Brazil's forests

By Rhett A. Butler [Last update August 14, 2020]

Brazil holds about one-third of the world's remaining primary tropical rainforests, including about 60% the Amazon rainforest. Terrestrially speaking, it is also the most biodiverse country on Earth, with more than 34,000 described species of plants, 1,813 species of birds, 1,022 amphibians, 648 mammals, and 814 reptiles.

About 80% of Brazil's tropical forest cover is found in the Amazon Basin, a mosaic of ecosystems and vegetation types including rainforests (the vast majority), seasonal forests, deciduous forests, flooded forests, and savannas, including the woody cerrado. This region has experienced an exceptional extent of forest loss over the past two generations—an area exceeding 760,000 square kilometers, or about 19 percent of its total surface area of 4 million square kilometers, has been cleared in the Amazon since 1970, when only 2.4 percent of the Amazon's forests had been lost. The increase in Amazon deforestation in the early 1970s coincided with the construction of the Trans-Amazonian Highway, which opened large forest areas to development by settlers and commercial interests. In more recent years, growing populations in the Amazon region, combined with increased viability of agricultural operations, have caused a further rise in deforestation rates.

Natural forest in the Brazilian Amazon (Amazonia) by year

This data excludes extensive areas degraded by fires and selective logging, nor forest regrowth, which by one Brazilian government estimate occurs on about 20% of deforested areas. The area of Amazon forest degraded each year in Brazil is thought to be roughly equivalent to the amount of forest cleared. Forest degradation is significant because degraded forests are more likely to be cleared in the future. Degraded forest is also more susceptible to fires.

Why is the Amazon rainforest disappearing?

Historically the majority of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon was the product of subsistence farmers, but in recent decades this has changed, with a greater proportion of forest clearing driven by large landowners and corporations. The majority of deforestation in the region can be attributed to land clearing for pasture by commercial and speculative interests.

In the early phase of this transition, Brazilian deforestation was strongly correlated to the economic health of the country: the decline in deforestation from 1988-1991 nicely matched the economic slowdown during the same period, while the rocketing rate of deforestation from 1993-1998 paralleled Brazil's period of rapid economic growth. During lean times, ranchers and developers do not have the cash to expand their pasturelands and operations, while the government lacks the budget flexibility to underwrite highways and colonization programs and grant tax breaks and subsidies to agribusiness, logging, and mining interests.

But this dynamic shifted in the mid-2000s, when the link between deforestation and the broader Brazilian economy began to wane. Between 2004 and 2012 the annual rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell 80% to the lowest levels recorded since annual record keeping began in the late 1980s. This decline occurred at the same time that Brazil's economy expanded 40 percent and agricultural output surged.

Tree cover loss and primary forest loss 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 official Brazilian government data and Hansen et al 2020.

Why did Amazon deforestation decline?

There are several reasons commonly cited for the decline in Brazil's deforestation rate between 2004 and 2012.

One of the most important active measures was the launch of the Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Deforestation in the Legal Amazon (PPCDAm) in 2004. PPCDAm aimed to reduce deforestation rates continuously and facilitate conditions that support a transition towards a sustainable economic development model in the region. PPCDAm had three main components: land tenure and spatial planning, environmental monitoring and control, and supporting sustainable production.

These components resulted in increased enforcement of environmental laws; improved forest monitoring by satellite, which enabled law enforcement to take action; new incentives for utilizing already deforested lands; and expanded protected areas and indigenous reserves. A byproduct of PPCDAm was heightened sensitivity to environmental criticism among private sector companies and emerging awareness of the values of ecosystem services afforded by the Amazon.

Other factors also played a part in the decline in deforestation, including macroeconomic trends like a stronger Brazilian currency, which reduced the profitability of export-driven agriculture; prioritization of non-rainforest areas like the adjacent cerrado ecosystem for agribusiness expansion; and increased diversification in the Brazilian economy as a whole.

Amazon rainforest in Brazil. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Why has progress in reducing Amazon deforestation stalled?

Progress in reducing deforestation stalled after 2012 and forest loss has been trending upward since. There is debate over why this is the case, but some researchers argue that Brazil achieved about as much as it could through law enforcement and other punitive measures ("the stick" in the proverbial "the carrot and stick" approach). Reducing deforestation further requires sufficient economic incentives ("the carrot") to maintain forests as healthy and productive ecosystems. Put another way, standing forest needs to be made more valuable than clearing it for pasture or crops.

By that line of thought, the political impetus for reducing deforestation began to wane as ranchers, farmers, investors, and land speculators grew tried of fines, threats of legal action, and prohibitions against clearing. Political movements like the ruralistas pushed harder for relation of environmental laws and amnesty for past transgressions. These interests gained momentum when the Temer administration came to power in 2016 and won more clout with the election of Jair Bolsonaro in late 2018. Bolsonaro, who campaigned on the promise to open the Amazon to extractive industries and agribusiness while disparaging environmentalists and indigenous peoples, immediately set about dismantling protections for the Amazon when he took office in January 2019. Deforestation increased sharply thereafter.

Causes of deforestation in the Amazon

In evaluating deforestation in the Amazon, it is important to understand both direct and indirect drivers of forest loss.

Direct drivers of deforestation including conversion of forests for pasture, farmland, and plantations, as well as surface mining, dams that inundate forested areas, and intense fires.

Indirect drivers of deforestation include more subtle factors, like insecure land tenure, corruption, poor law enforcement, infrastructure projects, policies that favor conversion over conservation, and selective logging that create conditions or enable activities that facilitate forest clearing.

Pie chart showing drivers of deforestation in the Amazon
Causes of deforestation in the Amazon, 2001-2013 Share of direct deforestation
Cattle ranching63%
Small-scale agriculture
Includes both subsistence and commercial
12%
Fires
Sub-canopy fires often result in degradation, not deforestation
9%
Agriculture
Large-scale industrial agriculture like soy and plantations
8%
Logging
Selective logging commonly results in degradation, not deforestation
6%
Other
Mining, urbanization, road construction, dams, etc.
2%

 

Cattle ranching

Conversion of rainforest for cattle pasture is the single largest driver of deforestation in Brazil. Clearing forest for pasture is the cheapest and easiest way to establish an informal claim to land, which can then be sold on to other parties at a profit. In some parts of the Brazilian Amazon, cleared rainforest land can be worth more than eight times that of land with standing forest. According, cattle ranching is often viewed as a way to speculate on appreciating land prices.

However since 2000, cattle ranching in the Amazon has become increasingly industrialized, meaning that more ranchers are producing cattle to sell commercially. Most of the beef ends up in the domestic market, but secondary products like hides and leather are often exported.

These exports left Brazilian cattle ranchers exposed in the late 2000s when Greenpeace launched a high profile campaign against companies that were sourcing leather and other products from major Brazilian cattle processors. That campaign led major companies to demand zero deforestation cattle. Combined with a crackdown by public prosecutors, the Brazilian cattle industry started to shift substantially toward less damaging practices in late 2009 by signing the "Cattle Agreement", which barred the sourcing of cattle from illegally deforested areas.

However by the mid-2010s investigations revealed that some major cattle producers were circumventing the safeguards established under the Cattle Agreement by laundering cattle through third party ranches. Unlike soy (see below), cattle are highly mobile, making it easy for ranchers to shift livestock clandestinely.

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

Soy

The model for the Brazilian cattle industry to move toward zero deforestation came from the country's soy industry, which underwent a similar transformation three years earlier. That shift was also initiative by a Greenpeace campaign, which targeted the soy-based chicken feed used by McDonald's in Europe. Within months of that campaign's launch, the largest soy crushers and traders in the Amazon had established a moratorium on buying soy produced via deforestation in the Amazon.

Timber

Logging in the Brazilian Amazon remains plagued by poor management, destructive practices, and outright fraud. Vast areas of rainforest are logged -- legally and illegally -- each year. According to government sources and NGOs, the vast majority of logging in the Brazilian Amazon is illegal.

Palm oil

At present, Amazon palm oil is not a major driver of deforestation in Brazil. While there are concerns that it could eventually exacerbate deforestation, there is also a chance that it could replace degraded cattle pasture, boosting economic productivity at a low environmental cost.

Dams, roads, and other infrastructure projects

Brazil's infrastructure spree from the late-2000s to mid-2010s was interrupted by the corruption scandals of the mid-2010s. Many of the scores of dams being built across the Amazon basin were put on hold following the Lava Jato scandal that ensnared senior politicians in several countries and executives at the infrastructure giant Odebrecht. Yet the scandals also helped usher in the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro, which reinvigorated the push to build roads, dams, and mines in the Amazon.

Amazon rainforest in Brazil. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Conservation in Brazil

While Brazil may be better known for losing its forests, during the 2000s it easily led the world in establishing new protected areas. Those gains were consolidated in 2014, when donors established a trust fund that will underwrite the country's protected areas system through 2039.

Beyond strict protected areas, more than a fifth of the Brazilian Amazon lies within indigenous reservations, which research has shown reduce deforestation even more effectively than national parks. Overall nearly half the Brazilian Amazon is under some form of protection.

Brazil's other forests

While the Amazon rainforest is Brazil's most famous forest, the country also has other types of forest.

The Mata Atlântica or Atlantic Forest is a drier tropical forest that lies along the coast and inland areas to the south of the Amazon. It has been greatly reduced by conversion to agriculture -- especially sugar cane and cattle pasture -- and urbanization. The Mata Atlântica is arguably Brazil's most threatened forest.

Forest loss in Brazil's Mata Atlantica according to National Space Research Institute, INPE

The Pantanal is an inland wetland that borders Paraguay and Bolivia and covers an area of 154,884 square kilometers. It includes a mosaic of forests and flooded grasslands.

The cerrado biome is a tropical grassland that covers 1.9 square kilometers, or approximately 22 percent of the country. It is being rapidly destroyed for agriculture.

The chaco biome is a dry forest ecosystem that extends into Paraguay, Bolivia, and Argentina.

Brazil's tropical forests

Primary forest extentTree cover extent
StateDominant forest biome20012020% losss20012020% losss
AcreAmazon13,505,69012,583,4186.8%14312070134293788.1%
AlagoasAtlantic forest35,53734,9331.7%57551851079211.4%
AmapáAmazon10,934,64510,792,2681.3%12172480121887352.5%
AmazonasAmazon143,485,183141,217,4831.6%1505680051482690452.0%
BahiaAtlantic forest1,297,7021,187,3478.5%187766221518773716.5%
CearáAtlantic forest74,39572,5012.5%2974477280712710.0%
Espírito SantoAtlantic forest128,492124,4063.2%1813455167559918.8%
GoiásAtlantic forest / Cerrado388,506328,32915.5%7736542680816313.3%
MaranhãoAmazon3,185,7322,483,15322.1%210154431639155623.0%
Mato GrossoAmazon / Cerrado / Chaco39,009,64531,696,95318.7%563962284616815018.7%
Mato Grosso do SulAtlantic forest / Cerrado1,489,0951,356,7178.9%10191243876195312.6%
Minas GeraisAtlantic forest / Cerrado268,244258,6883.6%183574221745008214.0%
ParáAmazon92,225,89683,576,9739.4%1079637179701346412.4%
ParaíbaAtlantic forest23,76423,5121.1%11214826632639.6%
ParanáAtlantic forest1,044,8811,020,2532.4%7947474734017014.1%
PernambucoAtlantic forest42,72741,0014.0%1563136125875910.7%
PiauíCaatinga141,286139,7851.1%11538381930006310.3%
Rio de JaneiroAtlantic forest587,724581,3631.1%180539817379223.8%
Rio Grande do NorteAtlantic forest7,3217,2870.5%90943249110611.0%
Rio Grande do SulAtlantic forest / Cerrado24,16624,1460.1%763611273936658.1%
RondôniaAmazon15,649,57812,470,56320.3%184855791490877921.7%
RoraimaAmazon15,425,75914,683,7384.8%17889964170758365.7%
Santa CatarinaAtlantic forest1,205,5901,176,0142.5%6354636603158012.2%
São PauloAtlantic forest1,837,3211,817,0951.1%6560955646900412.1%
SergipeAtlantic forest17,94016,6707.1%54359139572221.5%
TocantinsAmazon / Cerrado1,194,996995,67116.7%11162164845997216.1%

 

Recent news on Brazil's tropical forests

Nearly 1 million km2 of intact forests menaced by extractives, study finds
- A new report shows that 975,000 km2 (376,500 mi2) of virgin forest, about the size of Egypt, is threatened by mining and oil and gas extraction.
- About 11% of the planet’s intact forests lie within mining concessions and 8% inside oil and gas concessions.
- Their loss spells trouble for efforts to save endangered wildlife, tackle climate change and preserve Indigenous communities inhabiting these undisturbed lands.
- The overlap between concessions and intact forests was the greatest in Central Africa, especially in the Congo Basin, which has seen a surge in extractive activity in recent years.

Lessons from the 2021 Amazon flood (commentary)
- In June 2021, the annual flood season in the western and central Amazon reached record levels, and dramatic scenes of inundated homes, crops and city streets captured attention beyond Amazonia. This event provides lessons that must be learned.
- The high flood waters are explained by climatological forces that are expected to strengthen with projected global warming. Damaging floods represent just one of the predicted impacts in Amazônia under a warming climate.
- The administration of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro must change its current denialist positions on global warming and its policies that encourage deforestation. The Amazon forest must be maintained for many reasons in addition to its role in avoiding climate change.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Amazon and Cerrado deforestation, warming spark record drought in urban Brazil
- Southern and central Brazil are in the midst of the worst drought in nearly 100 years, with agribusiness exports of coffee and sugar, and the production of hydroelectric power, at grave risk.
- According to researchers, the drought, now in its second year, likely has two main causes: climate change, which tends to make continental interiors both hotter and drier, and the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest and Cerrado savanna biomes.
- Deforestation has caused the loss of almost half of the Cerrado’s native vegetation, which helps hold vast amounts of water underground, maintaining aquifers that supply the nation’s rivers with water. In the Amazon, rainforest loss is preventing billions of tons of water vapor from reaching the atmosphere.
- President Jair Bolsonaro acknowledges neither climate change nor deforestation as sources of the drought, but attributes it instead to the country and himself being “unlucky.” The administration’s drought response so far is to reactivate fossil-fuel power plants, which pollute heavily and are costly to operate.

Planned Brazil-Peru highway threatens one of Earth’s most biodiverse places
- Serra do Divisor National Park on Brazil’s border with Peru is home to numerous endemic animals and more than a thousand plant species, but faces a double threat from a planned highway and a bid to downgrade its protected status.
- The downgrade from national park to “environmental protection area” would paradoxically open up this Andean-Amazon transition region to deforestation, cattle ranching, and mining — activities that are currently prohibited in the park.
- The highway project, meant to give Acre another land route to the Pacific via Peru, has been embraced by the government of President Jair Bolsonaro, which has already taken the first steps toward its construction.
- Indigenous and river community leaders say they have not been consulted about the highway, as required by law, and have not been told about the proposed downgrade of the park, both of which they warn will have negative socioenvironmental impacts.

As soy frenzy grips Brazil, deforestation closes in on Indigenous lands
- A large swath of rainforest has been cleared and was burned on the edge of the Wawi Indigenous Territory in the Brazilian Amazon.
- The fire is one of many being set to clear land for soy cultivation, much of it legally mandated, as demand for the crop sees growers push deeper into the rainforest and even into Indigenous and protected areas.
- Enforcement against forest destruction has been undermined at the federal level, thanks to budget cuts and loosened restrictions by the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro.
- The burning threatens to compound health problems in Indigenous communities amid the COVID-19 pandemic, while the use of agrochemicals on the soy plantations poses longer-term hazards.

Protected areas keep adjacent lands safe, but face losing their own protection
- Safeguarding nature in one area can displace harmful activities, such as illegal logging or mining, into another, a phenomenon known as leakage or spillover; but how big is the problem?
- The first systematic review of studies examining the effects of protected areas around the globe on their surrounding areas found that less than 12% showed evidence of leakage or spillover, while the majority (54%) reduced deforestation in surrounding areas.
- Another study found that protected areas in the Brazilian Amazon overwhelmingly blocked deforestation in the surrounding forest, again suggesting that protected areas inhibit deforestation both within and outside of their boundaries.
- Experts say environmental and regulatory rollbacks that loosen restrictions on land use, shrink boundaries, or altogether eliminate protections pose a much greater threat to the Amazon than leakage, and efforts should focus on keeping protected areas permanent and improving management and enforcement of regulations.

Brazil government faces heat over plan that could underreport forest fires
- The Brazilian government faces a new controversy over how it monitors, and ultimately responds to, forest fires, after rolling out a new centralized information system.
- The National Meteorology System (SNM) will collate date from the Brazilian National Institute of Space Research (INPE), the National Institute of Meteorology (INMET) and the Managing and Operational Center of the System to Protect the Amazon (Censipam).
- But the government has sent out mixed messages about how the system will work, raising concerns among scientists and environmentalists that the comprehensive and reliable data sets from INPE will be quashed in favor of underreported deforestation and fire information from INMET.
- The government has sought to allay those fears, saying INPE’s data stream will be maintained, but critics say this isn’t the first time the Bolsonaro administration has tried to undermine INPE for exposing the rising trend in deforestation and fires under the administration.

Brazil’s Amazon is now a carbon source, unprecedented study reveals
- According to a study published July 14 in Nature, the Brazilian Amazon is emitting more carbon than it captures.
- This study is the first to use direct atmospheric measurements, across a wide geographic region, collected over nearly a decade that account for background concentrations of atmospheric gases.
- Eastern Amazonia is emitting more carbon than western Amazonia, and southern Amazonia is a net carbon source; Southeastern Amazonia, in particular, switched from being a carbon sink to a carbon source during the study period. The reason: a disruption in the balance of growth and decay and emissions from fires.
- These results have important implications for policy initiatives such as REDD+ that rely on forests to offset carbon emissions: Because different regions of the Amazon differ in their ability to absorb carbon, schemes that use one value for the carbon-capturing ability of the whole Amazon need to be reexamined, scientists say.

Global demand for manganese puts Kayapó Indigenous land under pressure
- InfoAmazonia’s Amazônia Minada project has found an unusual rise in demand to mine for manganese last year in Brazil, one of the world’s top producers of the metal.
- Previously, only 1% of mining bids on Indigenous lands were for manganese; in 2020, it was with 15% of all requests, second only to gold.
- Some of the richest manganese deposits in the world are in southeast Pará state, overlapping with the territories of the Kayapó Indigenous people, which have been targeted the most by mining applications in general.
- Demand from Asia, particularly China, has increased the price of manganese, driving illegal mining; 300,000 tons of the ore were seized last year in Brazil, including from a company bidding to mine on Indigenous land.

Armed with data and smartphones, Amazon communities boost fight against deforestation
- Equipping Indigenous communities in the Amazon with remote-monitoring technology can reduce illegal deforestation, a new study has found.
- Between 2018 and 2019, researchers implemented technology-based forest-monitoring programs in 36 communities within the Peruvian Amazon.
- Compared with other communities where the program wasn’t implemented, those under the program saw 52% and 21% less deforestation in 2018 and 2019 respectively.
- The gains were concentrated in communities at highest risk of deforestation due to threats like logging and illegal mining.

Soy and cattle team up to drive deforestation in South America: Study
- Between 2000 and 2019, the production of soybean in South America has doubled, covering an area larger than the state of California.
- Soybean farms are typically planted in old cattle pastures, and as soy encroaches, pasture is forced into new frontiers, driving deforestation and fires.
- Although soy was found to be largely an indirect driver of deforestation, policies addressing deforestation have to consider multiple commodities at once, such as the relationship between beef and soy.
- Increased commitments by companies to source from “zero-deforestation” supply chains are a promising strategy, but in order to work, the market needs to be more transparent.

Amazon deforestation rises modestly in June
- Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon continued on an upward trajectory in June, reports the country’s national space research institute INPE.
- INPE’s satellite-based forest monitoring system detected 1,062 square kilometers of deforestation during June, an area 311 times the size of New York City’s Central Park.
- The forest clearing represents a 2% rise over June a year ago. Deforestation has now risen three consecutive months in the region, but is pacing 11% behind last year’s rate, when forest loss in Earth’s largest rainforest reached a 12-year high.

For Norway salmon farms giving up deforestation-linked soy, Cargill proves a roadblock
- Two major salmon producers in Norway have eliminated all links to deforestation in their soy supply chains, according to new analysis from eco-watchdog Rainforest Foundation Norway.
- This is due in large part to a ripple effect down the value chain, after Brazilian soy suppliers to the European salmon industry made no-deforestation commitments earlier this year.
- However, at least seven of the biggest salmon producers in Norway have yet to become fully deforestation-free, according to the report.
- This is because they buy feed from Cargill Aqua Nutrition, whose parent company, U.S.-based Cargill, has been linked to deforestation in South America.

Deforestation soars 40% in Xingu River Basin in Brazilian Amazon
- An area of forest twice the size of New York City was cleared in Brazil’s Xingu River Basin between March and April this year, a rate of deforestation 40% higher than in the same period last year, a new report shows.
- The highest rates of forest loss were recorded along the path of the BR-163 “soy highway,” a major trucking route that cuts through one of the most ecologically important parts of the Amazon Rainforest.
- Deforestation was recorded in protected areas, including conservation units and Indigenous reserves, which points to a failure by the government to fight environmental crimes, according to an author of the report.
- The main driver of deforestation in Indigenous reserves is illegal mining, which activists say has been encouraged by the rhetoric and legislative initiatives of President Jair Bolsonaro.

The conservation gains we’ve made are still fragile, says Aileen Lee of the Moore Foundation
- When Aileen Lee took on the mantle of chief program officer at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, she brought substantial experience as a management consultant to a nonprofit that’s the largest private donor of Amazon conservation efforts.
- Like management consultants, she says, grant makers “will never be as close to the realities of the problems” as the groups they help, but can still help them “access resources, knowledge, and networks that might not otherwise be available to them.”
- Lee hails groundbreaking efforts in conservation and philanthropy, including the adoption of technology and greater engagement with a wider range of stakeholders, including Indigenous-led conservation groups.
- In an interview with Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler, Lee discusses the Moore Foundation’s achievements in the Amazon, the impacts of recent setbacks to that work, and the role of young people in forging the future they want.

Timber troubles fell Ricardo Salles, Brazil’s environment minister
- Three weeks after being named in a second probe into alleged illegal exports of Amazon timber and facing growing opposition, Brazil’s controversial environment minister, Ricardo Salles, was ousted on June 23 “upon request,” as announced in the country’s official gazette.
- Despite his controversial remarks and heavily criticized policies that fueled deforestation rates in the Amazon, Salles enjoyed relative stability in the government, until a month ago when the legal troubles flared up.
- In a press conference in Brasília, Salles said he was resigning to allow the facilitation of the country’s environmental negotiations on the international stage and in the national agenda, which will require Brazil to “have a strong union of interests.”
- Salles has been replaced by Joaquim Alves Pereira Leite, who has been in the environment ministry since 2019 and held a board seat for more than 20 years at an agribusiness lobbying institute. While some politicians have welcomed his appointment, others have called for a shift in Brazil’s environmental policies.

Under assault at home, Indigenous leaders get a violent welcome in Brasília
- Three Indigenous leaders were reportedly seriously injured after Brazilian police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades at protesters in the capital, Brasília
- The incident comes as Indigenous groups from across Brazil gather in the capital to protest against violence and invasions that they face on their own lands; the Munduruku people had to have a police escort to travel to Brasília after being attacked by illegal miners in their reserve in Pará state.
- The Indigenous protesters are also in the capital to press Congress to halt deliberations of legislation that they call the “bill of death,” that would severely undermine Indigenous rights. On the day after the confrontation, it was approved by a congressional commission and will go to a vote in the lower house.
- Among other measures, the bill would make it harder to demarcate Indigenous reserves; override Indigenous territorial sovereignty for “public interest” projects; and dismantle the current policy of non-contact with isolated Indigenous people.

Amazon dams: No clean water, fish dying, then the pandemic came
- Villagers living near the Teles Pires and São Manoel dams in Brazil’s Mato Grosso state — including the Apiaká, Kayabí and Munduruku peoples — attest to poor water quality, lack of potable water, increased malaria and rashes since the dams were built on their river. They also say there has been little response from the dam companies.
- Indigenous peoples say the Brazilian hydroelectric projects have altered river ecology along with thousands of years of cultural practice, especially their fishing livelihood. Migratory fish and other game fish have been greatly diminished, so residents must now resort to fishing at night.
- Once the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the region, lack of clean water for bathing became even more urgent, while disappearing fish in daily diets made it harder to get food or isolate in riverside villages. Only under judicial order did dam companies recently improve water supply infrastructure.
- Experts trace these adverse impacts back to the dams’ planning stages: with the construction companies skipping legally mandated steps, not consulting Indigenous peoples as required, and failing to calculate cumulative impacts of multiple dam projects. Villagers are now monitoring impacts — and some are studying the law.

In Brazil’s most Indigenous city, prejudice and diversity go hand in hand
- São Gabriel da Cachoeira, in northern Amazonas state, is recognized as Brazil’s most Indigenous municipality: an estimated 90% of its population is Indigenous, accounting for both its urban and rural areas; the urban area alone is 58% self-declared Indigenous.
- Spread across an area the size of Cuba, São Gabriel da Cachoeira has a history marked by the arrival of Brazilian military forces in 1760 and subsequently Catholic and Protestant missionaries, organized Indigenous social movements, as well as national and international NGOs focused on defending the environment and the Indigenous peoples.
- According to the census, there are 32 indigenous ethnic groups in São Gabriel da Cachoeira, many of them unknown in the rest of the country, such as the Koripako, Baniwa, Baré, Wanano, Piratapuya, Tukano, and Dãw people.
- The municipality is the only one in the country with four official languages, in addition to Portuguese: Baniwa, Tukano, Nheengatu and Yanomami. But despite its cultural and ethnic diversity, there are frequent reports of discrimination against Indigenous people.

Farmers in the Amazon could earn 9 times more and prevent ecosystem collapse
- In this opinion piece, Jonah Wittkamper, Alexander Borges Rose, and Denis Minev argue that agroforestry in the Amazon “can replace cattle, generate new wealth, create jobs and develop new economic zones that insulate pristine forest from deforestation risk.”
- “The opportunity is huge and the needs are urgent,” they write. “If landowners switched from producing soy to a polyculture of fruit and horticultural products, their income would more than triple.”
- This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.