The destruction of the Brazilian Amazon due to both deforestation and forest fires has escalated drastically over recent years, and new data indicates that many of the country’s agricultural exports are now produced on land that has been illegally cleared. More specifically, some 20 percent of Brazil’s soya exports and at least 17 percent of its beef exports to the European Union (EU) are “contaminated with illegal deforestation,” according to a study in the journal Science.
The study authors estimate that the EU imports 41 percent of its soya products from Brazil, while also receiving between 25 and 40 percent of its beef from the South American nation. To ensure that regions of critical environmental importance are not used for farming, the Brazilian authorities have established areas of permanent protection (APPs), which cover about 20 percent of the country and 80 percent of the Amazon region.
In spite of this, deforestation continues at an alarming rate in both the Amazon and the neighboring biome of Cerrado. Furthermore, because it is not easy to trace exported products back to the farms on which they were produced, it remains unknown exactly how much of this illegally cleared land is connected to Brazil’s agribusiness.
To try and clear this up, the researchers compiled a comprehensive set of land-use and deforestation maps using publicly available data. A total of 815,000 rural properties were included in their analysis, which enabled them to identify which ranches were being illegally deforested and which of these were producing soya and beef for export.
Results showed that 45 percent of properties in the Amazon and 48 percent of those in Cerrado were failing to comply with APP rules and were being illegally deforested to some degree. However, the report also found that 2 percent of ranches were responsible for 62 percent of all illegal deforestation in the area.
The study authors therefore urge the authorities to target these “bad apples” in order to clean up the country’s agricultural sector and ensure that its exported products remain deforestation-free.
However, the situation is somewhat complicated by the fact that cattle raised for export on legal farmland are often fed with soya that is cultivated on illegally cleared land, meaning that meat products can also be indirectly linked to deforestation.
To give an idea of the global impact of all this land clearance, the researchers calculate that between 2009 and 2017, 58 million metric tons of carbon dioxide were released into the atmosphere as a result of deforestation in order to cultivate soya for the EU.
It is feared that this could cancel out the EU’s attempts to reduce its own emissions, highlighting the need for global cooperation in the fight against climate change.