What Causes Deforestation In The Amazon – The Amazon Rainforest is the world’s largest tropical rainforest, covering much of northwestern Brazil and extending into Colombia, Peru, and other South American countries. The rainforest is covered by thousands of rivers, including the Amazon.

The Amazon has been home to indigenous tribes for thousands of years; However, it is now largely threatened due to the demand for resources such as timber and exploitation by forest clearing for activities such as livestock rearing and crop growing.

What Causes Deforestation In The Amazon

What Causes Deforestation In The Amazon

The graph below shows the main causes of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. From this, we can see that commercial logging (cutting trees to sell/use wood) accounts for only 3% of deforestation. However, deforestation must occur before other land uses can occur.

What’s Driving Rainforest Deforestation?

Logging companies are primarily interested in high-value timber such as mahogany and teak, which are sold to companies in other countries. Where only high-value trees are harvested, it is called selective logging. However, in order to access more valuable timber, it is often the case that other, less valuable, trees are also removed to improve access. These are commonly used as fuel or made into pulp or charcoal. Vast areas of forest are cleared at once. This is called clear failing.

The primary form of mining in the Amazon is for gold. However, other minerals are also extracted, including iron ore, bauxite and oil. In 1999, 10,000 hectares of land was used for mining. However, by 2016 this amount had increased to 50,000 hectares. Mining causes complete destruction of the environment as the trees are clear cut and topsoil is completely removed to get the minerals underground.

The following timelapse shows the deforestation caused by the expansion of the Carjas mine, the world’s largest iron ore mine.

Efforts are underway to restore the rain forest in the excavated areas. There is a video of this on the BBC News website.

Study Shows The Impacts Of Deforestation And Forest Burning On Biodiversity In The Amazon

The unlimited supply of water and ideal river conditions have led to the development of hydroelectric power stations (HEP stations). The construction of dams and reservoirs leads to flooding of vast areas of rainforest. Over time the submerged forest turns the water acidic as it decays. This can damage the turbines in the dam. In addition, dams become blocked due to surface runoff.

Hunting, poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking are big business in Brazil. This does not directly cause deforestation; However, it is disturbing the natural balance of the rainforest ecosystem.

Ranching is a major cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Pastoralism involves clearing areas of rainforest and then raising cattle on the land. Deforestation destroys the nutrient cycle, meaning the land can sustain herds for a short period of time as pasture quality quickly declines. The cattle then have to be moved to the newly vacated area.

What Causes Deforestation In The Amazon

There are nearly 3 million landless people in Brazil alone. The government has cleared large areas of the Amazon Rainforest and encouraged people to move there. The plan did not succeed. Farmers live on the same land and try to cultivate it for years. Nutrients in the soil are depleted quickly because there is no humus layer left to provide nutrients. The land becomes barren and nothing will grow.

Brazil’s Booming Beef Exports Are Driving Deforestation In The Amazon

Large plantations have been created from cleared areas of rainforest. Crops like oil, pineapple, sugarcane are cultivated. Most of the approvals for commercial farming have been received to pave the way for soybean cultivation. As with livestock, the land can only sustain crops for a short period of time, leading to further deforestation.

Roads are needed to access the Amazon rainforest and bring heavy traffic and machinery and goods to market. A large part of the rain forest has been cleared to make roads. Once a road is built, it opens up the rainforest to other users. Due to accessibility, people settle along the road, which leads to the construction of houses and cultivation of crops, which leads to deforestation. The construction of the Transamazon Highway has increased access to remote areas of the Amazon rainforest.

The image below shows a clearing by a subsistence farmer along an Amazonian highway. Roads bring colonization and destruction to the Amazon rainforest.

Economic activities discussed on this page require labor. As industry develops, it brings economic opportunities that cause people to migrate to the rainforest to find jobs. As these people need housing and services, further deforestation occurs.

How The Beef Industry Conceals Its Destruction Of The Amazon Rainforest

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Since 1978, nearly one million square kilometers of Amazon rainforest have been lost in Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana and French Guiana. Why is the largest rainforest on earth being destroyed?

For most of human history, deforestation in the Amazon was primarily the product of subsistence farmers who cut down trees to produce crops for their families and local consumption. But in the late 20th century, with industrial activity and large-scale agriculture increasing the rate of deforestation, that began to change. By the 2000s, three-quarters of the Amazon’s forests were used for cattle ranching.

What Causes Deforestation In The Amazon

The result of this shift was that from the late 1970s to the mid-2000s, forests in the Amazon were cleared at a faster rate than before. Vast areas of rainforest were cut down for cattle and soy farms, sunk for dams, mined for minerals, and bulldozed for cities and settlement projects. At the same time, the expansion of roads opened up previously inaccessible forests to the settlements of poor farmers, illegal loggers and land speculators.

How World Leaders Can Make Their Cop26 Deforestation Pledge A Reality

But in Brazil in 2004 this trend began to reverse. Between then and the early 2010s, annual deforestation in the country that accounts for nearly two-thirds of the Amazon forest fell by roughly eighty percent. Several factors contributed to the decline, including increased law enforcement, satellite monitoring, pressure from environmentalists, private and public sector initiatives, new protected areas, and macroeconomic trends. Yet the trend in Brazil is not mirrored in other Amazon countries, some of which have experienced increasing deforestation since the 2000s.

However, Brazil’s success in curbing deforestation has stalled since 2012, and forest loss has been increasing ever since. Why this happens is disputed, but some researchers argue that Brazil has achieved as much as it has through law enforcement and other punitive measures. Adequate financial incentives are needed to reduce deforestation in the Amazon. Put another way, standing forest must be made more valuable than cleared for grazing, crops, or land speculation.

According to that logic, political motivation to reduce deforestation began to wane as ranchers, farmers, investors, and land speculators sought to prevent cleanup through fines, threats of legal action, and enforcement. Political movements in rural areas emphasized environmental laws and loan waivers for past violations. These interests gained momentum when the Temer administration came to power in 2016 and the election of Jair Bolsonaro in late 2018. Bolsonaro, who campaigned on promises to open up the Amazon to extractive industries and agribusiness while insulting environmentalists and indigenous peoples, decided to dismantle protections for the Amazon when he took office in January 2019. Deforestation then increased rapidly, reaching levels not seen since the mid-2000s. Mongabay-News is tracking deforestation news in the Amazon.

Loss of tree cover and loss of primary forest in Amazon countries according to analysis of satellite data by Hansen et al 2021.

World Of Change: Amazon Deforestation

Loss of tree cover in Amazonian countries outside Brazil according to analysis of satellite data by Hansen et al 2020.

Deforestation trends in Amazon countries are highly variable. The charts below are based on data from Matt Hansen and colleagues, using a “loose” definition of the Amazon that extends beyond the Amazon River basin, as presented in Global Forest Watch. It includes the Guianas, all of the Amazonas states in Venezuela, and the states of Maranhão and Mato Grosso in Brazil. “Forest” is defined as an area with more than 30% tree cover.

Deforestation for soy in the Brazilian Amazon. The isolated tree is the Brazil nut. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

What Causes Deforestation In The Amazon

Brazil is home to the remaining one-third of the world’s land area, including more than 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon declined rapidly in the mid-2000s due to government intervention, macroeconomic factors, and civil society efforts. However, in recent years, that decline has stalled, with deforestation on the rise again.

What Are The Effects Of Deforestation In The Amazon?

The history of the Brazilian Amazon’s dramatic decline in deforestation rates is detailed in our country’s ecological profile. For updates on deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, see our Brazil Deforestation News Feed.

Loss of tree cover and loss of primary forest in the Brazilian Amazon according to analysis of satellite data by Hansen et al 2020

Comparison of data on deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, 2001–2019, between the official Brazilian government

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