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
Sub-canopy fires often result in degradation, not deforestation
Large-scale industrial agriculture like soy and plantations
Selective logging commonly results in degradation, not deforestation
Mining, urbanization, road construction, dams, etc.


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


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.


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
AlagoasAtlantic forest35,53734,9331.7%57551851079211.4%
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%
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%
ParaíbaAtlantic forest23,76423,5121.1%11214826632639.6%
ParanáAtlantic forest1,044,8811,020,2532.4%7947474734017014.1%
PernambucoAtlantic forest42,72741,0014.0%1563136125875910.7%
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%
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

Fueled by impunity, invasions surge in Brazil’s Indigenous lands
- After a decade-long struggle, Apyterewa was officially demarcated as a protected Indigenous territory in 2007, exclusively for the use of the Paracanã people who’ve called it home for generations.
- But despite these protections, Apyterewa has lost about 5% of its forest cover since 2007 as outsiders continue to move in and clear land for pasture, mines and timber.
- Deforestation seems to have picked up pace in recent months: satellites detected 83,445 deforestation alerts between Aug. 24 and Nov. 16, with several weeks registering “unusually high” levels of forest loss.
- Civil society advocates blame the Bolsonaro administration for the surging deforestation in Apyterewa and other protected areas: “We have a scenario of a weakening of the environmental agencies, which has been really profound,” said Danicley de Aguiar, an Amazon campaigner with Greenpeace. “It’s as if we threw a knife in the heart of Brazil’s environmental policy.”

Trans-Purus: Brazil’s last intact Amazon forest at immediate risk (commentary)
- Brazil’s remaining Amazon forest is roughly divided in half by the Purus River, just west of the notorious BR-319 (Manaus-Porto Velho) highway. To the west of the river lies the vast “Trans-Purus” region — intact rainforest stretching to the Peruvian border. To the east, the forest is already heavily deforested, degraded and fragmented.
- Multiple threats are now closing in on the Trans-Purus region, and expected to increase greatly with the impending “reconstruction” of the BR-319. Planned roads linked to the BR-319 would open the Trans-Purus region to land grabbers (grileiros), organized landless farmers (sem-terras) and other actors from Brazil’s “arc of deforestation.”
- A massive planned gas and oil project would also likely lead to new road connections to the other planned highways in the Trans-Purus area, opening even more of the region to invasion. Asian oil palm and logging companies are among those with a historical interest in the area.
- This last large block of intact Brazilian Amazon forest is essential for ecosystem services — maintaining biodiversity, carbon stocks, and the forest water cycling functions essential for rainfall in other parts of Brazil and neighboring countries. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

France falls short in ending deforestation linked to imported soy
- A new agreement signed by eight grocery store chains in France is aimed at ending the importation of soybeans grown on deforested lands.
- France introduced a national strategy to address deforestation in supply chains in 2018.
- But environmental and watchdog NGOs say the country must go beyond voluntary commitments from companies and mandate an end to trade with producers linked to deforestation.

The Amazon’s Yanomami utterly abandoned by Brazilian authorities: Report
- A new report highlights the escalating existential crisis among the 30,000 Indigenous people living in the Yanomami Territory, covering 9,664,975 hectares (37,317 square miles) in northern Brazil. Data shows that the Yanomami reserve is in the top ten areas now most prone to illegal deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.
- The report accuses Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazilian government of abandoning the Yanomami to the invasion of their territory by tens-of-thousands of illegal miners. While the administration has launched sporadic operations to stop these incursions, the miners return as soon as police leave the reserve.
- Bolsonaro is also accused of having done little to combat COVID-19 or provide basic healthcare. As a result, pandemic case numbers have grown by 250% in the last three months, now possibly infecting 10,000 Yanomami and Ye’kwana, about a third of the reserve’s entire population, with deaths recorded among adults and children.
- “Children, young people and the generations to come deserve to live healthy lives in their forest home. Their futures should not be cut off by the actions of a genocidal administration,” says the report compiled by the Yanomami and Ye’kwana and a network of academics. Brazil’s Health Ministry denied the charge of negligence.

Multiplying Amazon river ports open new Brazil-to-China commodities routes
- Nearly 100 major industrial river ports have been built on the Brazilian Amazon’s major rivers over the past two decades. Many of the projects have been internationally financed and built by commodities companies with little government oversight.
- These ports have transformed the region, opening it to agribusiness and the export of commodities, especially soy, to China and the rest of the world. However, this boom in port infrastructure often came at the expense of the environment and traditional riverine communities.
- Today, more than 40 additional major river ports are planned in the Amazon biome on the Tapajós, Tocantins, Madeira and other rivers, projects again being pursued largely without taking cumulative socioenvironmental impacts into account.
- “What resources do these soy men bring to our city?” asked Manoel Munduruku, an Indigenous leader. “They only bring destruction.”

‘CSI Amazon’: Epic study looks at what’s killing the rainforest’s trees
- A newly published study provides insight into why trees die in the Amazon, and why the rate of tree death may be increasing. The main risk factor explaining tree death was the mean growth rate of species.
- More than half, 51%, of tree deaths observed over the 30-year study were attributed to structural damage, mostly from windstorms.
- Different regions of the Amazon showed different risk factors for trees: Overall, the southern and western Amazon had higher mortality rates; wind seemed to do more damage in the western Amazon, whereas the southern Amazon had more tree death due to water stress and drought.
- The findings have major implications for the fight against climate change, given that the Amazon accounts for 12% of land-based carbon sink, but is losing that capacity as tree mortality increases.

Brazil’s Bem Querer dam: An impending Amazon disaster (commentary)
- Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has announced his administration’s priorities for Amazon dams, including the planned Bem Querer dam on the Rio Branco in the far-northern state of Roraima.
- Bem Querer is primarily intended to increase the energy supply to industries in locations outside of Amazonia, rather than for residents of Roraima.
- Probable environmental impacts include blocking fish migrations and flooding a riparian forest that possesses extraordinary bird diversity. Downstream flow alteration would impact protected areas, including two Ramsar wetland biodiversity sites. Riverside dwellers would also be impacted.
- Sediment flow blockage would impact fisheries and the unique Anavilhanas Archipelago, a spectacular Brazilian national park. These adverse impacts need to be fully evaluated before a decision to build is made. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Conserve freshwater or land biodiversity? Why not both, new study asks
- Freshwater ecosystems, such as rivers, lakes and streams, are home to 10% of all described species, but are often overlooked in conservation planning and their populations have shown rapid declines in recent decades.
- An analysis of aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity in two regions of the Amazon Basin found that conservation planning aimed only at plants and animals on land tends not to benefit freshwater species, whereas taking a freshwater focus benefited species in both realms.
- The widest benefits can be achieved with an integrated approach, the study found: considering the needs and sensitivities of both terrestrial and freshwater creatures increased freshwater benefits by 62-345% on average, with just a 1% trade-off to terrestrial benefits.
- The study highlights the urgent need for freshwater biodiversity conservation in the Amazon, and comes as policymakers and stakeholders prepare to negotiate new goals, targets and conservation frameworks for the coming decades.

Amazon deforestation shoots higher in October, reversing 3-month trend
- Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rose 50 percent in October, ending a streak where the deforestation rate had declined for three straight months, according to data released Friday by the national space research institute INPE.
- The news came days after Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro appeared to threaten the use of military force against the United States should it attempt to impose sanctions on the South American country for its failure to slow rising deforestation.
- Bolsonaro is known for making contentious statements, including blaming environmentalists, Indigenous peoples, and the actor Leonardo DiCaprio for deforestation in the Amazon.
- Bolsonaro has presided over a sharp increase in deforestation since he took office in January 2019.

Brazil sees record number of bids to mine illegally on Indigenous lands
- An exclusive investigation shows Brazil’s mining regulator continues to entertain requests to mine in Indigenous territories, which is prohibited under the country’s Constitution.
- There have been 145 such applications filed this year, the highest number in 24 years, spurred by President Jair Bolsonaro’s anti-Indigenous rhetoric and a bill now before Congress that would permit mining on Indigenous lands.
- Prosecutors and judges say that by maintaining these unconstitutional mining applications on file and not immediately rejecting them, the mining regulator is granting them a semblance of legitimacy.
- Mining represents a real threat to the Brazilian Amazon, where the protected status of Indigenous territories is the main reason the forests they contain remain standing.

Satellites, maps and the flow of cattle: Brazilian solutions for reducing deforestation are already in use
- Complete tracking of the cattle supply chain from calving to slaughter would guarantee that the beef produced in the Amazon is untainted by illegal deforestation.
- The largest meatpackers have been promising to track their indirect suppliers since 2009. Now, under pressure from investors, they have set a deadline of 2025.
- The tracing technology and data already exist. But a lack of integration between information systems, concerns over data confidentiality and resistance from the sector are slowing progress.

BR-319: The beginning of the end for Brazil’s Amazon forest (commentary)
- Brazil’s planned reconstruction of the BR-319 (Manaus-Porto Velho) Highway paralleling the Purus and Madeira rivers would give deforesters access to about half of what remains of the country’s Amazon forest, and so is perhaps the most consequential conservation issue for Brazil today.
- The highway route is essentially a lawless area today, and the lack of governance is a critical issue in the battle over licensing the highway reconstruction project.
- The BR-319 upgrade would link the current “arc of deforestation” to central Amazonia, allowing movement of deforestation actors to all forest locations with road links to Manaus, while a planned BR-319 connecting road would open the vast forest area between the BR-319 and the Peruvian border.
- The BR-319 Environmental Impact Assessment has many flaws, including ignoring impacts beyond those adjacent to the highway. The EIA also contains passages admitting to some disastrous project impacts. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Rewilding key to averting mass extinctions and reducing carbon emissions
- A recent study that analyzed data from biomes all over the world, covering an area of almost 3 billion hectares (7 billion acres) that were turned from natural habitats into farmlands, concluded that rewilding is key to recovery.
- Restoring 30% of this area and preserving remaining natural habitats could remove almost half the carbon dioxide surplus humans have emitted since the start of the Industrial Revolution.
- Restoring this area would also save 71% of animal species from extinction compared with current extinction rates, according to researchers.
- High-priority areas are concentrated in the tropics. Wetlands restoration has the highest positive impact for biodiversity conservation and forests the highest importance for climate change mitigation.

REDD+ carbon and deforestation cuts in Amazon overestimated: Study
- A new study analyzed 12 REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) voluntary projects conducted in the Brazilian Amazon.
- Researchers found that the projects’ claimed reductions in forest loss and carbon emissions were seriously overstated due to poorly set deforestation rate baselines that didn’t properly account for other successful forest loss reductions that were achieved separately by the Brazilian government.
- To correct this problem in future, the researchers expressed the “need to better align project- and national-level carbon accounting,” while at the same time striking a balance between “controlling conservation investment risk and ensuring the environmental integrity of carbon emission offsets.”
- Suggestions for achieving more reliable carbon accounting include: only taking into account the most recent years of deforestation, relying on more complex models that look at the price of agricultural commodities, and comparing deforestation to similar areas not involved in REDD+ projects.

2020 fires endangering uncontacted Amazon Indigenous groups
- Amazon fires this year are seriously threatening Indigenous territories in which isolated uncontacted Indigenous groups make their homes. Brazil has an estimated 100+ isolated Indigenous groups living within its borders, more than any other Amazonian nation.
- Particularly threatened by fires in 2020 are the isolated Ãwa people who live on Bananal Island in Tocantins state; the uncontacted Awá inhabiting the Arariboia Indigenous Reserve in Maranhão state; and uncontacted groups in the Uru Eu Wau Wau Indigenous territory in Rondônia and Ituna Itatá Indigenous territory in Pará, the Brazilian state with the highest deforestation and land conflicts rates.
- All of these Indigenous territories are under intense pressure from land grabbers, illegal loggers and ranchers, with many of this year’s fires thought to have been set intentionally as a means of converting protected rainforest to pasture and cropland.
- Meanwhile, the Jair Bolsonaro government has hobbled IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, defunding it and preventing it from fighting fires, causing one critic to accuse the administration of having “waged war against Indigenous peoples” and of “an ongoing genocide.”

Amazon botanist Sir Ghillean Prance: ‘The environmental crisis is a moral one’
- Sir Ghillean Prance first visited the Amazon in 1963 as a budding botanist, going on to describe more than 200 plant species and becoming a leading expert on the rainforest’s flora.
- But his studies coincided with a period of massive deforestation, prompting him to turn his focus toward generating data that would help inform more sustainable practices.
- Devoutly religious, Prance says Christians have a duty of care for “the creation on which our future depends.”
- In this interview with Mongabay founder and CEO Rhett A. Butler, Prance calls the ongoing environmental crisis “a moral, religious and ethical one.”

Marmosets trafficked as pets now threaten native species in Atlantic forest
- Decades of illegal trafficking have led to the movement of marmosets from Brazil’s Cerrado and Caatinga biomes into the southeastern Atlantic rainforest, where they now threaten the survival of native species.
- According to a study, the invasive marmosets crossbreed with native species, producing a hybrid population that could lead to the extinction of the endemic species.
- One of the native Atlantic rainforest species, the buffy-tufted-ear marmoset (Callithrix aurita), is one of the world’s 25 most endangered primate species.

‘Digital land grab’ deprives traditional LatAm peoples of ancestral lands: Report
- South American nations, including Brazil and Colombia, are increasingly using georeferencing technology for registering land ownership.
- However, if this high-tech digital technique is not backed up by traditional ground truthing surveys, it can be used by landgrabbers and agribusiness companies to fraudulently obtain deeds depriving traditional communities of their collective ancestral lands, according to a new report.
- The georeferenced process is being partly funded by the World Bank, which has provided US $45.5 million for digital registration of private rural properties in Brazil. Georeferencing is allowing the international financial sector to play a key role in converting large tracts of rainforest and savanna into agribusiness lands.
- To prevent this form of land theft, prospective landowners’ claims need to be independently verified via a centralized governmental land registration system organized to resolve land conflicts and to detect and eliminate local and regional corruption.

For Amazon’s harpy eagle, nesting trees are also coveted for timber
- A new study finds that nesting trees for the harpy eagle in the Amazon are almost all targeted by the commercial timber industry.
- The eagles were found to select trees with specific architecture to support their nests and young.
- Tightening legal logging regulations and enforcement could help with the problem, but stamping out illegal logging is a more pressing challenge.

Brazil reports lower deforestation, higher fires in September
- Brazil’s national space research institute INPE reported a third straight monthly drop in Amazon deforestation in September, but its data also showed a sharp increase in the area affect by fires.
- According to INPE’s deforestation alert system, deforestation in the “legal Amazon” during the month of September amounted to 964 square kilometers, down 34% from September 2019. That follows a 27% decline in July and a 21% decline in August relative to a year ago when deforestation in the region hit the highest level since 2008.
- However the reported decline in recent months does not match the trend reported by Imazon, an independent NGO, which reported increases of more than 30% in July and August, but hasn’t published September analysis yet. The discrepancy could be due to the different methodologies used by the two systems, though normally INPE and Imazon’s data show strong correlation.
- Since January, INPE has reported more than 7,000 square kilometers of deforestation in the Amazon, down 10% from the same period last year, but the second highest on record since 2008.