How exported products are linked to deforestation in the Amazon

Dianne Castillo

Dianne Castillo

The Amazon Rainforest

Deforestation in the Amazon is a scar on our planet. Brazil is the country that holds the largest part of the Amazon rainforest in South America. Home to an exuberant flora and fauna, the forest has been explored and devastated for more than one century, mostly by export-driven goods.

From independence to the modern day Brazil we know, the Amazon has been intensely exploited.

The country has always depended on its forests and their resources to maintain the economic growth, but we must think of how this massive deforestation is affecting the planet now.

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Modern Day Deforestation

Are you a regular reader on One Tribe’s blog? If so, you may have had the opportunity to read some of our articles regarding the impact deforestation has caused in the Amazon rainforest. We believe that the more information we bring about the latest news from the largest rainforest in the world, the better.

One of our primary concerns is to inform you about what happens regarding modern day deforestation. However, we also want to show you that this “modern day” may be older than you think. In other words, Brazil’s forests have been exploited for centuries.

A study showed that Amazon soya and beef exports are the No. 1 link to deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. According to this study, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and journalistic investigations have discovered that soya and beef productions and exportations are being conducted in areas of deforestation. 

farm being burnt

Most illegal activity is linked to Brazil’s beef industries 

According to an update made by the Woodwell Climate research center, in March 2021 deforestation and fire have jumped to an estimated 368 km2 area — greater than 2019 or 2020. 

Can you imagine that in one single month, an area three times the size of Manchester got completely burnt and deforested?

In most cases, wildfires are intentionally lit by grileiros; individuals who are paid to cut-clear forested areas and burn lands to create pasture. This illegal activity is primarily linked to Brazil’s multi-billionaire beef industries.

Rainforest

From independence to the modern-day Brazil we know

On September 7, 1822, Prince Dom Pedro declared Brazil’s independence from Portugal. From that day the country would no longer be a colony of Portugal.  Instead, the country became an Empire of Brazil, which led to a two-year war of independence.

Dom Pedro I was acclaimed as the first Brazilian emperor. In March 1824 the Brazilian soldiers defeated all armies loyal to Portugal, ending the war of independence. 

In the upcoming year, 1825, a treaty was signed by both the Brazilian and Portuguese sides, recognizing that the country was an independent nation.

In the political sphere, independence allowed Brazil to negotiate products with other European nations, instead of only with Portugal.

The opening of the ports allowed the first factories to be installed in Brazilian territory

The opening of ports in 1808 promoted a diversification of our economy due to the import of new products from other countries. Different food and goods would be consumed by Brazilian families. 

British goods benefited the most from the opening of the ports. They paid less taxes; even less than Portugal.

With the opening of the ports in 1808, Dom João signed an operation permit authorizing the opening of factories in all parts of Brazil. The permit revoked some political laws imposed by the Portuguese empire, such as the one in which prohibited the opening of any industries or factories in the country.

The first Brazilian Republic: the Beginning of Rubber Tapping in the Amazon rainforest

One product that was largely exported from Brazil during this period was rubber. The rubber boom started in the middle of the nineteenth century and attracted many people to the Amazon rainforest. 

In the mid-1800s, the rubber industry revolutionised after Charles Goodyear’s discovery of the vulcanization process of rubber – a process that allows rubber to withstand heat and cold.

A few decades later, rubber would suddenly become essential with the invention of tires by John Dunlop in 1888

The demand for rubber would increase a lot more in 1913, when Henry Ford installed the first moving assembly line for the mass production of an entire automobile, the Ford model T.

rubber tapper extracting latex from a rubber tree

How long would rubber continue to be at the top of Brazilian export economy?

In 1877, there was a case of a rubber thief in Brazil that stole more than 70 thousand rubber tree seeds from the state of Pará and took them to England, configuring a typical case of biopiracy.

This event ended up determining the future decline of the rubber cycle in Brazil. 

The stolen seeds eventually were taken to Asia and planted there. Soil there was similar to Brazilian soil and there was a perfect environment for the seeds to grow. 

As a result, from the next decades they literally began to plant the seeds on a larger scale. Consequently, the rubber economy in Brazil fell significantly, since the Asian prices for rubber were better and cheaper.

Brazilian rubber tapping increased considerably during the World War II period, when a great demand for rubber was required to aid the allies with weapons. 

After World War II, rubber tapping production had its biggest decline. The government then started to motivate cattle ranchers to go to the Amazon rainforest. That’s when deforestation in the Amazon started to grow at an unimaginable scale.

illegal gold mining destroying the amazon rainforest
Mining is another extractive activity that has occurred in the Amazon Rainforest for decades

This form of exploitation of the land brings catastrophic impacts to the environment.

It causes deforestation, pollution of the water, and threatens local communities, including indigenous people, by affecting the quality of the food supply. 

According to a recent study by the University of Vermont, the impact mining has on deforestation of the Amazon rainforest is much greater than previously thought.

There is no doubt that mining companies around the world would exploit the Amazon rainforest if they had the chance. The great amount of copper, tin, nickel, bauxite, manganese, iron ore and gold that are found in the land make it attractive to mining.

Soybean plantation on a farm in Mato Grosso Brazil

How has the trade diversified into beef, then soya production?

And here we are again! Back to modern day deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

Last year, a BBC News report showed that deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil has surged to its highest level since 2008. The science editor David Shukman says that “this is done to create fields for cattle grazing and soya cultivation – big earners for Brazil.”

Before a pasture is created or a land is bulldozed to plant soybean seeds, the forest is deforested and burnt. And that’s when illegal wildfires and logging happen in the Amazon forest, their consequences are catastrophic.

If you want to know more about how beef industry and soya exportation are linked to deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, there is an interesting independent documentary named Takeout.

By the time the documentary was filmed, it was estimated that almost 90% of deforestation in the Amazon was linked to agribusiness. The overwhelming majority of soy that is grown in the Amazon goes to feed livestock in big countries such as China, the U.S and the EU.

We believe that not only us and our partners, but you, can find solutions to act sustainably.

You could start by thinking of people who are not aware of what is happening to the forests worldwide. Share your knowledge of what you just learned about the link between Amazon deforestation and exported products. You could make a difference to their lifestyle, and thus, the world.

What next?

Knowing this stuff is one thing, but being ready to do something about it another entirely. We’re ready to make a difference, are you? Protecting rainforests is going to take us all. But we can, and we will.

Check out why we protect rainforests here.

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