In Brazil, local government authorized deforestation of Cerrado area bigger than 94 cities of Paris

17 agosto 2022

Between 2007 and 2021, the Brazilian state of Bahia authorized the removal of more than 2,4 million acres of native vegetation

Tamo de Olho 

Deforestation authorizations have been issued by the environmental agency of the state of Bahia even if applicants do not comply with legal requirements, according to a study released by civil society organizations on August 4th. The Institute Mãos da Terra (IMATERRA), in partnership with the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA), analyzed a sample of sixteen administrative processes led by the State Institute for the Environment and Water Resources (INEMA), which included Authorizations for the Suppression of Native Vegetation (ASVs, the acronym in Portuguese). In all processes, there are irregularities that violate the law. The analysis was subsidized by WWF-Brazil and the Institute for Society, Population and Nature (ISPN), and is the result of the Tamo de Olho initiative, carried out through the CERES project with funding from the European Union.
Between September 2007 and June 2021, the state government granted 5,126 authorizations for vegetation suppression in all biomes, totaling an area of 2,452,736 acres. The Corrente and Grande River basins correspond to 80% of the total area authorized by the state in the period. The Cerrado region, in western Bahia, supplies the São Francisco River, the most important river for all Brazilian Northeast. The result of the study, released during a seminar held at the Barreiras City Council (in Bahia), lists a series of irregularities, including conflicts with traditional communities, the use of techniques to capture fauna that can be fatal, and technical opinions signed by officials that lack technical qualification, among other flaws.
“The expansion of agribusiness in the western region of Bahia occurred, to a large extent, in territories considered traditional, but which were not yet guaranteed by the State, generating significant social conflicts in the region, which persist in the current times. It is noteworthy that many of these lands are vacant, and some agribusiness ventures are associated with land grabbing for land occupation in the region”, says the document. Authorized deforestation mainly benefits the cultivation of soy, corn, eucalyptus, and cotton. [See executive summary of the study here]
According to the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), with data from the Brazilian Institute for Space Research (INPE), between 2020 and 2021 deforestation in the Cerrado reached record highs, with more than 8,000 km² felled. Of this deforestation, 61% was of native vegetation in MATOPIBA, an area of unrestrained encroachment of the agricultural frontier that covers the states of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí, and Bahia.


Irregularities identified

“During the analysis of the processes, many irregularities and nonconformities that directly affect biodiversity and its ecosystem services, and the traditional communities that inhabit the study region, making the analyzed ASV concessions legally questionable”, points out the study.
The farm that most deforested was Condomínio Delfin, located in the city of Formosa do Rio Preto, with irregular deforestation of 61,114 acres of native Cerrado, an area twice larger than the city of Paris. In second place is Santa Colomba, in the municipality of Cocos, with deforestation of 12,320 acres. In third place is Formosinha, with 8,206 acres, also in Formosa do Rio Preto. In the case of the latter, the analysis identified that there was no justification for the request for deforestation; even so, INEMA authorized the clearing of vegetation.
Regarding Condomínio Delfin, the champion of deforestation that is part of the mega-complex of farms Estrondo, the list of irregularities is extensive. The analysis shows that the authorization was granted without approval of the Legal Reserve and that the studies did not present adequate information on the socioenvironmental impacts, such as the impairment of water resources and climate balance. In addition, the authorization was based on outdated studies, carried out six years earlier, with incomplete fauna and flora studies. As a technique for “scaring away” animals, INEMA suggests the use of common mousetraps, which can be fatal. In the region, there are still records of violence against five traditional local geraizeira communities, who have occupied the region for generations.
The Santa Colomba farm, the second largest deforester, and located in the Cariranha River basin, was included as an exception to the scope of the analysis because it is close to the Corrente River and because it accumulates socioenvironmental conflicts in the region. The study identified the existence of degraded areas inside the property that would make it impossible to grant a deforestation authorization, according to the provisions of the Brazilian Forest Code. The Forest Inventory, in turn, indicates the presence of a species that does not exist in the National Database. Deforestation of the unit also harms the way of life of local geraizeira communities.
In general terms, deforestation authorizations do not consider fauna studies and hide protected species from flora inventories; permit the use of hunting dogs to capture animals, a technique that is not recommended; they are based on reports signed by employees with a clear lack of technical knowledge (mistaking species of fauna and flora, for example) and, mainly, they do not contemplate local traditional communities.
The study considered authorizations issued after the publication of State Decree #15,180/2014, from which a sample of 16 processes that subsidized the Vegetation Suppression Authorizations in the Grande and Corrente River Basins issued by INEMA was selected, which together correspond to a total deforestation of 50,723.99 hectares. The number is equivalent to more than 96 cities the size of Paris, more than 11 cities the size of Berlin, or 6 cities the size of London.
Processes that involved authorizations within or close to Sustainable Use Protected Areas or Full Protection Protected Areas were selected. Authorizations issued within biodiversity hotspots, priority areas for the protection of water resources, within or close to territories of traditional peoples and communities were also considered. The processes were analyzed according to 21 criteria listed in the report.


The Cerrado is a global security issue, being central to debates on climate change mitigation. With roots that exceed 10 meters in depth, representing up to 75% of the biomass of shrubs and trees, the Cerrado can store around 13.7 billion tons of carbon. Deforestation of the native Cerrado in the western region of Bahia also causes impacts that affect the food security of populations and water resources for the Brazilian Northeast, in addition to reducing the biodiversity of the richest savanna in the world in fauna and flora. The second largest biome in Brazil, the Cerrado serves as housing, food, and income generation for thousands of traditional communities, many of which are invisible on official maps.
More than 80 indigenous ethnic groups live in the biome, in addition to quilombolas, geraizeiros, vazanteiros, coconut breakers, riverside dwellers, artisanal fisherfolk, fundo e fecho de pasto communities, among others, whose ways of life are directly related to local biodiversity. According to the Tô no Mapa initiative, there are more than 3.5 times more traditional communities in the MATOPIBA region than the combined data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), the Palmares Foundation, and the National Indian Foundation (Funai) show. Known as the birthplace of Brazil's waters, the Cerrado is home to the Guarani, Bambuí, and Urucuia aquifers, in addition to springs from eight of Brazil's twelve main hydrographic regions.
In recent years, European countries and the European Union have expanded the list of banned pesticides because they pose risks to human health and the environment. However, the legislation that protects their territory from this threat does not prevent the continued production of these substances and the export of products and active ingredients known to be dangerous to other areas of the world, such a Brazilian Cerrado and its traditional communities.
The Brazilian market is the second largest importer of agrochemicals which are forbidden in the European Union, buying from these countries and from the United Kingdom more than 40 different types of products that cannot be applied on the European continent. In 2019 alone, Brazilian imports of banned products reached 12,000 tons. Most of these products are applied in monocultures of soy, corn, cotton and sugarcane, commodities that feed the global chain and return, in part, to Europe despite the use of banned agrochemicals in their cultivation.

Cerrado and the EU Regulation

On 17 November 2021, the European Commission presented a proposal for new legislation aimed at banning the entry of commodities associated with deforestation into the European market. The definition of "deforestation" used in the proposal is based on the FAO definition of forest, which does not include other extensive ecosystems, relevant for biodiversity, carbon storage and other important ecosystem services, and highly threatened by agricultural commodities expansion. More than half of all habitat destruction comes outside forests.
A recent study of MapBiomas initiative in collaboration with WWF assessed the proportion of such ecosystems that is not under the EU Regulation scope. Close to three-quarters of the Brazilian Cerrado are outside.
On the other size, the increasing demand of commodities like soybean and beef from northern markets, mainly China and Europe, and their elevated prices, created a favorable context to the expansion of agricultural and pasture lands on native vegetation. Brazil is considered the country with the highest deforested area during the past three decades, with 355,000 km2 lost, about 5 times the combined area of the Netherlands and Belgium.
The European Regulation is the opportunity to really reduce conversion of natural ecosystems by creating a benchmark for biodiversity conservation worldwide and making trade more sustainable.

Tamo de Olho

The launch is the result of the Project “Integrated Sustainable Landscape Management in the Cerrado Biome – Uncovering the Suppression of Native Vegetation in the Grande and Corrente River Basins”. The project is part of the Tamo de Olho initiative, which aims to identify emblematic cases of deforestation and violations of territorial rights of Traditional Peoples and Communities for advocacy with public bodies, focusing on accountability and guaranteeing rights. WWF-Brazil, ISPN, Rede Cerrado, Instituto Cerrados, and IPAM are participating in the initiative.