DEFORESTATION IN THE AMAZONIAN RAINFOREST, BRAZIL

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1 DEFORESTATION IN THE AMAZONIAN RAINFOREST, BRAZIL By Eoin Lysaght The study of this region illustrates the geographical complexity of the economic, Cultural and physical processes taking place there. The Amazonian Rainforest is located in Brazil between 5 degrees North and South of the equator. It takes up a considerable amount of the continent that is South America as can be seen below. It is one of the biologically diverse and economically valuable areas in the world. It has undoubtedly been devastated by the human interferences of extensive agriculture such as cattle ranches as well as both legal and illegal logging and road construction as the graph below shows.

2 CAUSE During the 1950 s and 196O s a new capital city called Brasília was built in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. It was built here to encourage the settlement of the region to exploit its economic resources which include zinc and copper. Today Brasília has a population close to 2,469,489million people. Most of the people living in the region are migrants. According to the 2010 IBGE Census, there were 2,469,489 people residing in the city of Brasília. The census revealed the following numbers: 1,239,882 Brown (Multiracial) people (48.2%), 1,084,418 White people (42.2%), 198,072 Black people (7.7%), 41,522 Asian people (1.6%), 6,128 Amerindian people (0.2%). Therefore the region is quite culturally diverse. To build this new capital city large area of forest were cleared. Further deforestation then occurred when small and originally temporary accommodations were built on the outskirts of the city to house the many migrants hired to build the city. However instead of returning home after the city was built many of these migrants stayed and integrated into the population. During the 1970 s and 1980 s there was a massive amount of overpopulation and also severe poverty in other Brazilian cities. This created vast political difficulties and in a bid to relieve the population pressure in urban areas, the government encouraged the poor people to settle in the forest and clear it for farming and other extensive forms of agriculture. This also promoted the destruction of the forest and led to copious amounts of deforestation. Another factor that led to large amounts of extensive agriculture in the region and therefore the felling

3 of trees is the lack of industry attracted to the region. In the 1990 s Brasília contained mainly poor, less educated people and as a result many industries were not attracted to the region. As a consequence of this the region never developed to the levels that the Brazilian government had hoped it would. Brazil developers and settlers gain ownership of Amazonian lands by simply clearing forest and placing a few head of cattle on the land. Beef producers require more land to herd massive numbers of cattle for the beef trade with Europe and North America. A report written by journalist Jennifer Granholm recently revealed that the beef trade drives 80% of Amazonian deforestation. In the report she states Greenpeace Brazil has released a report at the World Social Forum in Belém showing that up to 80 percent of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest is due to an increase in raising cattle for human consumption. Brazil has quickly become the largest exporter of beef in the world, but they are not satisfied with their current market share and plan to increase production. The plan flies in the face of their supposed commitment to tackle climate change. The country is currently the fourth biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, 75% of which stem from deforestation. Most of the deforestation that occurs is done using the slash and burn technique which leads to uncontrolled forest burning and forest fires which further harms the land. A massive amount of land is required for cattle farming as in demonstrated in the above piechart which highlighted that 60% of deforestation in the Amazon is caused by cattle ranches. It is often said that for every one cow owned an acre of land is required. These cattle farms are often very large to supply the beef to Europe and North America and to remain economically viable. On average these cattle farms can be between 2,000 to 3,000 acres in size. Once built the cows also kick up soil with their hooves. This loose soil is then exposed to both wind and rain splash erosion where all of the vital nutrients are either washed or blown away. As a result of this the land becomes desertified and often infertile. Cash crops are also grown in the region and are an important cause of deforestation. Cash crops such as soya beans and coffee are grown to repay the international debt of Brazil. The land is farmed until it becomes exhausted and infertile. The Brazilian government continues to open up the rainforest to take advantage of its timber and mineral wealth. Timber companies such as Sudamericana Foreign Trade LTD. are given rights to remove forest and sell the timber abroad. The government then gets a portion of the profits and uses it to help pay off international debt and as a result of this they encourage the felling of timber. As the Amazonian rainforest area is rich in resources licenses are also given to mining companies to clear forests and mine for minerals such as zinc and lead. Roads are also being built across the rainforest by the government to allow easy access to various industries and hydroelectric power stations. To construct these roads large areas of forest were cleared. The longest road is he Trans-Amazonian Highway which is a 5,300km road, opened in August 1972 to facilitate settlement and exploration of resources in this vast underpopulated river basin. It has allowed the movement of people and goods to and from previously inaccessible areas.

4 EFFECT Deforestation has had a fatal impact on many native tribal people of the Amazonian rainforest. Before the year 1500 there were roughly 6million native tribal people living in Amazonia. However by the year 2000 there were less than 250,000. By the twenty first century, ninety tribes of native peoples had been wiped out in Brazil alone mainly due to the causes of deforestation. Firstly workers from the mining and logging companies as well as those who were brought over to help build the city of Brasilia spread diseases from their own countries against which the native Amazonians had no immunity. These included diseases such as the common cold, the measles and most importantly smallpox. These diseases especially smallpox have lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of native Amazonians as they had never been exposed to these germs before and due to their lack of immunity they were quickly affected and killed. Deforestation also leads to reduction in soil nutrients and eventually the soil becomes infertile. Once the soil has become depleted of nutrients it can no longer support the people who live there. These people are then forced to search for new lands and it can often lead to poverty. It also leads to a further amount of deforestation as part of an ongoing cycle. Deforestation can reduce the amount of CO2 that the soil can absorb from the atmosphere. Within ten years of deforestation beginning, the amount of carbon dioxide in the soil reduced by half. This means that the amount of carbon dioxide in the air had increased. Trees also take in Carbon dioxide and use it for photosynthesis, releasing oxygen as a product. This graph clearly highlights that the increasing amount of CO2 in the air coincides with the deforestation of the region in the 20 th and 21 st centuries. The increased amount of CO2 in the air can cause a lot of damage to humans. It is known to cause various different types of cancer including skin and lung cancer. An increased amount of carbon can also contribute to global warming and it can also make soils less fertile leading to more extensive farming and therefore further deforestation.

5 Another effect of deforestation is that the natural habitat for wildlife is severely reduced. Many animals and insects have not yet been clearly identified and as more of the rainforest is destroyed the chance to study them is lost. As a result of this it can be said that the biodiversity of the region has declined. The magnitude of this loss to the world was most poignantly described by Harvard's Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist Edward O. Wilson over a decade ago when he stated "The worst thing that can happen during the 1980s is not energy depletion, economic collapses, limited nuclear war, or conquest by a totalitarian government. As terrible as these catastrophes would be for us, they can be repaired within a few generations. The one process ongoing in the 1980s that will take millions of years to correct is the loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats. This is the folly that our descendants are least likely to forgive us for." Yet still the destruction continues. If deforestation continues at current rates, scientists estimate nearly 80 to 90 percent of tropical rainforest ecosystems will be destroyed by the year This destruction is the main force driving a species extinction rate unmatched in 65 million years. The loss of many species of plants is a serious cause for concern as some may contain chemicals that could one day lead to potential cures for diseases such as cancer and AIDS. The U.S. National Cancer Institute has identified 3000 plants that are active against cancer cells. 70% of these plants are found in the rainforest. Twenty-five percent of the active ingredients in today's cancer-fighting drugs come from organisms found only in the rainforest. Vincristine, extracted from the rainforest plant, periwinkle, is one of the world's most powerful anticancer drugs. It has dramatically increased the survival rate for acute childhood leukaemia since its discovery. In 1983, there were no U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturers involved in research programs to discover new drugs or cures from plants. Today, over 100 pharmaceutical companies and several branches of the US government, including giants like Merck and The National Cancer Institute, are engaged in plant research projects for possible drugs and cures for viruses, infections, cancer, and even AIDS. The nutrient cycle is when a leaf falls from a tree it is decomposed and turned into humus by microorganisms such as fungi and bacteria. This humus is then absorbed by the roots of the tree adding further nutrients to it as is seen coinciding with the water cycle of the tropical rainforest biome below.

6 However when the forest is cleared the nutrient cycle is destroyed. Eventually the microorganisms begin to break down the soil itself rather than the dead leaves. As a result of this the soil becomes infertile after 2 or 3 years. When the forest is removed the soil is also left exposed to both wind and rain splash erosion which I have discussed with you earlier. Vital nutrients are blown or washed away from the soil causing it to become infertile. As well as this, increased exposure to high temperature in the Amazon cause the soil to become baked into a hard brick-like surface called laterite soil. This has a hard platy structure and doesn t allow water or other nutrients to pass easily through it. It can t support plant growth and

7 therefore it is useless for farming. Laterite is often cut up into solid blocks and use in the building sector due to its lack of agricultural value which highlights its total infertility as a result of deforestation. SOLUTION Rainforests are such an important resource that they will continue to be exploited for years to come. The issue of how damage to this exploitation can be limited or reduced is a major one. Several possible solutions to this problem exist and the key term in these solutions is sustainable management. An example of sustainable management is agro-forestry. Agroforestry involves the combination of farming and forestry. In the past, farming has been carried out at the expense of the rainforest. However by using agro-forestry farmers and forests can co-exist with one another in the future. People and wildlife benefit equally from this system. The people can get an income from the forest and it will also provide them with a longer term source of income than what is currently available to them. The rainforest biome is damaged as little as possible and therefore there is no loss of biodiversity. Agro-forestry protects the forest surrounding the farms. It also reduces soil erosion and improves soil fertility by providing as much vegetation cover for the soil as possible increasing its level of productivity. It also provides a home as well as a source of income for the native tribal people of Amazonia. Another very simple method of sustainable management is the approach taken by many major European countries and industries where for every one tree felled another three are replanted. This means that deforestation would not occur and it would also mean that the government and the locals would have a longer term source of income than the source that they have now which is relatively short-term. Selective logging is another process which would help to end deforestation. This is where the cutting of an entire species from the area is avoided. By leaving some of the younger trees to develop and grow it will increase their crop yield. Conservation zones are areas where the felling of trees is banned. These areas are only used by the native tribal people, it gives them a place where their way of life is secure from the

8 interferences of mining, urban settlement, logging, hydroelectric power schemes and road building. This map displays the conservation zones in the Amazonian rainforest. A more striking aspect of this map is the significant amount of grey area which conveys that the forest has become desertified as a result of deforestation. Many of these conservation sites are so unique that they have become designated biosphere reserves by the United Nations such as the Manu Biosphere reserve. Ecotourism is another example of sustainable management. Ecotourism is when the forest is turned into a tourist centre and people are given the chance of living life as a native Amazonian. It is something that would work very well in the basin of the Amazon due to its biodiversity. Ecotourism can help to fund efforts to protect and rehabilitate the degraded forest. Money from ecotourism is earned through park entrance fees and in the services sector such as hotels, restaurants as well as in the handicrafts sector as occurred in Costa Rica. It also provides both direct and indirect employment to the region. Direct employment comes in the form of hiring locals as guides whereas indirect employment comes in the form of chefs and drivers as well as cleaners. Bio-prospecting fees are another example of sustainable management. Rainforest countries, and in particular Brazil, can earn money by allowing scientists to explore and develop products from the plant and animal species in the region. An example of this is Costa Rica who entered into an agreement with Merck and other American pharmaceutical companies to allow them look for plants with potential pharmaceutical uses. Under the agreement a portion of the proceeds from plant and animal products that do prove commercially valuable will go to the Costa Rican government which has guaranteed that some of the royalties will be set

9 aside for conservation projects. This idea would also work very well in Brazil and would help them to put an end to deforestation in the Amazonian rainforest. As the graph below shows there has been a substantial amount of deforestation in the Amazon annually for several years. Although there was a lull in the early 1990 s the rate rapidly increased and the greatest amount of deforestation took place between 1995 and 1996 However it is also important to note that the amount of deforestation that has been occurring in the region in the last few years has been steadily decreasing thanks to several sustainable management ideas being put into place. From the veranda of his farmhouse on the outskirts of this isolated riverside settlement, Gilvan Onofre can hear the helicopters coming, their rotors slicing through the humid Amazon air."there is no longer any way of hiding," sighed Onofre, a 70-year-old cattle rancher who moved to the region in the 1970s seeking his fortune and admits to having destroyed huge tracts of rainforest. "Everyone knows that Ibama is photographing us and what we are doing from two meters above." Ibama is Brazil's environmental protection service, the group tasked with monitoring, catching and punishing those responsible for the plunder of the Amazon rainforest It is critical that the Brazilian government s environment agency Ibama does not stop there and that we all work together to further limit the damage being done to this hugely valuable natural resource so that future generations can also appreciate its true beauty, biodiversity and value.

10 BIBLIOGRAPHY Planet and People- Unit7- Geoecology (Mentor books) Wikipedia nksandeep.wordpress.com deforestationintheamazon.wordpress.com National Geographic

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