Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon

After Russia, Canada, China and the United States, Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world. It is the biggest country in South America and takes up almost half of the continent’s area. Its northern part is called Amazonia, after the Amazon river, which runs through it. This region covers 40% of Brazil’s surface and extends into many of the surrounding countries. It is mostly covered with dense tropical rain forests and contains an enormous variety of plants and animals. Although rain forests constitute only 7% of the earth’s land surface, they contain 50% of its living species! (Revkin, 34) Unfortunately, these forests are now being cut down for profit. Some say this is not a major problem and that deforestation provides a source of revenue for people who need it. In reality, deforestation has few advantages all of which are in the short term, it has terrible consequences and its long term effects are devastating, this is why it should be stopped.

Since its discovery, 30% of Brazil’s rain forests have disappeared, and the country is still losing more rain forest each year than any other on the planet. Brazilian forests are burned or felled at the rate of 1800 hectares (about 4500 acres) every hour! (Dwyer 39) Deforestation started hundreds of years ago, but only became a major problem in the second half of this century, when it increased dramatically. It was enhanced by the Brazilian government which started cutting down the forest to construct a vast network of highways in an effort to establish a good transportation system and improve Brazil’s economy. The government wanted to encourage the country’s development by transporting poor families from overpopulated areas of the country to Amazonia. Many poor people saw emigration into the Amazon as an opportunity to attain a higher standard of living. This finally offered them a chance to own their own land, and take advantage of jobs offered by multinational corporations, petroleum corporations and logging companies. An example of this happened in the late 60’s, when a 2160 kilometer road was constructed to join the capital Brasilia with the Amazonian port of Belem. Just a decade after the road was completed, the population in that area had risen from practically nothing to hundreds of thousands! (Anderson 63)

The main reasons for deforestation are clearing of the forest for agriculture or building of ranches to raise cattle, commercial logging and timber production, exportation and trade of wood, and local demand for fuel wood. An other cause is the building of massive hydro-electric dams which drain rivers and devastate extremely large portions of forest. These dams are often build by international companies to produce energy which is used in the production of materials such as aluminum. (Ransom)

One source of deforestation is what is know as the “devastation farming technique”. Small farmers cut down the forest in order to create space to plant crops or raise cattle. First they cut down any undergrowth and small trees, thenleave them to dry in the sun and set them on fire. Then they use the space created to plant different kinds of crops such as corn, dry-land rice, brown beans, and manioc. At first, these plantations flourish under the hot sun and heavy rains, but this doesn’t last long. The soil of the Amazon is actually one of the most sterile on earth. It is no good for farming. So after a year or two the crops become weaker and weaker, until at about year four they are barely worth the effort. The earth hardens and is washed away by rain, it becomes impossible to cultivate. So the farmers have to move to an other parcel of forest and so on... (Larson)

Under normal conditions, very few demands are made of the soil. It’s protected from the sun by trees, and from rain by a thick carpet of leaves, branches and trunks. The litter is quickly decomposed into inorganic nutrients, which are soon absorbed by the roots of plants. This is very efficient, there is virtually no soil erosion or loss of nutrients. But when the forest is cut, the whole ecosystem collapses. There is no leaf carpet to cover the ground, so rain leaches easily through the porous soil, carrying soluble nutrients deep beyond