Brazil: Accelerating deforestation of Amazon a direct result of Bolsonaro’s policies

New statistics revealing deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon region increased 9.5 per cent year-on-year show the tragic cost of President Jair Bolsonaro’s policies of systematically undermining environmental protections, Amnesty International said today.

The statistics, published by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), showed that 11,088 km² of rainforest was lost between August 2019 and July 2020, an increase of 9.5 per cent when compared to the same period the previous year. 

The statistics show Brazil’s Amazon has suffered its worst destruction in 12 years, since 12,911 km² was deforested in 2008.

“By declaring the Amazon region open for business, Jair Bolsonaro has prioritised profits of large companies over the wellbeing of vulnerable people. Protected areas continue to burn so that commercial cattle ranching can expand,” said Richard Pearshouse, Head of Crisis and Environment at Amnesty International.  

“Behind these statistics is a very real crisis for some of the most vulnerable people in Brazil’s Amazon. Traditional residents and Indigenous people who live sustainably in protected areas are losing the precious forests that provide them with food, sources of livelihood and medicines – as well as their very identities.” 

The statistics reveal that 381 km² of rainforest in Indigenous territories was lost. It is the third largest forest loss in Indigenous territories since 2008.

Environmentally protected areas lost 1,096 km² of forest (similar to the previous period, which registered the largest forest loss in environmentally protected areas since 2008, with 1,110 km² lost).

“The Amazon rainforest is made of rich biodiversity, and is also home to many Indigenous and traditional peoples. The Brazilian authorities have the constitutional obligation to take care of this biome, and the communities who live there. Protecting the Amazon rainforest is paramount to protecting these people. These deforestation statistics reflect not only a huge setback on environmental policies, but also on human rights policies in Brazil’s North region,” said Jurema Werneck, Executive Director from Amnesty International Brazil.

Illegal cattle farms fuelling Amazon destruction

Amnesty International research has previously shown that cattle farming is the main driver of illegal land seizures on Reserves and Indigenous territories in Brazil’s Amazon, fuelling deforestation and trampling on the rights of Indigenous people and traditional residents.

The Amazon region has seen the largest growth in Brazil’s lucrative cattle industry. Since 1988, the number of cattle there has almost quadrupled to 86 million in 2018, accounting for 40% of the national total. Some of this expansion is destroying large swathes of protected rainforest in Indigenous territories and Reserves.

In total, 63% of the area deforested from 1988 to 2014 has become pasture for cattle – a land area five times the size of Portugal. Amnesty International documented this process in a briefing published in November 2019.

Cattle illegally grazed found in supply chain of JBS

In an investigation published in July 2020, Amnesty International found that cattle illegally grazed in protected areas in Brazil’s Amazon had been found in the supply chain of leading meat-packer JBS. Amnesty International did not find any evidence indicating that JBS is directly involved with human rights abuses.

In September, following pressure from Amnesty International, JBS announced it would introduce a new system to monitor its cattle suppliers, including its indirect suppliers, by 2025. JBS has been aware of the risks that cattle illegally grazed in protected areas may be entering its supply chain since at least 2009, and previously pledged to monitor its indirect suppliers by 2011.

“This timeline is simply not good enough. In 2009, JBS pledged to monitor its indirect suppliers by 2011 – yet here we are in 2020 with another vague promise that it might happen by 2025. Amnesty International again calls on JBS to implement these changes by the end of this year,” said Richard Pearshouse.

Amnesty International has also launched an online petition, Say no to cattle illegally grazed in the Amazon, which can be signed here.

Rio Jacy-Paraná Reserve

Today (2 December), a public hearing was held to discuss a bill in Rondônia State Congress that aims at reducing the area of Rio Jacy-Paraná Reserve by 1,520 km².

Most of the residents of the Rio Jacy-Paraná Reserve were evicted by cattle farmers and grileiros during land seizures over the last two decades. The Reserve is one of the most deforested environmentally protected areas in the Amazon. Between August 2019 and July 2020, the Rio Jacy-Paraná Reserve lost 104 km², an increase of 10.1% compared to the previous period.

According to official data obtained by Amnesty International through a Freedom of Information request, the number of cattle inside the Rio Jacy-Paraná Reserve increased from 83,642 in November 2018 to 105,478 in April 2020.

“If approved, the bill will mean the regularization of land seizures for illegal commercial cattle ranching inside the Reserve. It will only encourage further land seizures in protected areas in the Amazon,” said Richard Pearshouse.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Lucy Scholey, Media Relations Officer, Amnesty International Canada (English branch), 613-853-2142,