Brazil: Global commodity markets define increase or decreases in deforestation rates

Every year, INPE scientists analyze dozens of satellite images to see
what has changed. The most recent images showed a loss of 11,968
square kilometers (4,600 square miles) of forest from Brazil’s
Amazonian states between Aug. 2007 and July 2008. That was up nearly 4
percent from the year before, but still nearly 20 percent below the
rate of loss two years earlier. Reasons for the ebb and flow of forest
chopping in Brazil are economic, political — and complex.

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In large part, the number of trees getting slashed in the Brazilian jungle at
any given time depends on what’s happening in the rest of the world,
said William Laurance, a tropical ecologist at the Smithsonian
Tropical Research Institute in Panama City. For example, Laurance has documented a direct link between deforestation in the Amazon and prices of soy around the world. In the last few years, biofuel-promoting corn subsidies have pushed many American farmers to switch from growing soy to growing corn.

As a result, there has been a 20 percent drop in soy production in the
United States, a doubling of global soy prices, and a huge spike in
deforestation in Brazil’s soy-producing areas, Laurance wrote in a
2007 letter published in the journal Science. Beef, timber, and other
commodity prices also influence the race to cut trees and clear land,
as does the strength of the Brazilian currency.

After a steep rise in deforestation followed by a sharp drop in recent
years, the rate of forest loss was back up slightly last year,
according to new figures. Brazil’s National Space Research Institute,
called INPE, recently released the numbers. For 20 years, the
organization has been mapping forest loss through a program called the
Legal Amazon Deforestation Monitoring Project.

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