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

We’re killing those tropical trees we’re counting on to absorb carbon dioxide
- A pair of recent studies show that rising temperatures are shortening the lives of trees in tropical forests and reducing their capacity to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
- This phenomenon is already being observed in parts of the Amazon, where the temperature has already crossed a critical threshold of 25°C (77°F); by 2050, the same may happen in the Congo Basin, the world’s second-biggest tropical rainforest.
- Forests play a major role in fighting global warming, but the authors of the recent studies say we shouldn’t be overly reliant on them as a solution, given their diminished capacity to absorb carbon dioxide.
- Instead, they say that cutting emissions is more urgent than ever.

As Amazon forest-to-savanna tipping point looms, solutions remain elusive
- Leading scientists project that if an additional 3-8% of rainforest cover is lost in the Amazon, it may overshoot a forest-to-degraded-savanna tipping point. That shift could mean mega-drought, forest death, and release of great amounts of stored carbon to the atmosphere from southern, eastern and central Amazonia.
- Despite this warning, Brazilian Amazon deforestation hit an 11-year high in 2020. Government clampdowns on environmental crime greatly decreased deforestation in the past, but Brazil is now facing a political backlash led by President Jair Bolsonaro, resulting in agribusiness and mining expansion and deforestation.
- Market efforts to create incentives have been ineffective. A public-private plan to cut deforestation led by Mato Grosso state has not met its environmental targets, even as agricultural lands increased. Amazonas, Acre and Rondônia — Bolsonaro-aligned states — are pushing for the creation of a new agriculture frontier.
- Indigenous communities, because they’re the best land stewards, should be at the forefront of public policy to conserve the Amazon, say experts, but instead they face poverty and marginalization by the institutions responsible for securing their land rights. International response to the Amazon crisis has also lagged.

Big dream: NGO leads in creating 1,615-mile Amazon-Cerrado river greenbelt
- The Black Jaguar Foundation plans to reforest 1 million hectares (2.4 million acres) along Brazil’s Araguaia and Tocantins rivers in the Amazon and Cerrado biomes. The 2,600 kilometer (1,615 mile) long natural corridor will require the planting of around 1.7 billion trees. Tens-of-thousands have already been planted.
- This natural corridor will be established on private lands, and it will have dual ecological and economic goals, resulting in both land conservation and sustainable agroforestry production. It would cross six Brazilian states (Goiás, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Tocantins, Pará and Maranhão).
- BJF is well funded and well organized, so the greatest barriers to accomplishing the NGO’s goals are many initially resistant rural property owners who need to be sold on the economic benefits of the green corridor. 24,000 privately owned lots are included in the planned green corridor.
- “Brazil has a huge liability in degraded areas, and the BJF [green corridor] initiative is a huge outdoor laboratory for ecosystem restoration in the center of the country, in the agricultural frontier region,” said one researcher.

European public roundly rejects Brazil trade deal unless Amazon protected
- The gigantic trade agreement between the European Union and the Mercosur South American bloc (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay), if ratified, would be the biggest trade deal in history, totaling US $19 trillion.
- However, an extremely poor environmental record by the Mercosur nations, especially Brazil, has become a stumbling block to clinching the agreement. In new polling 75% of respondents in 12 European nations say the EU-Mercosur trade pact should not be ratified if Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil doesn’t end Amazon deforestation.
- France, the Parliaments of the Netherlands, Austria and Belgium’s Walloon region, have announced they will not endorse the trade pact. The ratification also finds resistance by Ireland and Luxembourg. Portugal’s government appears ready to move forward with ratification without environmental safeguards put in place.

Fruit-eating, seed-pooping animals can help restore degraded forests
- Restoring degraded forests can be expensive and complicated, but Brazilian researchers may have a simple technique to add to the restoration toolbox: enlisting fruit-eating animals to spread seeds.
- A new study shows that many species of mammals and birds will consume seeds inserted into fruits at feeders and then excrete the seeds over wide areas.
- This novel proof-of-concept study highlights the importance of plant and animal interactions to restore the natural ecology of forests people have destroyed or degraded.

Brazil timber imports ‘may have breached US flooring giant’s probation’
- A new report examines serious irregularities in Brazilian timber exporter Indusparquet’s supply chains, revealing the unusual clemency shown to the company since President Jair Bolsonaro came to power, and the American and European importers that have continued to buy from the firm in spite of its troubling sourcing practices.
- In May 2018, Indusparquet’s main warehouse was raided with 1,818 cubic meters of hardwood seized and the company fined $171,473 and issued a temporary ban on trading. The raid was the culmination of a two-year investigation by the Brazilian Environment Ministry’s anti-deforestation agency, Ibama, and the Federal Police.
- But at least one company, LL Flooring, may have violated the terms of its probation by continuing to import Indusparquet products following the seizures, Earthsight found.

Pandemic fails to slow agribusiness’s thirst for Cerrado’s water
- Between April and November last year, the government of the Brazilian state of Bahia authorized agribusinesses to collect nearly 2 billion liters (528 million gallons) of water a day.
- The spread of giant soybean plantations in the state’s west threatens tributaries, floodplains and sources of essential rivers such as the Corrente and the São Francisco.
- The large-scale irrigation poses a major threat to traditional communities, whose own communal farming practices have long protected the Cerrado’s water resources.
- Tensions over water management sparked a popular movement by small farmers in 2017, known as the “Water Uprising” and aimed at protecting the Cerrado’s water resources.

Brazil’s BR-319: Politicians capitalize on the Manaus oxygen crisis to promote a disastrous highway (Commentary)
- Brazil’s proposed reconstruction of the formerly abandoned BR-319 highway is notorious for its potential impact on Amazonian deforestation and indigenous peoples.
- The highway would connect Manaus, in the center of the Amazon, to the “arc of deforestation” in the southern part of the region, opening vast areas of forest to invasion.
- The current oxygen crisis in Manaus has been a windfall for politicians promoting the highway project, using the false argument that BR-319 is needed to supply oxygen to the city.
- This text is translated and expanded from the first author’s column on the Amazônia Real website. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

Investigation: Dutch, Japanese pension funds pay for Amazon deforestation
- Two pension funds in the Netherlands and one from Japan have invested a combined half a billion dollars in Brazil’s top three meatpackers.
- These investments in cattle ranching, an industry that’s the main driver of Amazon deforestation, contradict the environmental stances of the respective funds and their national governments.
- The fund managers and other experts say maintaining their stake is a more effective way of pushing for change in the companies than simply dumping the stock.
- But there’s also a growing realization that continued exposure to environmental risks over the long term will incur not just ethical and reputational harm for the funds, but even financial fallout.

A wet Amazon may be more resilient to a drying climate than thought: Study
- As a strategy to retain water, plants are thought to close their leaf pores in response to dry air, thereby also slowing their rate of photosynthesis. But a study that used machine learning to analyze satellite data found that in some of the wettest areas of the Amazon basin, photosynthesis rates actually increase in dry air.
- The authors suggest that leaf ageing during the dry season may explain this unexpected result, but independent experts question the reliability of methods used to estimate photosynthesis rates, and suggest alternative explanations for the results, such as plentiful soil water and the effect of light availability.
- The findings could have massive ramifications for existing climate change models, which must accurately represent photosynthetic processes in the Amazon if they are to produce meaningful results, given the widespread impact of these vast forests on climate and weather patterns.
- The Amazon Rainforest is one of Earth’s major carbon sinks, and it releases enough water into the atmosphere through transpiration to produce 50% of regional rainfall, making it a major influence on climate and weather patterns across South America and beyond.

Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam: Greenwashing contested (commentary)
- The company responsible for Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam claimed in a letter to the New York Times that the company respects Indigenous peoples, the environment and international conventions.
- The Arara Indigenous people contest the company’s claims and call attention to a series of broken promises.
- The Belo Monte Dam is notorious for having violated international conventions and Brazilian laws regarding consultation of Indigenous peoples, and for its massive environmental and social impacts.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Brazil guts agencies, ‘sabotaging environmental protection’ in Amazon: Report
- A new report documents draconian budget cuts to Brazilian environmental monitoring and firefighting of 9.8% in 2020, and 27.4% in 2021 — reductions, analysts say that were inflicted by the Bolsonaro administration in “a clear policy for dismantling national environmental policies.”
- Brazil’s environmental agencies under Bolsonaro have also been subjected to nearly 600 administrative and rules changes, invoked by presidential executive order and resulting in massive environmental deregulation.
- Under Bolsonaro, deforestation has soared, with an increase of 34% in the last two years, even as capacity to punish environmental criminals fell sharply due to funding shortages. Fines imposed for illegal deforestation, instead of rising during this Amazon environmental crime wave, fell by 42% from 2019 to 2020.
- Faced with Bolsonaro’s gutting of environmental agencies and protections, two Indigenous leaders — Kayapo Chief Raoni Metuktire, and Paiter Surui Chief Almir Narayamoga Surui — have asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague to investigate President Bolsonaro for “crimes against humanity.”

European farmed salmon sector to use only deforestation-free Brazilian soy
- Three Brazilian salmon-feed supply growers CJ Selecta, Caramuru and Imcopa/Cervejaria Petrópolis will produce and harvest only deforestation- and conversion-free soybean supply chain products.
- The change is a result of the first large-scale, protein-producing sector that’s eliminated links to tropical deforestation throughout the supply chain.
- Under the international agreement, no soybean crops produced on land converted after August 2020 will be allowed into supply chains, and the new standards will apply to future purchase contracts.

The Amazon lost an area of primary forest larger than Israel in 2020, new analysis finds
- The Amazon basin lost more than 2 million hectares of primary forest cover in 2020, according to a new report by the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP).
- This number is higher than the area lost in 2019 and the authors say it may be an underestimation.
- Brazil lost the most primary forest, with Bolivia experiencing high levels of fire-related deforestation of its unique Chiquitano dry forests.
- While Peru saw continuing deforestation in its midsection, MAAP found reductions in forest loss in the southern part of the country.

Investment in Indigenous peoples’ knowledge can drive their economic growth (commentary)
- Three shifts in investment practices could yield more sustainable, organic outcomes while honoring and empowering Indigenous communities.
- From valuing traditional knowledge to creating learning networks and structural mechanisms, Indigenous communities can be empowered and improve their livelihoods.
- Initiatives that are not built upon existing Indigenous knowledge and connections in their regions are unlikely to succeed, as was the case with the Biotechnological Center in the Amazon.
- This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Indigenous groups blast Amazon state’s plan to legalize wildcat mining
- Brazilian legislators in the Amazon state of Roraima have passed a bill legalizing garimpo wildcat mining on state lands without studies. Amendments would also legalize the use of toxic mercury in gold processing, and greatly expand the legal size of mining claims.
- Indigenous groups say the law was passed without adequate consultation, and will invite gold miner invasions of Indigenous reserves in the state, including that of the Yanomami, the largest reserve in Brazil. Since the election of President Jair Bolsonaro more than 20,000 illegal miners have been reported on Yanomami lands.
- Wildcat mining is already legal in some Brazilian Amazon states. Based on that experience, experts say that legalization in Roraima will enable fraud, with gold illegally mined in Indigenous reserves “laundered” to become “legal” gold, and illicit “conflict gold” trafficked from neighboring Venezuela laundered in Roraima.
- The Roraima garimpo mining bill now awaits the state governor’s signature.

Brazil elections boost environmental violators to high office in Amazon
- Fifty-one of the candidates were sitting office holders, 28 of whom ran for reelection.
- Many of these candidates are former illegal loggers and ranchers, and continue to hold a stake in agribusiness companies operating on deforested land.
- In addition to the environmental violations, some of the candidates are implicated in other serious crimes, including one accused of using slave labor on his farm, and another who owns a ranch where police uncovered 583 kilograms (1,285 pounds) of cocaine.
- By the end of the election, 85 municipalities across Brazil had elected mayors or deputy mayors fined by IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, for committing infractions in the past decade; a quarter of these politicians triumphed in Amazonian municipalities.

Podcast: What are the tropical forest storylines to watch in 2021?
- Happy new year to all of our faithful Mongabay Newscast listeners! For our first episode of the year, we take stock of how the world’s rainforests fared in 2020 and look ahead to the major stories to watch in 2021.
- We’re joined by Mongabay founder and CEO Rhett Butler, who discusses the impacts of the Covid pandemic on tropical forest conservation efforts, the most important issues likely to impact rainforests in 2021, and why he remains hopeful despite setbacks in recent years.
- We also speak with Joe Eisen, executive director of Rainforest Foundation UK, who helps us dig deeper into the major issues and events that will affect Africa’s rainforests in the coming year.

Indigenous agroforestry revives profitable palm trees and the Atlantic Forest
- Highly popular in Brazil because of its delicious heart, the jussara palm was eaten nearly to the brink of extinction.
- The Indigenous Guarani people from the São Paulo coast are traditional consumers of jussara palm hearts, and decided to reverse the loss by planting thousands of palm trees inside their reserve.
- With more than 100,000 jussara palms planted since 2008, the community now sells hearts and seedlings to tourists and beach house owners. The next step is to start extracting the pulp from jussara berries — similar to açaí berries, the popular superfood — which the group hopes will generate enough income to keep the palm trees standing.
- The palms grow among native trees in an ancient and increasingly popular agricultural technique called agroforestry, which combines woody trees with shrubs, vines, and annuals, in a system that benefits wildlife, builds water tables and soil, provides food, and sequesters carbon.

Lack of protection leaves Spain-size swath of Brazilian Amazon up for grabs
- Fifty million hectares (124 million acres) of undesignated forest in the Brazilian Amazon, an area the size of Spain, is under growing threat of illegal occupation and deforestation facilitated by a controversial government land registry.
- A Greenpeace Brazil study shows 62% of undesignated forest along a stretch of the BR-163 Highway has been illegally invaded and then registered by the occupiers with the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR).
- CAR, a self-declaratory system, was created in 2012 to help identify those responsible for rural plots, however, combined with the current weakening of environmental agencies and of field actions against deforestation, it’s helping legitimize land grabbing.
- The problem of land grabbing in the Amazon, often by speculators looking to sell to cattle ranchers and crop growers, is not new, but the situation has intensified under the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro. The Greenpeace researchers say there’s little prospect of a crackdown on land grabbing under the present political scenario.