2000s, reaching an annual rate of 27,423 km² of forest loss in the year 2004. Today the remaining forest cover continues to dwindle, though the annual rate of forest loss has generally been slowing since 2004. However, rates of deforestation jumped again in 2008[25] and in 2013.[26]

Period[1] 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 3,367,949 7,464 82.2% 732,051
2010 3,360,949 7,000 82.0% 739,051
2011 3,354,711 6,238 81.8% 745,289
2012 3,350,140 4,571 81.7% 749,860
2013 3,344,297 5,843 81.6% 755,703
2014 3,339,446 4,848 81.4% 760,551

In 1996, the Amazon was reported to have shown a 34% increase in deforestation since 1992.[27] The mean annual deforestation rate from 2000 to 2005 (22,392 square kilometres per year (8,646 square miles per year)) was 18% higher than in the previous five years (19,018 square kilometres per year (7,343 square miles per year)).[28] 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 (1,600,000 sq mi) was reduced to 3,403,000 km2 (1,314,000 sq mi) by 2005 – representing a loss of 17.1%.[29]

Future of the Amazon rainforest[edit]

Using the 2005 deforestation rates, it was estimated that the Amazon rainforest would be reduced by 40% in two decades.[30] The rate of deforestation is now slowing; rates of forest loss in 2012 were the slowest on record. However, the forest is still shrinking.[31][32]

Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg announced on September 16, 2008, that Norway's government would donate US $1 billion to the newly established Amazon fund. The money from this fund would go to projects aimed at slowing down the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.[33]

In September 2015, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff told the United Nations that Brazil had effectively reduced the rate of deforestation in the Amazon by 82 percent. She also announced that over the next 15 years, Brazil aimed to eliminate illegal deforestation, restore and reforest 120,000 km2 (46,000 sq mi), and recover 150,000 km2 (58,000 sq mi) of degraded pastures.[34]

See also[edit]




  1. ^ a b c Butler, Rhett A. Calculating Deforestation Figures for the Amazon., sourced from INPE and FAO figures.
  2. ^ Lucy Siegle (August 9, 2015). "Has the Amazon rainforest been saved, or should I still worry about it?" The Guardian. Retrieved on October 21, 2015.
  3. ^ a b Adam, David (May 31, 2009). "British supermarkets accused over destruction of Amazon rainforest". The Guardian. Retrieved on October 21, 2015.
  4. ^ a b "Slaughtering the Amazon". Greenpeace. June 1, 2009. Retrieved on October 21, 2015.
  5. ^ a b 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 August 19, 2008. 
  6. ^ Margulis, Sergio (2004). Causes of Deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon (PDF). World Bank Working Paper No. 22 (Washington D.C.: The World Bank). p. 9. ISBN 0-8213-5691-7. Archived (PDF) from the original on September 10, 2008. Retrieved September 4, 2008. 
  7. ^ a b Butler, Rhett (July 9, 2014). "Deforestation in the Amazon". Retrieved on October 19, 2015.
  8. ^ a b c "Growth in Amazon Cropland May Impact Climate and Deforestation Patterns". NASA - Goddard Space Flight Center - News. September 19, 2006. Retrieved on October 21, 2015.
  9. ^ Romero, Simon (January 14, 2012) Once Hidden by Forest, Carvings in Land Attest to Amazon’s Lost World. New York Times
  10. ^ a b c 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. 
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ Dean, Bartholomew 2009 Urarina Society, Cosmology, and History in Peruvian Amazonia, Gainesville: University Press of Florida ISBN 978-0-8130-3378-5 [1]
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ Fernside, P. M. (2005). "Deforestation in Brazilian Amazonia: History and Rates". Conservation Biology 19 (3): 680–688. doi:10.1111/j.1523-1739.2005.00697.x. 
  15. ^ a b c Polk, James (April 14, 2009). "Time to Strengthen Ties with Peru". Foreign Policy In Focus.
  16. ^ Vittor, Luis (January 30, 2008). "The law of the jungle, to sell the Amazon basin". Agencia Latinoamericana de información.
  17. ^ "Peru: Government intent on privatizing the Amazon for implementing tree plantations". World Rainforest Movement, Bulletin 129. April 2008.
  18. ^ Salazar, Milagros (February 5, 2008). "ENVIRONMENT-PERU: 'For Sale' Signs in Amazon Jungle". Inter Press Service.
  19. ^ Margulis, Sergio (2004). Causes of Deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon (PDF). World Bank Working Paper No. 22 (Washington D.C.: The World Bank). ISBN 0-8213-5691-7. Retrieved September 4, 2008. 
  20. ^ "U.S. ethanol may drive Amazon deforestation". May 17, 2007. Retrieved October 29, 2009. 
  21. ^ a b Kelly April Tyrrell (January 22, 2015). "Study shows Brazil's Soy Moratorium still needed to preserve Amazon". University of Wisconsin-Madison News. Retrieved on October 21, 2015.
  22. ^ Williams, M. (2006). Deforesting the Earth: From Prehistory to Global Crisis. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
  23. ^ Research paper of Leydimere Oliveira on the amazon
  24. ^ Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) (2004)
  25. ^ Staff (February 7, 2008). "Amazon Deforestation Rate Escalates". The Real Truth. Retrieved August 19, 2008. 
  26. ^ "Amazon deforestation jumps 29%". The Guardian. 11 September 2014. Retrieved 11 September 2014. 
  27. ^ Beef exports fuel loss of Amazonian Forest. CIFOR News Online, Number 36
  28. ^ 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.)
  29. ^ National Institute for Space Research (INPE) (2005). The INPE deforestation figures for Brazil were cited on the WWF Website in April 2006.
  30. ^ Wallace, Scott (January 2007) "Last of the Amazon". National Geographic magazine. pp. 40–71.
  31. ^ INPE figures August to July.
  32. ^ Rowlatt, Justin (January 2, 2012) Saving the Amazon: Winning the war on deforestation. BBC
  33. ^ "NOK 5.8 billion to the Amazon fund". The Norwegian Mail. September 17, 2008.
  34. ^ Megan Rowling (September 30, 2015). "How to stop deforestation? Make 'good stuff' cheaper". Reuters. Retrieved on October 19, 2015.

External links[edit]