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Sharp Rise in Amazon Deforestation

January 24, 2008

A report issued late Wednesday showed that Amazon deforestation rose dramatically from August to December of last year, as land was cleared for soy and cattle.

The report has prompted Environment Minister Marina Silva and other ministers to hold a top-level emergency meeting today with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.  Brazilian media reported that the president and the ministers would discuss emergency measures to reduce deforestation.

Jungle is typically cleared in the Amazon to provide pasture for cattle, then soy farmers move in later and cultivate their crops.

Most of last year’s destruction was concentrated in the three Amazon region states of Mato Grosso, Para and Rondonia, and occurred last November and December.   Mato Grosso is the center of Brazil’s critical soy production industry, second only to the United States in production.

Silva’s environment ministry estimates as much as 2,700 square miles of rain forest was cleared from August through December of last year. At that rate Brazil could lose 5,790 square miles of jungle by this August, a sharp increase from the 4,334 square miles that was cut down and burned from August 2006 through July 2007.

Although preliminary calculations can only show that 1,287 square miles of rain forest were cleared from August through December, ministry executive secretary Joao Paulo Capobianco said officials are analyzing satellite imagery and working under the assumption that the higher count of jungle was cleared.

“We’re working with the worst hypothesis,” he said, according to Brazil’s official Agencia Brasil news service.

The Environment Ministry could not immediately provide a precise comparison of the five-month destruction rate for last year to the same period in 2006.

In addition to its soybean production industry, Brazil also has a fast-growing beef export industry, and cattle ranchers have been expanding operations in the Amazon.

Last year, Brazil had boasted of a drop in Amazon deforestation, however the new data appears to indicate the situation has reversed. 

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