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Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest

The Amazon rainforest is the largest rainforest in the world, covering an area of 5,500,000 km2 (2,100,000 sq mi). This region includes territory belonging to nine nations. The majority of the forest is contained within Brazil, with 60%, followed by Peru with 13%, Colombia with 10%, and with minor amounts in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and France (French Guiana).

More than one third of the Amazon forest belongs to over than 3,344 formally acknowledged Indigenous Territories. Until 2015, only eight percent of Amazonian deforestation occurred in forests inhabited by indigenous peoples, while 88% of occurred in the less than 50% of the Amazon area that is neither indigenous territory nor protected area. Historically, the livelihoods of indigenous Amazonian peoples have depended on the forest for food, shelter, water, fibre, fuel and medicines. The forest is also interconnected with their identity and cosmology. For this reason the deforestation rates are lower in Indigenous Territories, despite pressures encouraging deforestation being stronger.[1]

According to 2018 satellite data complied by a deforestation monitoring program called Prodes, deforestation has hit its highest rate in a decade. About 7,900 sq km (3,050 sq miles) of the rainforest was destroyed between August 2017 and July 2018. Most of the deforestation occurred in the states of Mato Grosso and Pará. The BBC reported the environment minister, Edson Duarte, as saying illegal logging was to blame, but critics suggest expanding agriculture is also encroaching on the rainforest.[2] It is suggested that at some point the forest will reach a tipping point, where it will no longer be able to produce enough rainfall to sustain itself.



In the pre-Columbian era, parts of the Amazon Rainforest were a densely populated open agriculture. After the European colonization in the 16th century, with the hunt for gold, Western diseases, slavery and later the rubber boom, the Amazon Rainforest was depopulated and the forest grew larger.[3]

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.[4] 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 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.[5]

In indigenous areas of the Peruvian Amazon, such as the Urarina's Chambira River Basin,[6] 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.[5] Amazonian colonization was ruled by cattle raising because ranching required little labor, generated decent profits, and land under state ownership to private companies, without term limits on the property rights.[7] While the law was promoted as a "reforestation" measure, critics claimed the privatization measure would in fact encourage further deforestation of the Amazon,[8] 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.[9][10] Law 840 met widespread resistance and was eventually repealed by Peru's legislature for being unconstitutional.[9]

In 2015 illegal deforestation of the Amazon was on the rise again for the first time in decades, this was largely a result of consumer demand for products like palm oil.[11] As consumer pressure increases, Brazilian farmers clear their land to make more space for crops like palm oil, and soy [12] Also, studies done by Greenpeace showed that 300 billion tons of carbon, 40 times the annual greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, are stored in trees.[13] In addition to the carbon release associated with deforestation, NASA has estimated that if deforestation levels proceed, the remaining worlds forests will disappear in about 100 years.[13] The Brazilian government adopted a program called RED (United Nations Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation Program) in order to help prevent deforestation.[14] The RED program has helped more than 44 countries across Africa with the development of education programs and has donated more than 117 million to the program.[14]

As of January 2019, the president of Brazil – Jair Bolsonaro – has made an executive order that allows the agriculture ministry to oversee some of the land in the Amazon. Cattle ranchers, mining companies, and people that wish to see a more prosperous economy in Brazil favor the president’s decision. The economic crisis in the country is influencing the government to condone development on tribal territory in order to accumulate exports and stabilize the economy. People that are fighting the development of this land are mainly Indian civil right activists and environmentally concerned individuals. These people believe that taking away tribal land will endanger the indigenous people that live there now. They also see a threat with the deforestation of the Amazon, which will ultimately lead to greater amounts of global weirding.[15]

Causes of deforestationEdit

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), medicines and human gain. Trees are usually cut down illegally.

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,[16] or about 14% of the world's total annual deforestation, making it the largest single driver of deforestation in the world.[17] 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.[18][19]

Additional deforestation in the Amazon has resulted from farmers clearing land for small-scale subsistence agriculture[20] 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 2004, a peak year of deforestation, more than 20 percent of the Mato Grosso state's forests were converted to cropland.[21] 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.[21]

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;[22] as soybean prices have risen, soy farmers pushed northwards into forested areas of the Amazon.[23] 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 in 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.[23] The needs of soy farmers have been used to validate some controversial transportation projects that have developed in the Amazon.[4] 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 completion of the roads was followed by a wave of resettlement; these settlers had a significant effect on the forest as well.[24]

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.[25]

A September 2016 Amazon Watch report concludes that imports of crude oil by the US are driving rainforest destruction in the Amazon and releasing significant greenhouse gases.[26][27]

Forest loss ratesEdit

The annual rate of deforestation in the Amazon region dramatically increased from 1991 to 2003.[4] 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),[28] comparable to the land area of Spain, Madagascar or Manitoba. Most of this lost forest was replaced by pasture for cattle.[29]

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,[30] 2013[31] and 2015.[32]

Period[28] 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 21,651 85.0% 615,719
2003 3,459,291 25,396 84.4% 641,115
2004 3,431,868 27,772 83.7% 668,887
2005 3,413,022 19,014 83.2% 687,901
2006 3,398,913 14,285 82.9% 702,186
2007 3,387,381 11,651 82.6% 713,837
2008 3,375,413 12,911 82.3% 726,748
2009 3,365,788 7,464 82.1% 734,212
2010 3,358,788 7,000 81.9% 741,212
2011 3,352,370 6,418 81.8% 747,630
2012 3,347,799 4,571 81.7% 752,201
2013 3,341,908 5,891 81.5% 758,092
2014 3,336,896 5,012 81.4% 763,104
2015 3,331,065 5,831 81.2% 768,935
2016 3,322,796 7,893 81.0% 777,204
2017 3,316,172 6,624 80.9% 783,828

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, and may only consider the loss of the Amazon rainforest – not the loss of natural fields or savannah within the Amazon biome.[33]


Deforestation and loss of biodiversity have led to high risks of irreversible changes to the Amazon's tropical forests. It has been suggested by modeling studies that the deforestation may be approaching a "tipping point", after which large-scale "savannization" or desertification of the Amazon will take place, with catastrophic consequences for the world's climate, due to a self-perpetuating collapse of the region's biodiversity and ecosystems.[34]

Impacts on water supplyEdit

The deforestation of the Amazon rainforest has had a significant negative impact on Brazil's freshwater supply, harming, among others, the agricultural industry that has contributed to the clearing of the forests. In 2005, parts of the Amazon basin experienced the worst drought in more than a century.[35] This has been the result of two factors:

1. The rainforest provides much of the rainfall in Brazil, even in areas far from it. Deforestation increased the impacts of the droughts of 2005, 2010, and 2015-2016.[36][37]

2. The rainforest, by inducing rainfall and helping with water storage, provides freshwater to the rivers that give water to Brazil and other countries.[38][39]

Impact on local temperatureEdit

In 2019, a group of scientists published research suggesting that in a "business as usual" scenario, the deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest will raise the temperature in Brazil by 1.45 degrees. They wrote: "Increased temperatures in already hot locations may increase human mortality rates and electricity demands, reduce agricultural yields and water resources, and contribute to biodiversity collapse, particularly in tropical regions. Furthermore, local warming may cause shifts in species distributions, including for species involved in infectious disease transmissions." The authors of the paper say that deforestation is already causing a rise in the temperature.[40]

Impact on indigenous peopleEdit

Members of an uncontacted tribe encountered in the Brazilian state of Acre in 2009

More than one third of the Amazon forest belongs to over 3,344 formally acknowledged Indigenous Territories. Until 2015, only eight percent of Amazonian deforestation occurred in forests inhabited by indigenous peoples, while 88% of occurred in the less than 50% of the Amazon area that is neither indigenous territory nor protected area. Historically, the livelihoods of indigenous Amazonian peoples have depended on the forest for food, shelter, water, fibre, fuel and medicines. The forest is also interconnected with their identity and cosmology. For this reason, the deforestation rates are lower in Indigenous Territories, despite pressures encouraging deforestation being stronger.[1]

The native tribes of the Amazon have often been abused during the Amazon's deforestation. Loggers have killed natives and encroached onto their land.[41] Many uncontacted peoples have come out of the jungles to mingle with mainstream society after threats from outsiders.[42] Uncontacted peoples making first contact with outsiders are susceptible to diseases to which they have little immunity. Tribes can easily be decimated; the resulting deaths have been compared to a genocide.[43]

For many years, there has been a battle to conquer the territories that indigenous people live on in the Amazon, primarily from the Brazilian government. The demand for this land has originated partly from a desire to improve Brazil's economic status. Many people, including ranchers and land swindlers from the southeast, have wanted to claim the land for their own financial gain. As of the beginning of 2019, the new president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, has made an executive order that permits the agriculture ministry to regulate the land that tribal members inhabit in the Amazon. This act is essentially declaring war on the indigenous people in the fight for their territory.[44]

The executive order that Jair Bolsonaro made is not only an injustice to the vulnerable, indigenous people but it also allows for deforestation and unhealthy environments. In the past, mining locations were allowed to be constructed in the territory of an isolated tribal group called Yanomami. Because of the conditions that these indigenous people were subjected to, many of them developed health problems, including tuberculosis. If their land is used for new development, many of the tribal groups will be forced out of their homes and many may die. On top of the mistreatment of these people, the forest itself will be taken advantage of and many of the indigenous peoples' resources for daily life will be stripped from them.[45]

Future of the Amazon rainforestEdit

Using the 2005 deforestation rates, it was estimated that the Amazon rainforest would be reduced by 40% in two decades.[46] The rate of deforestation is now slowing; rates of forest loss in 2012 were the slowest on record. However, the forest is still shrinking.[47][48]

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.[49]

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.[50]

In August 2017, Brazilian president Michel Temer abolished an Amazonian nature reserve the size of Denmark in Brazil's northern states of Pará and Amapá.[51]

In April 2019 the court in Ecuador stopped oil exploration activities in 1,800 square kilometers of the Amazon rainforest[52]

See alsoEdit


  • Bradford, Alina. "Deforestation: Facts, Causes, & Effects." Live Science. March 4, 2015. Web. July 16, 2017.
  • Monbiot, George (1991). Amazon watershed: the new environmental investigation. London, UK: Michael Joseph. ISBN 978-0-7181-3428-0.
  • Scheer, Roddy, and Moss, Doug. "Deforestation and its Extreme Effects on Global Warming." Scientific America. 2017. Web. July 16, 2017.
  • Tabuchi, Hiroko, Rigby, Claire, and White, Jeremy. "Amazon Deforestation, Once Tamed, now Comes Roaring Back.” The New York Times. Feb 24, 2017. Web. July 16, 2017.


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  2. ^ "Amazon deforestation 'worst in 10 years'". 2018-11-24. Retrieved 2019-05-10.
  3. ^ Romero, Simon (January 14, 2012) Once Hidden by Forest, Carvings in Land Attest to Amazon's Lost World. New York Times
  4. ^ 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. CiteSeerX doi:10.1016/j.futures.2005.07.011.
  5. ^ 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
  6. ^ Dean, Bartholomew 2009 Urarina Society, Cosmology, and History in Peruvian Amazonia, Gainesville: University Press of Florida ISBN 978-0-8130-3378-5 [1]
  7. ^ Vittor, Luis (January 30, 2008). "The law of the jungle, to sell the Amazon basin". Agencia Latinoamericana de información.
  8. ^ "Peru: Government intent on privatizing the Amazon for implementing tree plantations". World Rainforest Movement, Bulletin 129. April 2008.
  9. ^ a b Polk, James (April 14, 2009). "Time to Strengthen Ties with Peru". Foreign Policy In Focus.
  10. ^ Salazar, Milagros (February 5, 2008). "ENVIRONMENT-PERU: 'For Sale' Signs in Amazon Jungle". Inter Press Service.
  11. ^ Bradford, Alina. "Deforestation: Facts, Causes, & Effects." Live Science. March 4, 2015. Web. July 16, 2017,
  12. ^ Tabuchi, Hiroko, Rigby, Claire, and White, Jeremy. "Amazon Deforestation, Once Tamed, now Comes Roaring Back.” The New York Times.
  13. ^ a b Bradford, Alina. "Deforestation: Facts, Causes, & Effects." Live Science. March 4, 2015. Web. July 16, 2017.
  14. ^ a b Scheer, Roddy, and Moss, Doug. "Deforestation and its Extreme Effects on Global Warming." Scientific America. 2017. Web. July 16, 2017.
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  25. ^ Research paper of Leydimere Oliveira on the Amazon Archived 2013-08-03 at
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  27. ^ Zuckerman, Adam; Koenig, Kevin (September 2016). From well to wheel: the social, environmental, and climate costs of Amazon crude (PDF). Oakland, CA, USA: Amazon Watch. Retrieved 2016-09-28.
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  45. ^ "Brazilian Indians". Survival. 2019.
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  47. ^ INPE figures August to July.
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  52. ^ "Ecuador Amazon tribe win first victory against oil companies". Devdiscourse. 27 April 2019. Retrieved 28 April 2019.

External linksEdit