|Figure 1: Satellite images of deforestation
Source: MODIS Land Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC
Satellite data from the Brazilian Institute for Space Research
(INPE, Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais) showed that
an estimated 25 476 km2 of forest vanished between August 2001
and August 2002, the highest total in any of the past six years,
and the second largest since record-keeping began in 1978 (INPE
2003). Agricultural and livestock expansion continue to be the
main factors reducing forested areas in South America’s
tropical regions, as seen in the Cerrado and the Amazon in Brazil
(UNEP 2003a) (Figure 1).Slash-and-burn activities continue to
be important, but the expansion of soybean cultivation is exacerbating
Brazil is becoming a major soybean producer. In 1990, the area
sown was more than 11.4 million ha. By 2002–03, it had reached
17.9 million ha (Conab 2003). As the area under this crop increases,
traditional agriculture and livestock activities shift to marginal
wilderness areas. A similar process is taking place in central
Argentina, where soybean is the dominant crop, so other crops
and cattle are taking over marginal areas, with increased impacts
on water, soil and biodiversity.
The expansion of agriculture and livestock is, more than anything
else, due to export opportunities and technological changes. In
September 2003, the Brazilian government issued a provisional
regulation (MP 131) permitting transgenetic soybean cultivation
(WWF 2003a). This measure is a major issue in itself, and also
allows further expansion of the area cultivated for soybean production.
This image shows the extent of deforestation
in the state of Rondonia, Brazil. Tropical rainforest
appears bright red, while pale red and brown areas represent
cleared land. Black and gray areas have probably been
recently burned. The Jiparaná River appears blue.
Most of the clearing is done for agriculture – grazing
cattle, and planting crops. Large cattle pastures often
replace rainforest to grow beef for the world market.
Commercial logging is another common form of deforestation,
cutting trees for sale as timber or pulp.
Sources: NASA/ GSFC/ METI/ ERSDAC/ JAROS, and US/ Japan
ASTER Science Team