Cattle ranching driving surge in illegal deforestation in northern Brazil

29.08.2018

Almost 13,000 hectares (ha) of protected forests were destroyed in the northern Brazilian state of Pará in May and June, according to analysis by the conservation NGO Socio-environmental Institute (ISA).

The deforestation, which affected indigenous reserves, was driven by mining, logging and illegal cattle ranching.

The Triunfo do Xingu Protected Area (APA) suffered the heaviest losses, with nearly 5,000ha cleared for cattle ranching in May alone. This is on top of the nearly 3,000ha deforested in the area in the first four months of the year.

São Félix do Xingu, one of the municipalities within which the Triunfo do Xingu Protected Area is located, is home to Brazil’s largest herd of cattle. ISA has linked the increase in deforestation in the area to the rise in Brazilian beef exports in the first five months of the year.

This recent increase in deforestation in Pará is taking place amid a general uptick in forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon. According to the Brazilian NGO Imazon, which publishes monthly rates of deforestation in the region, forest clearance in the Amazon saw a 73% increase in May compared to the same month in 2017 and a 108 percent increase in June.

These trends, following a decline in deforestation in 2017, have been connected to recent political and legislative victories by the agribusiness lobby in the country, which has emboldened land-grabbers to act with impunity. A recent amnesty forgiving billions of dollars in fines against many guilty of illegal deforestation, attempts by the federal government to reduce the sizes of protected areas and indigenous reservations, and the drastic cutting of environmental and law enforcement agencies’ budgets have led analysts to suggest that deforestation rates could soar in 2018.

The situation in Triunfo do Xingu is illustrative. In late March, ISA presented a complaint to Pará’s environment agency (Semas) denouncing the growing destruction of the APA. Defending its failure to take action, Semas has alleged to have insufficient resources to tackle the problem, with only 20 inspectors to cover an area larger than France, Germany and the UK combined.

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