Farmers mainly to blame for deforestation in the Amazon

Jan 30, 2010 by Albert Sikkema

(PhysOrg.com) -- Small-scale farmers who lease land from the Brazilian government are very much responsible for deforestation in the Brazilian state of Rondonia in the Amazon area. In most areas with agrarian projects, more than fifty percent of the land has been cleared of forests, while the Brazilian Forestry Code permits farming concerns in the Amazon to clear only twenty percent of the land.

This conclusion is reached by Luciana de Souza Soler, Dutch PhD student in the Land Dynamics Group at the University of Wageningen, who juxtaposes remote sensing data and information from company interviews to obtain a good picture of deforestation in the federal state of Rondônia. Since the 1970's, small farmers have been assigned land with average sizes of a hundred hectares by the Institute for Colonization and Land Reform (INCRA) as part of agriculture projects. Soler examined land use by farming concerns in 2000 and in 2008.

Deforestation on agriculture project land in these eight years rose by an average of 62 to 78 percent. Deforestation outside these agrarian projects rose from 27 to 40 percent. The latter areas are mostly occupied by medium-sized farmers (240 - 1000 hectares) and large-scale farmers (more than a thousand hectares). The big farmers outside the agriculture development areas generally take away big slices of the rainforest, but because they are widely dispersed, there are more forests remaining in these areas. According to the Forestry Code, farmers in the Amazon area are permitted to clear only twenty percent of the forest on their land.

Biting off

Soler differentiates between old and new agriculture projects, and has established that more deforestation takes place at the start of the projects. As the projects progress, farmers keep biting off smaller pieces of the forest, especially to link the separate pieces of farmland. Rondônia has in the meantime become a major milk producer in Brazil. Farms here also supply calves to the meat processing industry.

The speed of deforestation is slowing down, says Soler. Large parts of Rondônia have already been designated as agriculture terrain or forest reserves. 'The possibilities for expansion decrease due to limits set on public space.' In contrast to other areas in the , illegal wood cutting by speculators is not of great consequence in deforestation, concedes Soler.

Major forces

Farmers are the major forces behind deforestation. They have to cut down trees at the start of projects to show the INCRA that they are going to rear livestock. Many farmers still feel that they should be allowed to use all their land for agriculture, since forest reserves have already been designated. 'The Forestry Code is no longer realistic for Rondônia', says Soler. 'It is more realistic to maintain twenty percent of forest within the projects.'

Enforcing regulations has turned out to be difficult in practice. Soler therefore supports a new policy in which farmers have to report the percentage of forests in their land to the government. If inspections can verify this percentage, the government can extend agriculture subsidies to the companies on the condition that they put a stop to . Should the companies violate this agreement, they would have to give up the subsidy and pay a fine. Such an approach would be in keeping with farmers' wishes to intensify their production, says Soler, and at the same time, enable the remaining areas to stand a better chance of being preserved.

Explore further: UN climate talks shuffle to a close in Bonn

Provided by Wageningen University

4 /5 (11 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The end of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon?

Dec 03, 2009

A new article in the December 4 issue of Science addresses how the combined efforts of government commitments and market transition could save forest and reduce carbon emissions in Brazil. The Policy Forum brief, entitled "The E ...

Amazon conservation policy working in Brazil (w/Video)

Jun 16, 2009

Contrary to common belief, Brazil's policy of protecting portions of the Amazonian forest from development is capable of buffering the Amazon from climate change, according to a new study led by Michigan State University ...

Recommended for you

UN climate talks shuffle to a close in Bonn

17 hours ago

Concern was high at a perceived lack of urgency as UN climate negotiations shuffled towards a close in Bonn on Saturday with just 14 months left to finalise a new, global pact.

Study shows no lead pollution in oilsands region

Oct 24, 2014

New research from a world-renowned soil and water expert at the University of Alberta reveals that there's no atmospheric lead pollution in Alberta's oilsands region—a finding that contradicts current scientific ...

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Sean_W
2.7 / 5 (3) Jan 30, 2010
More socialism (subsidies) to fix the problem socialism caused in the first place. Brilliant.

Look! The farmers are not allowed to own their land. They lease it from the government. They can't use it as loan collateral and they can't pass it on to their kids, right? If you were in that position, how much time, money and effort would you use to make sure the land stays fertile and usable? None. Make what you can on the land today and then clear cut some more - legally or otherwise. When governments own land farmers are not farmers; they are agricultural labourers. But if we all want to socialize the Amazon into extinction, while blaming it on capitalistic greed, let's do so. No reason to fight the inevitable.
PMende
3.5 / 5 (2) Jan 30, 2010
Right. It's socialism's fault.

Do you know ANYTHING about the cycle of nutrients in the Amazonian rainforest? Do you know how much actually exists in the soil? It's next to none. These people have no idea what sort of natural processes occur that keep the rainforest growing and healthy. It's certainly nothing like the type of processes that go on in temperate climates, and the methods used by temperate farmers simply aren't going to work there.
DachpyarviIe
1 / 5 (2) Jan 31, 2010
It must be socialism's fault, as fas as I'm concerned anything left of 'The Duke' is socialist. The easiest way to feed the world is to remove the ranforests and keep using artificial fertilizers to keep up productivity. Greenie weeners always tell us that productivity will fail after a couple of years but piling in the nitrates solves that little problem. So what if the rivers are contaminated, we'll never see the stufff that was there so what's the problem? What's more important, a stinking rainforest or human lifes? :)
russcelt
not rated yet Feb 01, 2010
Blaming small-scale farmers for deforestation is like blaming pencils for spelling mistakes and guns for violent crime. Oh...that's right. According to the Left the second is correct. Back to the pencil pushers. "Small-scale farmers have to cut down trees at the start of projects to show the INCRA that they are going to rear livestock." So INCRA says, do this to get your lease, but don't do it too much. Maybe letting the farmer decide what his piece of land is best used for would restore a granularity and diversity more in tune to environmental needs. As it stands now calling these government controlled labourers, farmers, is an abuse of the term.
PMende
not rated yet Feb 01, 2010
The fact is there is not enough nutrient content in the soil to support farming of ANY sort that even remotely resembles temperate farming.

The floor of the Amazonian rainforest is covered in a layer of fungus which decomposes any dead organic material that falls onto it within days/weeks, the stuff that doesn't get eaten by other living things, anyway. The nutrient content doesn't go into the soil. It's taken in by the fungus, which can diffuse into the larger plants which in turn shield the fungus from direct sunlight and help to absorb rainfall so that the fungus can remain moist without being in standing water.

Removing trees from any sizable portion of land kills the fungus in the area, leaving behind no nutritional content. Attempting to replace this nutritional content with fertilizer is useless because there is no nutrient reservoir with which to maintain any sort of balance. Heavy rainfall also acts to leach away whatever nutrients you might be able to get into the soil.