Brazil: Alarming number of new forest fires detected ahead of Amazon Day

An alarming number of new fires have been detected in Brazil’s Amazon, Amnesty International has warned, as authorities fail to protect land and human rights in the endangered rainforest. 

Ahead of Amazon Day on September 5, an estimated 63,000 fires have already been detected this year (up to August 31), according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE). Since May, the Brazilian Army has been deployed in the Amazon ostensibly to curb illegal deforestation and fires.

As fires again rapidly expand this burning season, it’s abundantly clear that the Brazilian military doesn’t have the expertise or experience required to stop those torching the forest and illegally seizing protected land
Richard Pearshouse

Amnesty International also highlighted that deforestation increased 34.5 per cent between August 2019 and July 2020 compared to the same period over 2018 and 2019, destroying a total area of 9,205 km². Recent destruction may actually be much more, once data is corrected to account for a satellite error which has affected the capturing of some fires since August 16.

“As fires again rapidly expand this burning season, it’s abundantly clear that the Brazilian military doesn’t have the expertise or experience required to stop those torching the forest and illegally seizing protected land,” said Richard Pearshouse, Head of Environment and Crisis at Amnesty International.

“The military’s deployment glosses over the Brazilian government’s strategy of deliberately undermining the operational capacity of its own environmental agencies in order to open up the Amazon for business.

“The government should return control of environmental monitoring and law enforcement to the appropriate civilian authorities. The only way to protect the Amazon is for the government to show clear political support for civilian environmental protection in the Amazon, starting by reinstating funding and resources, and supporting agencies to enforce environmental laws.”

In total, 74 per cent of the fires recorded by INPE were registered after the Brazilian Government banned fires in mid-July 2020. The fires are often started intentionally by grileiros, private individuals who clear forested areas and seize land to create pasture. This illegal activity supports Brazil’s multi-billion dollar beef industry.

Satellite imagery over the last two months has also shown recent fires in the three  protected areas Amnesty International recently visited in Rondônia state – the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau Indigenous territory, and Rio Jacy-Paraná and Rio Ouro Preto Reserves.

Illegal cattle farms fuel Amazon destruction

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 detail in a briefing published in November 2019.

According to government data, Indigenous territories in the Amazon lost 497km² of rainforest between August 2018 and July 2019 – a 91% increase compared to the corresponding period a year earlier.

Cattle illegally grazed found in supply chain of JBS

In a recent investigation, 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.

While Amnesty International did not find any evidence indicating that JBS is directly involved with human rights abuses, the organisation is calling for JBS to implement an effective monitoring system, including of its indirect suppliers, by the end of 2020 to ensure that no cattle illegally grazed in protected areas enters its supply chain.

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