The use of land for agricultural activities has grown the most in the last 37 years in Brazil. Between 1985 and 2022, pasture areas increased by 60% and agricultural areas by 219%, according to data from MapBiomas. Soybean plantations, for example, occupy 10 times more territory than the entire urbanized area of Brazil.
While more than a third of the national land is used for pastures and plantations, the area of native vegetation is decreasing. In 1985, Brazil was 75% covered by forests and natural formations. Last year, the index was 64%. More than 600 municipalities no longer have a predominance of natural areas. The country lost 96 million hectares of original flora, which is equivalent to 2.5 times the size of Germany.
The Cerrado and Pampa were the biomes that lost the most native area in the period analyzed, 25% and 24% respectively. In the first case, agricultural activities occupy 50% of the territory. In Pampa, they increased from 29% in 1985 to 44% last year.
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Another fact that draws attention concerns the loss of water surfaces in the Pantanal. 37 years ago, 47% of the biome was made up of water and flooded fields. In 2018, this index fell to 36% and, last year, to 12%.
Among the 27 federation units, 25 suffered losses during this period. São Paulo maintained stability and Rio de Janeiro managed to increase native vegetation from 31% to 32%.
Despite being the second state with the highest deforestation rate in Brazil, Amazonas is still on the list of those with the highest proportion of native vegetation (95%), along with Amapá (95%) and Roraima (93%). At the other end are Sergipe (16%), Alagoas (20%) and São Paulo (21%).
Land uses and preservation
The MapBiomas survey also indicates that Indigenous Lands (TIs) are among the most preserved areas in the country. From 1985 to 2022, ILs lost less than 1% of their native flora. On private land the loss was 17%.
“Indigenous Lands occupy 13% of the national territory and 19% of the native vegetation cover is in these areas. This often happened even before the creation of conservation units”, emphasizes Tasso Azevedo, general coordinator of MapBiomas.
Still according to the data presented, the growth of mining areas in Brazil was considerable during the period. They occupied 22 thousand hectares in 1985 and today they reach 263 thousand hectares. Last year alone, the expansion was 35 thousand hectares, an “overwhelming” increase in the words of Tasso Azevedo.
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“Around 2019 to 2020, the mining area in Brazil became larger than the entire industrial mining area. Last year alone, Curitiba grew. It’s not that important in terms of area, but the impact is very big.”
In the period analyzed by MapBiomas, land occupation dynamics were strongly influenced by agriculture and livestock farming. More than 55% of pasture areas occupied regions that previously had native forest.
In the case of crops, the index is 27.3%, because most of them originate from soil that was already used for pasture and had already undergone changes imposed by humans. Exceptions were observed in the Amazon, Cerrado and Matopiba regions, where agribusiness activities occupy and deforest areas of original flora.
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Temporary crops, which include commodities such as soybeans, corn, sugarcane and cotton, grew more than three times between 1985 and 2022. Soy was the crop that grew the most and is now nine times greater than 37 years ago. Predominant crop in Brazil, it occupies almost 40 million hectares, an area larger than France.
The transformation of territory is predominant in private areas. They account for most of the vegetation loss observed in recent decades in Brazil. 37 years ago, these lands maintained 67% of native vegetation, a figure that has now dropped to 49%. On public lands the drop was more subtle, from 79% to 72%.
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Editing: Rodrigo Durão Coelho