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Amazon deforestation

Photo credit: New Scientist

More than 1 million people have been given land to farm in the Brazilian Amazon since the 1970s (Image: Andre Vieira/Polaris/eyevine)

Brazil’s resettlement of farmers has driven Amazon deforestation

Smallholder farmers resettled to rainforests by the Brazilian government have played an unrecognised role in deforestation there – something researchers worry is continuing unabated.

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff boasted in Washington DC last month that her government had reduced annual forest loss by two-thirds in the past decade, and would end it altogether by 2030.

Yet while overall deforestation has fallen, Brazilian researchers today reveal that the country’s officials are still organising the large-scale migration of poor farmers who have been wrecking the rainforest.

While the government has clamped down on illegal forest clearance by big landowners running cattle ranches and soya farms, its social resettlement schemes to allocate land to the rural poor are doing more damage than previously estimated.

“Irrefutable evidence”

The researchers looked at four decades of satellite images of forest cover around the homes of more than a million migrants in some 1900 Amazon settlements established by the government’s National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) since 1970.

They found “irrefutable evidence of rapid deforestation” after the settlers arrived.

Within the settlement areas, which cover roughly the size of the UK, half the trees have been lost, says lead author Maurício Schneider, a researcher at the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the National Congress in Brasilia.

The resettlement areas cover 5.3 per cent of the Brazilian Amazon, but have been responsible for 13.5 per cent of deforestation since 1970.

Read the full article: New Scientist

Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.