What is the Role of Agriculture on the Deforestation of the Atlantic Forest in Brazil?

“In the case of the Atlantic Forest, any area that we lose is already a big loss…”

Luís Fernando Guedes Pinto is the executive director of the SOS Mata Atlântica Foundation, an agronomist, master in environmental engineering and Ph.D from the University of São Paulo.

Pinto is a professor at the Higher College of Sustainability and Conservation and a member of the Folha Social Entrepreneurs Network.

Luís Pinto, executive director of SOS Mata Atlântica

AgriBrasilis – Why must we preserve the Atlantic Forest?

Luís Guedes – The Atlantic Forest contains the tree that gave our country its name, the Pau-Brasil. Even so, it is also the biome that has been most devastated throughout our history: only 24% of the original forest cover persists.

The Atlantic Forest is one of the regions with the greatest biodiversity in the world, responsible for more than half of Brazil’s food production. Almost 70% of the Brazilian population lives in this biome, that represents 80% of the national GDP. This population depends on the ecosystem “services” of the Atlantic Forest, such as the supply of water, a resource that is used for power generation, guarantees the production of food, etc.

The restoration of the Atlantic Forest is very important to sequester greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Furthermore, protecting and restoring the forest prevents tragedies such as floods and landslides. The tragedies that have recently taken place in Brazil, for example, largely took place in areas of the Atlantic Forest.

The Atlantic Forest is part of our country’s identity. It is essential that we maintain and preserve this region to guarantee our future.

AgriBrasilis – Why does deforestation continue in the region?

Luís Guedes – It continues mainly because of the expansion of agriculture, that is the main factor that increases deforestation, mainly in the States of Minas Gerais, Bahia, Paraná, Santa Catarina, Mato Grosso do Sul and Piauí, where there are large areas still being deforested, despite this being a biome protected by Law No. 11428/2006, known as the Atlantic Forest Law.

The second main factor that causes deforestation is the expansion of cities, of large metropolises, in addition to the expansion of tourism.

AgriBrasilis – This is the most inhabited biome in the country. Is there a solution to the problem of deforestation?

Luís Guedes – Almost 70% of the population lives in this region, where the main big cities and metropolises are located. From the north to the south of the country, the Atlantic Forest is found in 17 Brazilian States.

I am optimistic and believe that there is indeed a solution to deforestation. This is a problem that we can solve, and the Atlantic Forest is the biome where we are most able to achieve zero deforestation. We have the Atlantic Forest Law and the Forest Code, for example, so the main public policies have already been created. It is not necessary to destroy the Atlantic Forest for Brazil to grow, develop, produce food, have good cities, etc.

We have a lot to gain from protecting and restoring the Atlantic Forest. It helps in combating climate change and guaranteeing a better quality of life in the cities, even maintaining and increasing agricultural production in this way.

The decrease of the Atlantic Forest Area over the years. (Source: SOS Mata Atlântica)

AgriBrasilis – What is the annual deforested area?

Luís Guedes – We have a consolidated initiative for monitoring deforestation in the Atlantic Forest, led for some decades by the SOS Mata Atlântica Foundation and by INPE.

Annually, we prepare a report with data about the deforestation in the biome. For example, in the early 2000s, the rate of deforestation was 100,000 hectares per year, so it was very high. This decreased a lot until it reached the lowest value observed in the historical series, that occurred between 2017-2018, reaching 11.39 thousand hectares, much less than in the previous years.

Unfortunately, there has been a resumption of deforestation growth in the last four years, exceeding 23 thousand hectares in 2021-2022, with an average of approximately 20 thousand hectares per year in the period.

We just released deforestation data for the first five months of 2023, between January and May, and there was a 42% reduction in deforestation compared to the previous year. The data, consolidated on the MapBiomas Alerta platform, show that the deforested area between January and May was 7,088 hectares, against 12,166 hectares recorded in the same period of 2022.

AgriBrasilis – Is Brazilian legislation enough to preserve the Atlantic Forest?

Luís Guedes – We already have proper legislation to preserve the Atlantic Forest. It is considered a national heritage by our constitution, protected by a special legislation. The Atlantic Forest Law deals with the conservation, use and restoration of this biome. This Law determines that deforestation can only be approved in exceptional situations.

In addition, we also have the Forest Code, that is a public policy, a very important law to lead the restoration of the biome, especially the Permanent Preservation Areas – APPs, that are forests that protect our rivers-beds.

AgriBrasilis – You said that there is a “cloud of small deforestation spots” in the region. Why?

Luís Guedes – There are two patterns of deforestation. The agricultural expansion areas, mainly in the transition from the Atlantic Forest to the Cerrado Biome, are where we have large deforested areas, from 50-100 hectares of deforested land, that have a great impact on the total deforested area.

The deforestation pattern in the States of Paraná and Santa Catarina, for example, is defined by small areas. These are a lot of very small areas of deforestation, or a “cloud”, if you will. These areas are small and isolated from each other, but when added together, they end up becoming a large, deforested area, and, in the case of the Atlantic Forest, any area that we lose is already a big loss.