Thousands of fires linked to agriculture wreak havoc in Amazon


Fires along the Rio Xingu in Mato Grosso state Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Thousands of illegal forest fires linked to cattle ranching and agriculture have caused considerable damage to the Brazilian Amazon in 2016, according to recent data released by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

INPE’s Programa Queimadas (Fire Programme), a programme that monitors fires via satellite, has shown that states in the Brazilian northern, centre-western and north-eastern regions are the worst affected by criminal fires.

According to INPE’s data, the states with the highest numbers of forest fires are:

  • Mato Grosso (28,420)
  • Pará (18,669)
  • Maranhão (17,016)
  • Tocantins (14,269)
  • Amazonas (11,364)
  • Rondônia (11,239)
  • Piauí (7,169)
  • Acre (6,942)
  • Mato Grosso do Sul (6,678)
  • Minas Gerais (6,515)

The states of the Amazon agricultural frontier, Mato Grosso, Pará and Maranhão, top the table. Amazonas, Rondônia and Acre, mostly covered by the Amazon rainforest, also have high numbers of fires, indicating high levels of illegal activity in these states.

Although most fires take place during periods of drought, INPE dismisses arguments that they are accidental or caused by lightning. According to the institute, several of the fires are deliberate and meant to clear areas for agriculture and cattle ranching.

Unusually, 2016 saw record numbers of fires in January, February, March and April, while September had lower than average numbers of fires, mainly due to unseasonal rains.

In August, INPE alerted to a 65 per cent rise in forest fires in 2016 compared with the previous year.

According to Pará’s Environment Agency (Semas), the state had 464 forest fires in 66 municipalities between 18 and 20 November. Most of the fires took place in the northeast part of the state and in Marajó. 

The municipalities with the highest numbers of fire were Moju (35), Novo Repartimento (31) and Acará (32). Semas has emphasised that forest fires are environmental crimes according to article 50 of the 6.514/2008 federal decree.

There are federal, state and municipal laws prohibiting fires but these are rarely enforced.

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