Mass Deforestation is Now Happening in the Amazon Rainforest

Dianne Castillo

Dianne Castillo

Destruction of the rainforest

In the third and final part of Vox’s amazing Amazon series, we’ll tell you how deforestation is now occurring at scale, following the election of Bolsonaro. With the first-hand perspectives of local indigenous people now at threat from farmers seeking to expand their holdings in the rainforest. Can the forest be prevented from reaching its tipping point . . ?

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Deforestation is now happening at scale in the Amazon Rainforest 

For the third and final part of the amazing Vox series about the Amazon rainforest, the team will tell the story of the deforestation now happening at scale in the rainforest.

By joining with the tribe, the Karitiana, we’ll tell the story of the pressures and threats now faced daily by nearly a million indigenous people across the Amazon. Since the 1960’s all of the tribes have watched as the forest has been eaten away by industry to first secure mineral deposits and better access to rubber, then to fuel the main industry now linked to major deforestation – Beef and soy farming. 

Nearly 20% of the rainforest has been lost to provide land for farming, with even lands legally protected being illegally seized and converted to fuel the billion-dollar meat industry.

Deforestation rates are now higher than ever . . . 

Since the turn of the millennium, corporate interests have threatened the expansion of protection schemes that protected over a third of the rainforest from a change of land use. And with the election of Bolsanoro, all funding has been removed from the environmental agencies that enforce this protection, with illegal farming and land grabbing promoted heavily by the new administration. 

Deforestation rates are now higher than ever, and if unchecked, may see the rainforest achieve its tipping point by the end of the decade. Destroying the ecosystem the rainforest is a part of, rendering it and much of the neighbouring land a desert before the end of the century. 

Rainforest facts 
  • Brazil has over 400 indigenous lands, many of which are under threat 
  • 900,000 indigenous people at the risk of losing their homes and their way of life 
  • Until the 20th century, much of the Amazon was untouched 
  • Then the rubber industry boomed to support the U.S and WW2 efforts
  • Then in the 1960s, the new military dictatorship opened up the forest to industry 
  • With democracy, agencies were set up to protect parts of the forest
  • Eventually, 13% of the country came under such agency schemes 
  • Corporate interests stopped the expansion of the scheme after the millennium
  • With Bolsonaro elected in 2019, the rainforest then faced a new world of suffering 

The threat the Karitiana face often 

“This shows that the area belongs to the Karitiana. This is Indigenous land.” 

 Local indigenous 

The Karitiana are an indigenous group here in Brazil. They live on protected land deep in the Amazon rainforest. When it was established in 1986 it was surrounded by rainforest but today it’s almost completely surrounded by farms. This kind of encroachment is happening across the Amazon. 

Brazil has over 400 protected indigenous lands but its booming agricultural industry has spent the past few decades clearing the rainforest around them. Now they want in and they have the perfect ally to help them. 

“We will give rifles by allowing all farmers to carry weapons. “ 

“Why do we need to keep them isolated in reserves in Brazil as if they were animals in a zoo?” 

“This is my decision. Unless I’m obliged to, there will be no more indigenous reserves in Brazil.”

Farmland and rainforest, Iguacu Brazil
Jair Bolsonaro – President of Brazil, wants the expansion of farms to continue

The Brazilian President wants the expansion of farms to continue even at the expense of protected lands and that’s put 900,000 indigenous people at the risk of losing their homes and their way of life. 

“The indigenous people preserve the forest. We are like the mother of the forest. Farmers are getting closer to our land. This makes us worried.”  

If we don’t say anything, they will cut down trees until they reach our land. Now we have to confront it. We must confront it and see what will happen.” 

 At the start of the 20th century, Brazil was intent on becoming a modern country. Cities along the coast were already being developed but the Amazon, which covers almost half the country,  was remote, inaccessible and home to tens of thousands of indigenous people who had lived there for centuries. 

Around the 1920s Brazil’s government pushed an aggressive plan to change the shape of the Amazon. It brought telegraph lines, roads, schools and people into the Amazon while forcibly pushing these indigenous groups out of the way. 

Military dictatorships then made tensions in the rainforest worse 

Then in the 1960s a brutal military dictatorship took over Brazil and carried out genocide against indigenous people. They took away their lands to build highways, mines and dams across the Amazon. During this time more than 830 people were killed and tens of thousands had lost their homes. 

In 1985 the military regime collapsed and Brazil became a democracy, with the new constitution including historic reparations for the country’s indigenous people. it recognises their culture and traditions and even gave them a way to get their lands back. 

Indigenous groups could claim their traditional territory with a government agency called FUNAI that would demarcate the borders of a newly protected land after final approval from Brazil’s president who now would then monitor and protect it. 

“The Indigenous Agency protects the communities that live inside the forest. The demarcation is very important for us because it makes us feel safe in our land.”   Local indigenous speaking  

The Agency worked to protect 13% of the country, but its work is now threatened 

Soon protected indigenous lands were being set up all over the Amazon and today they make up around 13% of the country, which includes the Karitiana’s land. But it wasn’t long before these lands would be threatened again. 

Brazil Gross Domestic Product USD Billions from Trading Economics - Image from the Vox series P 3

From the 90s to 2000 Brazil’s economy was one of the fastest-growing in the world fuelled primarily by agriculture. The country became one of the top producers of beef and soybeans while logging and mining were also significant industries. But the economic boom had a downside.  

GDP from Agriculture BRL Millions from Trading Economics
Economic gains fuelled by mass deforestation

All of these industries needed more and more land, a lot of which came from the Amazon. The rainforest was rapidly cut down in Para Rondonia and Mata Grosso States to make room for cattle pastures and farms, often leaving the protected indigenous lands as the only forests left. 

Before long Brazil’s agricultural industry wanted to gain access to these areas too and they found support within the government. They lobbied to weaken the rules around protected indigenous lands that they claimed were barriers to progress and their pressure started to show results. . . . 

FUNAI’s power would decline after the millennium 

From 2003 to 2010 President Lula da Silva approved 87 indigenous reserves but his successor,  Dilma Rousseff, approved just 21,  followed by Michel Temer who approved only one. Rousseff and Temer also cut through FUNAI’s funding which forced the agency to close dozens of offices in the Amazon, leaving indigenous people unprotected. As FUNAI’s Power declined illegal invasions of protected indigenous lands increased. 

Invasions of indigenous lands sourced from the ISA

“When we arrived to occupy this area, we found signs of illegal logging. We got scared. They were in our land.” Local indigenous speaking 

“If it’s up to me, this unilateral policy of demarcating indigenous reserves by the government will no longer exist. I will reduce the area of reserves if I can. Not a centimetre will be demarcated as an indigenous reserve . . .” Bolsanaro  

“The demarcation of indigenous lands is completely disproportionate and unreasonable.” Bolsanaro  

Reuters Brazil’s powerful farm lobby endorses presidential candidate Bolsanaro 

“ During the campaign, we saw him threaten . . . the indigenous people, the demarcations and the forest. We never thought that a politician could say such things. We feel threatened.” Local indigenous speaking 

Funds allocated to FUNAI in BRL millions in 2019

As soon as Bolsonaro took office he turned his attention to the indigenous. He slashed FUNAI’s budget and hasn’t approved any new lands. In fact, he’s proposed taking away FUNAI’s power to demarcate new lands entirely.  And he’s appointed a former police officer with strong ties to the agricultural industry to lead FUNAI. 

Under Bolsonaro invasions of indigenous lands have skyrocketed in just the first 9 months of 2019.

Illegal activity in reserves began with days of Bolsanaro’s successful election 

Just 10 days after Bolsonaro took office in January 2019, 40 armed men invaded indigenous lands. By May, 20,000 illegal miners had invaded the Yanomami reserve and in July invaders cleared a huge section of forest in the Xikrin land. The Karitiana are worried they could be next. 

Illegal agricultural activities have been happening here, right next to the Karitiana land. And they’ve brought actual threats of violence to the people living there. 

“I have received death threats and had to stay out of the village for 6 months. My children were in the village and I couldn’t see them because I was afraid.  We receive threats from farmers when we report illegal activities.” Local indigenous speaking 

FUNAI is no longer able to help indigenous communities 

In the past, indigenous groups had FUNAI, a protective agency they could turn to for help. But now they’re left to rely on themselves. 

Nowadays FUNAI is weakened. The agency won’t help us. They took its power away.”

“The demarcation of indigenous lands is important because it preserves what exists . . .  and what might exist in the future.”   

We can stop Bolsonaro and his administration from culling the rainforest 

There is a massive lesson to be learnt from the saga of events that have taken place in the Amazon rainforest. Entrusting conservation into the hands of any government alone cannot work, especially in a developing nation. Brazil’s democracy only came to be in the 1980s, following decades of military dictatorship, and the nation has had an established export economy spanning centuries. 

Bolsanaro is both representative of previous military dictatorships and supports the mineral, beef and soy industries previous regimes had initiated in the Amazon to fuel the next evolution in the nation’s export economy. And with the protection schemes managed centrally by the government, his administration can defund and destabilize all protection efforts effectively, as they have done epicly since 2019.  

So, how do we stop him and future governments led by people like him from culling the rainforest again? Surely whatever effort is made to protect the rainforest will only be reversed by governments like his in the future, right? 

Stop bolsanaro
We can stop Bolsonaro and deforestation – Now and for many decades to come 

No, he can be stopped. We asked the same questions before starting One Tribe and felt exactly the same way when figuring out how we could Bolsanaro. This is exactly why we found partners and a way to save the forest thoroughly and long-term.

By changing the ownership of the land and holding it in trust with local indigenous people, with a non-profit land trust dedicated and committed to land conservation we can remove the land from government protection. And by providing the funding, technology and support directly to the indigenous communities, we no longer have to rely on central funds or politics to determine if the forest is protected. 

This is exactly why we have partnered with non-profits who are now changing the ownership of tens of millions of acres of land, working with the tribes to fund land protection, monitoring and securing over 33 billion trees, across the Amazon rainforest and for over a dozen other important rainforests across the world.

We can save the Amazon rainforest
We can save the rainforest and over a dozen like them across the world

The Amazon rainforest isn’t the only rainforest on the way to achieve its tipping point. Most of the biggest are. However, the Amazon is the biggest rainforest in the world and provided we can change the land rights and protect enough of it, then we can do the same for other rainforests.  demonstrating that a collective of nonprofits, businesses and consumers can together hold and protect all of our world’s major rainforests. 

In doing so, ensuring our children and the generations that follow them have a chance at securing the air, food and fresh water they need to live. And just maybe, that nature can survive then thrive again, with these ecosystems allowing most of our natural world to recover. Join our newsletter, sign up your business or start buying ethically from our One Tribe partners today.

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