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A key factor at the heart of Amazon deforestation
View over rural settlement inside tropical rainforest enveloped with smoke and haze from forest fires. © WWF / Nigel DICKINSON

Between 1980 and 2000, urban population in Brazil's Legal Amazon almost tripled, from 4.7 million (45% of the region’s population) to 13.7 million (69%).

This trend was particularly marked around major urban centres, duty-free zones (Manaus and Macapá), and areas where wood processing and mining take place.1 In the process, both forests and people have greatly suffered.

Roads, bringing opportunities and pressures

For the Amazon rainforest, roads are very often bad news. In the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, about 80% of the deforested areas are within 30 km of official roads.

In addition to that, approximately 80% of urban centres, agrarian reform settlements and zones around deforestation hotspots are located within 70 km of such roads.2

The Trans-Amazonian highway cuts through interior forest, well off the floodplain and hence in an infertile area. In addition to fertilizer, which is expensive, high rainfall in the area often leads to erosion, while damaged roads cut off supplies and made it difficult to send the land’s products to the cities.

A poor consolation is that these small producers typically own their land, which distinguishes them from the 11 million landless peasants in Brazil.

'Welcome to the Amazon'

According to a resettlement effort undertaken in Brazil, colonists settling on the frontier of the Amazon rainforest would receive a lot just over 1 km2 in size, six months' salary, and agricultural loans, which entitled them to settle along the highway and cut the surrounding rainforest to grow crops.3  Five million cattle were also brought into the area, a trend repeated elsewhere.

The curse of resettlement

But many problems, including diseases brought by the people, increased deforestation4.

Originally, the government planned to plant rice, but this required fertilizer, herbicide and insecticide. Agricultural pests appeared. After people had settled, malaria spread, brought by migrants from the northern areas. Soon, people were also afflicted with gastrointestinal diseases because of poor sanitary conditions.

The cost to Brazil for this resettlement operation has been US$ 500 million, and the cost to the rainforests inestimable.

1Barreto et al. 2005. Human Pressure in the Brazilian Amazon. IMAZON.
2Barreto et al. 2005. Human Pressure in the Brazilian Amazon. IMAZON The Trans-Amazonian Highway. Accessed 8/ 10/2005
4Smith, 1981, in Kricher, 1997

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