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Deforestation in Amazonia

The Brazilian presidential election was a crucial issue for the Amazon and the environment, but why?

Since the incumbent president, Jair Bolsonaro, took office, deforestation has increased by an average of 75% compared to the previous decade. This is an alarming figure given that the level of CO2, responsible for global warming, has never been so high in the atmosphere and that this tropical forest captures a very large part of it.

In contrast, Lula, who has just been re-elected, managed to drastically reduce deforestation during his first term. In the wake of his re-election, the environmental challenges facing him are ever greater. However, nothing seems lost; for example, Norway, which had frozen its financial aid to combat deforestation in the Amazon under Bolsonaro's presidency, is renewing its collaboration and support to reverse this trend alongside the Brazilian government.

But what is deforestation?

Deforestation is the permanent loss of forest to other uses. Today, almost 80% of global deforestation is caused by agriculture, with the remaining 20% due to infrastructure construction, mining and urbanisation. Since the 1960s, the Amazon has been particularly subject to rapid deforestation and has lost nearly 26% of its original area in 60 years. The widespread nature of this phenomenon is due to the Brazilian state's desire to integrate peripheral regions by building vast transport infrastructures, offering numerous tax benefits and promoting a major agricultural development programme.

Who are the "deforesters"?

Although still poorly understood and sometimes significantly different depending on the region studied, the deforestation process in the Brazilian Amazon follows a particular logic. It is generally accepted that hectares of forest are cleared to grow crops or graze large herds. However, the deforestation process is more complex because it is driven by different actors.

A distinction is made between :

- The colonos, who are very small family farmers,

- The fazendeirnhos, who are medium-sized cattle breeders,

- The fazendeiros, who are large cattle breeders, often very influential in capital terms.

How do they do it?

First of all, it should be noted that all land clearing activities on the pioneer fronts are illegal because the perpetrators are not authorised by the federal state. Under Brazilian law, the actors responsible for clearing land are liable to heavy fines and even prison sentences for "environmental crime". They are mainly small, autonomous teams that are difficult to identify and that carry out this 'first' stage of high-risk land clearing in order to 'gain land'.

Then there is another phenomenon, perfectly legal, carried out by the large cattle breeders, which takes place in three stages:

First, livestock breeding in the strict sense, i.e. "cattle production".

- Secondly, the production of pastures, i.e. the production of perennial deforested areas dedicated to animal feed;

- Finally, the development of these pastures and, more specifically, land speculation, which consists of encouraging and taking advantage of the meteoric rise in the value of the region's land when a farm (the fazenda) is sold.

Finally, it is important to understand that "cattle production" in the strict sense only represents 1 to 30% of a fazendeiro's annual profit rates, while cattle production + land valuation represents between 20 and 40%, and that these two elements linked to pasture production can represent 90% of the profits made.

In conclusion, the deforestation of the Amazon is schematically an extremely profitable process of "legal creation and resale of agricultural land" rather than simply "agricultural production" as such.

What is happening to the Amazon rainforest today?

The Amazon is currently the region in the world most affected by deforestation. The consequences are numerous. First of all, deforestation contributes greatly to the erosion of Amazonian biodiversity, which alone represents more than 10% of the world's biodiversity. But deforestation also has a strong impact on the climate. It is important to note that the Amazon rainforest alone regulates the entire climate of South America. It is important to note that the Amazon rainforest alone regulates the entire climate of South America, maintaining humidity by producing water vapour through evapotranspiration from the trees. Without this forest, the entire region is subject to severe droughts.

As mentioned above, a critical point has been reached, as it is estimated that 26% of the original area has been deforested in 60 years. However, a recent report remains optimistic and sets an achievable target of 80% intact or minimally degraded land by 2025. In concrete terms, this means restoring 54 million hectares of land in three years - the size of a country like France!

What can be done to protect the forest?

Studies have shown that the creation of protected areas plays an essential role in slowing down the rate of deforestation and appears to be the most effective strategy. However, it requires the active participation of the Brazilian government. It is also necessary to work with local farmers to provide them with regenerative agriculture that respects ecosystems.

However, protecting the forest is only part of the answer. As the world's population continues to grow, the need to find new agricultural land is becoming increasingly urgent. Rather than converting natural, wild lands into productive agricultural land, there is an urgent need to restore degraded lands and turn them back into arable land. Deserts cover an area of 5,000 million hectares, the equivalent of the American continent. Cultivating these vast areas is one of the solutions advocated in response to the agricultural problems we face. With this in mind, the Sand to Green teams have developed a solution for growing deserts, by installing agroforestry plantations of endemic species irrigated by desalination of brackish water or sea water using solar energy.


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