As deforestation rates rise in Brazil, two new studies show options for keeping the trees standing

The Amazon rainforest at sunset. Image copyright: Anna & Michal (Creative Commons).

After a decade of progress, deforestation rates are rising again in Brazil. Almost 8,000km2 was cleared in the 12 months up to July 2016, an increase of 29% on the previous year. Expanding agriculture is main cause of this destruction.

It is possible to reverse this worrying trend with more efficient, environmentally-sound farming methods, according to two new studies of agricultural supply chains in the Amazonian states of Mato Grosso and Acre. Such a transition will need significant investment to cover costs including farmer training, new equipment and seeds — but in many cases such investments can turn a profit, the reports note.

Both studies are a culmination of part of the Unlocking Forest Finance (UFF) project. Since 2013, UFF has worked to build financial mechanisms to channel public and private investment towards more sustainable land use.

A tale of two states

Even though both states are located in the Brazilian Amazon, they are very different. The remote state of Acre is still largely covered with a thick blanket of forest. The threat of deforestation in this region comes from smallholders clearing pasture to raise cattle. Here, part of the solution lies in supporting smallholders who sustainably harvest food and materials from the standing forest. For example, brazil nuts and natural rubber can both be harvested without damaging the wider ecosystem, tipping economic arguments towards leaving the trees standing.

In contrast, Mato Grosso is an agricultural powerhouse, producing a large part of Brazil’s prodigious soy and beef output. While expanding farmland has already cleared roughly two fifths of the forest in this state, there are still large swathes standing. In 2015, the state government announced a new strategy to restore natural landscapes while increasing agricultural output. The strategy also aims to extend credit and training to farmers.

To meet Mato Grosso’s goals, the report recommends increasing per-hectare productivity, for example increasing the density of livestock on cattle ranches. These measures should be linked to strong conservation measures including improved vigilance and enforcement in protected areas.

A new way to save the rainforest?

Together, the two Brazilian states cover a vast area, larger than France and Germany combined. Tackling deforestation in these states will have global implications for biodiversity and the climate. Moreover, curbing agriculture’s sprawl in these regions is already yielding valuable lessons, potentially inspiring action across Latin America and beyond.

About the reports

The reports were co-authored by GCP’s Brazilian partners in the Unlocking Forest Finance (UFF) project, Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) and the Environmental Services Development Company (CDSA). UFF aims to develop investment portfolios in sustainable agriculture in these two states, in addition to a third project in the region of San Martin in Peru.

· Financing Sustainable Landscapes: Mato Grosso report (in Portuguese). Read more about this on IPAM’s website. A separate briefing looks at the financial instruments that could channel this money in Mato Grosso.
· Financing Sustainable Landscapes: Acre report (in Portuguese and English).
· See Financing Sustainable Landscapes for more information on the UFF projects in Mato Grosso and Acre.