Market forces, population pressure and infrastructure advances are continuing to pry open the Amazon rainforest.
As the pressures afflicting the region grow in intensity, it is becoming increasingly clear that the price to be paid is not only loss of biodiversity and habitat – but also of a decreasing life quality for people.
Among the threats behind environmental destruction and degradation in the Amazon are the lack of policy frameworks to support sustainable development and natural resource protection, political instability, the inability of some institutional and governmental entities to establish and enforce legislation for nature conservation, and poverty and inequality.
The price of development at all costs
Today, regional government programmes and initiatives are pushing for constant development, often encouraging blind clearance of forests for cattle ranching, oil drilling or soybean production
. Such efforts seek to secure much-needed foreign exchange and generally develop economies.
As the countries of the Amazon become increasingly integrated into the global economy and there is increased demand for ever-limited natural resources, efforts to protect the region continue to be threatened by unsustainable economic demands.
Trade, the fuel of deforestation
Development activities in the Amazon are responding in part to the insatiable international demand for raw goods. For example, Brazil’s beef exports are closely linked to financial markets and the strength of the Real, the Brazilian currency.
When the real devaluated, the price of beef in real approximately doubled, creating a huge incentive for ranchers to expand their pasture area.
At the same time, the price of Brazilian beef in dollars fell, which made Brazil’s exports more competitive on international markets.1
Conversely, when the real strengthens, exporters struggle to keep their slice of the market.
Trade requires infrastructure
Responding to international demands in agricultural products requires infrastructure such as dams and roads. BR-163 and BR-319, two of the main roads to be laid down through the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, are examples of this situation.
But global demand is not limited to cattle and soy. To satisfy its industrial needs, China is involved in mining projects in the eastern Amazon, ranging from aluminium and steel to nickel and copper.2