Brazilian farmers still cut down rainforest to make pastures for cattle. But why do they do it when there is much more money to make from other farming? Forskning.no their journalists went to Brazil to try to find answers.
The first thing you see when you leave the small airport in Marabá, southeast of the state of Pará, north of Brazil, is a copy of the Statue of Liberty that watches over the city. From here onwards in the Amazon there has been a chaotic occupation of land areas based on massive logging of rainforest.
Brazil has the largest remaining rainforest in the world. But every year the forest disappears. Last year, 8,000 square kilometers were cut down.
The areas along the entire southern border of the Amazon are called the arc of deforestation , or the deforestation arc .
As soon as you get out of the city center of Marabá, a new landscape opens up.
Thin, lonely palms on plains with grass, white cows and electric masts are passing by the car window. The view continues for hours after hour. These enormous grasslands form the basis for the many cattle farmers in the region.
More ruminants than humans
Brazil is the second largest exporter of beef in the world. The number of cattle in the country increased by 60 million between 1996 and 2016. Today more than 200 million cattle graze in Brazil. 40 percent of them in the 9 states that make up the Brazilian Amazon. There are far more ruminants than people in the region.
About 80 percent of all deforested land in the Brazilian Amazon is used for pasture for this cattle, or consists of overgrown pastures, according to the state-owned agricultural research institution in Brazil. Only 5 percent is used for other agriculture, such as soy.
Meat production has been an easy way to find livelihoods in the Amazon. You need a piece of land and access to a slaughterhouse. The bull is still used as a way to hijack new soil. Speculators and country robbers are raging public rainforest areas, placing cattle, and striving not to be taken.
In the state of Pará, cattle farming is not only an important part of the economy. It is also part of the identity of the countryside. The cattle lobby has great power in the Brazilian community.
But in recent years, changes have begun to happen. Private initiatives, non-profit organizations and governments have tried to change the course. Some ranchers have even come to the forefront to change their own sector.
Farmers can earn more from fruit than cattle
According to Brazilian law, farmers in the Amazon must preserve 50-80 percent of the primeval forest on their property. Yet there is little rainforest to see. The law has existed since 1965. It has been subject to much opposition and in practice has not been followed.
But farmers can earn 12 times more on fruit production than on cattle, according to a study by, among others, Joice Ferreira, researcher at the state-owned agricultural research institution Embrapa.
Fruit cultivation requires less land, better protects the soil and is better for species diversity.
Nevertheless, the cattle most people swear by are cattle. Ferreira has interviewed a number of farmers for her research. They point out that the lifestyle that comes with cattle farming is more important than money. Many live far away from towns and cities, and there is a lack of infrastructure to operate fruit and vegetables.
– People here are obsessed with cattle , says Frederico Brandao. He is a researcher at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
Along with Francisco Fonseca, a representative of the non-profit organization The Nature Conservancy, he is on his way to visiting cattle farmers in the municipality of São Félix do Xingu.
This is a municipality with twice the size of Denmark, and it is well located in the rainforest in the northeast of Brazil. Previously, it consisted only of dense forests and indigenous reserves. Today, the municipality has become the one with the most cattle in Brazil.