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Forests, and more especially rain forests like the Amazon, do play a very pivotal role on this planet of ours. These rainforests used to cover expansive tracts of land with Amazon being the largest of all (covering approximately 1.4 billion acres). However, there has been a measurable decrease in rainforest cover which is attributed to various human activities resulting from the increased human populace. Currently, forests only cover 6% of the earth’s land surface as compared to the earlier 14%. Going by this statistics, there is a high possibility that rainforests are at risk of being a thing of the past if necessary control measures are not taken. With respect to the Amazon rainforest, the battle has been an overwhelming task. As a matter of fact, this has over the years been a great problem of the loggers, miners, and developers against the aboriginal people to whom the rainforest is the habitat. For the period between May 2000 and August 2006, a hundred and fifty thousand square kilometers of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil were destroyed (Butler, 2006).
One may wonder the reason as to why the Brazilian Amazon rainforest has been subjected to such great destruction. As it is the norm in most of the tropical countries, deforestation has been a result of the activities of subsistence cultivators who are ordinarily poor. On the contrary, this might not be the case in Brazil; only around thirty percentage of the total deforestation is the one attributable thing to these shifted cultivators. Generally, the bigger percentage of deforestation in Brazil is linked with the clearing of land for pasturelands by speculative and commercial interests, inappropriate World Bank projects, government policies which are misguided as well as the exploitation of the forest resources for commercial purposes. For operative action, it is quite necessary that the abovementioned issues ought to be comprehensively addressed with focus being emphasized on the motivation of sustainable utilization by the locals who more often than not do neglect the very principal factors fueling deforestation in Brazil (Prit, 2007).
Deforestation in Brazil is stoutly associated with the country’s economic health. Illustratively, the decline in deforestation in the country between 1988 and 1991 proportionately marched with slowdown in the economy of the country during the same period while the subsequent skyrocketing deforestation between 1993 and 1998 saw a rapid growth in the economy of the country. In the so called lean times, both developers and ranchers hardly have adequate financial resources to facilitate a rapid expansion of their operations and pasturelands. On the other hand, the governments are deficient of funds to sponsor both colonization and highway programs as well as grant subsidies and tax breaks to forest exploiters. Thus, a section of the land owners do clear extensive land tracts covered by the Amazon rainforests for a pastureland for their cattle. In other occasions, expansive sections of the forests are cleared and planted with the African savanna grasses which are later used to feed the cattle. More often than not (and especially during high inflation periods), the clearing of the land is fueled by various investment objectives (Taylor, 2004).
In the event that the prices for pasturelands do exceed that of forest lands – a condition catalyzed by tax incentives favoring pasturelands over natural forests – clearing of the forests proves to be a perfect hedge against inflation. The combinations of such favorable taxation policies with government colonization and agriculture programs (which are normally subsidized) have encouraged the destruction of the Amazon rainforests. Moreover, the practice of instituting low taxes on the portion of income gotten from agriculture as well as tax rates that are in favor of pasturelands over natural forests ordinarily overvalues agriculture and pasturelands thus making it profitable converting natural forests for such purposes when in the real sense it ought not to be so (Butler, 2006).
Factors Which Have Led to Deforestation at the Brazilian Amazon Rainforests
In the present time, deforestation in the Amazon rainforest has been a result of a number of human activities. These include clearing forests for cattle pasture, colonization and the subsequent subsistence agriculture, infrastructure advances, commercial agriculture and logging (Butler, 2006). Each of these will be discussed in the subsequent paragraphs.
The leading cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest is cattle ranching. This has been so since the 1970s; with government statistics indicating that between 1966 and 1975, 38% of the deforestation in the country was a result of large-scale cattle ranching. Presently, this situation has even worsened with more land being cleared for higher numbers of cattle so as to sustain the increasing human population in need of the cattle products and more especially beef. This growth in the human population has been noted by the increase in the beef imports coming from Brazil shooting up to 74% in 2003 (Prit, 2007).
Colonization and the consequent subsistence agriculture have also equally accounted for a significant level of deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforests. These subsistence activities have been born of the ever increasing numbers of poor farmers who have had a taste of cultivating the forest lands through the assistance of various land policies instituted by the Brazilian government. Notably, each and every Brazilian squatter has a usufruct right to continue making use of a piece of land by occupying any unclaimed public land plot irrespective of the degree of marginalization of the land and making use of it for not less than one year and one day. After a period of five years, the squatter legitimately owns the land and possesses the right to sell it. In the mid-1990s, this had even been worsened by the government policy which had permitted the acquisition of a title by each claimant for an amount of land equaling to thrice the portion of the rainforest cleared (Taylor, 2004). In clearing the land, the peasants use fire which clears the shrubbery first, and later the trees are cut. After the area has been left dry for a while and burned, crops such as palms, bananas, maize, rice or manioc are then planted. After a year or two, there is a decline in the productivity of the soil, and this compels the farmers to further clear new forests for more agricultural land which is essentially for the short-term use and profit. The infertile old fields end up being grazing areas for the small-scale cattle farmers or they may even be left as wasteland. Besides subsistence agriculture, commercial agriculture (and more specifically the planting of soybeans) has seen through deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. Besides being a direct cause of forest clearing, soybeans take the greater percentage of the cleared land, transitional forests, and the savanna; this pushes the ranchers as well as slash-and-burn farmers deeper into the forest frontier. Additionally, the farming of soybeans avails a principal political and economic stimulus for new-fashioned highways and infrastructural projects which in turn accelerates deforestations by the concerned groups (Butler, 2006).
Deforestation in the Amazon has also been a result of road construction for the purposes of availing access to the mining and logging sites. This subsequently opens forest frontier land to poor and landless farmers. A good example of this infrastructural improvement that has contributed to increased deforestation of the Amazon is the Brazil’s Tran-Amazonian Highway. Being a two thousand-mile highway, it bisected the massive Amazon forest opening the rainforest land to settlement by poor farmers coming from the crowded and drought-plagued north Brazil and the development of mineral and timber resources. Moreover, cattle ranching and small-scale subsistence farming schemes also came to birth as a result of this highway. It is thus evident that the Trans-Amazonian Highway stands as a main example of the environmental devastation caused by the construction of the road through the rainforest (Prit, 2007).
Theoretically, logging activities in the Amazon are controlled by considerably strict licensing which warrants the harvesting of timber in specific designated areas. On the contrary, it has been documented that illegitimate logging usually takes place in Brazil. In the Amazon, logging is associated with road building with the logged areas being eight times more likely to be cleared by shifting cultivators and be settled as compared to the untouched areas covered by rainforests as a result of the availability of logging roads. These logging roads avail colonists access to the rainforest which they exploit for game, firewood, temporary agricultural lands, and building material (Taylor, 2004).
How to Save the Amazon Rainforest
In searching for the remedy to the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, its fate is exclusively in the hands of human beings. In cutting down this increasing loss in the forest cover, there has to be a transformation undertaken on the existing natural ecosystems as well as more rational utilization of the already cleared areas which have degraded. There is a need to not only increase but also sustain the productivity of the farms, plantations, pastures, and scrub land. This is achievable through minimizing land use practices which are wasteful in nature, fusing gains in the already existent cleared land and improving those portions of land which are already developed. In addition, the expansion of protection to disparagingly imperative habitats within the Amazon region is principal to the maximization of the survival of biodiversity in the country (Butler, 2009). Efforts directed into this facet include prioritizing the protection areas by laying focus on the biological hotspots, making certain that sufficient enforcement agencies and funding are in existence for maintenance purposes of the protected areas as well as the involvement of the indigenous people in the conservation efforts. The development of a new conservation policy in the country can also be a perfect way of addressing the issue of deforestation in the country (Butler, 2009). This sustainability concept ought to be incorporated in the agricultural politics as well as logging practices. For instance, in agriculture, indigenous Amazonian techniques ought to be incorporated in the agricultural projects. These may include agroforestry, polycultural fields, and floodplain orchards. As for logging, the trade of some tree species ought to be restricted, subsidies lifted for saw mills and road constructers, plantations on degraded lands must be established and impact of logging reduced. Likewise, in cattle ranching, productivity should be encouraged on the already existing pastureland and non-plowing farming should be established . Through the above methods, deforestation in the Amazon rainforest will be greatly dealt with (Butler, 2009).