Conversion in the Brazilian Cerrado increases by 25% in 2022 and registers the highest rate in 7 years

dezembro, 14 2022

The area devastated reached 10,689 km² in 12 months; states of the Matopiba region account for higher destruction of the second largest Brazilian biome
By WWF-Brazil 

The annual rate of Cerrado deforestation and conversion estimated in 2022 was 10,689 km², according to official data released on Wednesday (14) by PRODES Cerrado, a monitoring program of the National Institute of Space Research (INPE). The number - the highest in the last seven years - refers to the period between August 2021 and July 2022. 

On November 30, PRODES had already disclosed the official estimate for the Legal Amazon, which showed a loss of 11,568 km² in 2022, keeping the high level of the rates recorded in previous years. Now it's time to disclose the Cerrado numbers.

In addition to the deforested area exceeding 10,000 km², the data revealed today show an increase of 25% in the devastation of the biome compared to last year - when the annual rate was 8,531.44 km². In fact, 2022 is the third consecutive year of increased destruction in the Cerrado - an unprecedented scenario in the historical monitoring series of INPE since 2000. During the Bolsonaro government, deforestation and coversion of the biome has 33,444 km² - an area six times larger than Brasilia.

"We need to urgently change Cerrado deforestation's course after three consecutive years of increased destruction. Preserving the biome is fundamental to maintaining the water regimes that irrigate commodity production and family agriculture and filling hydroelectric dams throughout the country. Clearing the Cerrado is acting against the agribusiness, against the fight against hunger and inflation – having less Cerrado means more expensive food and energy," says Edegar Rosa, WWF-Brazil's Director of Conservation and Restoration.

In 2022, the states with the highest destruction rates were those of Matopiba – an acronym for Maranhao, Tocantins, Piaui, and Bahia - reaching 71% of the total deforested in the biome. The state of Maranhao leads the ranking of devastation with 2,833.9 km² - 27% of the total deforested in the biome. Bahia, Tocantins, and Piaui come next.

Cerrado calls for help

The Cerrado has almost 1 million km² of native vegetation remaining - nearly twice the area of France - and nestles the most biodiverse tropical savannas in the world, representing more than 5% of the world's biodiversity. The biome is also home to 25 million people, about 100 indigenous peoples, and countless traditional communities.

Nevertheless, the biome has already lost half of its area. In recent years, it has suffered the effects of the accelerated advance of the agricultural frontier - the largest in the world, especially in the Matopiba region, filled with soybean crops and livestock.

But the destruction of the biome damages agribusiness itself since it contributes to the stretching of drought and the increase of temperatures, reducing yield and accelerating the climate crisis.

"The Cerrado is the most biodiverse savanna on the planet and houses the springs of eight of the twelve watersheds in Brazil. The expansion of agriculture was responsible for destroying more than half of the original coverage of the Cerrado, and the remaining areas have been heavily degraded and fragmented. The results are already visible  – the rise in temperatures and drought in recent years has been responsible for reducing the productivity of more than 20% of soybean and corn crops in the Matopiba region, for example," says Mariana Napolitano, WWF-Brazil Science Manager.

Free chains of deforestation

On December 5, the European Union approved a bill to stop purchasing inputs associated with deforestation. For now, the approved bill deals only with items produced in areas deforested after December 31, 2020. They cover only 26% of the Cerrado remnants - leaving 74% of the biome unprotected. In a scenario of frightening destruction, it is crucial that UE regulation urgently includes the areas of tree savannas in its next review. Also, the new Brazilian administration needs to take urgent steps to curb deforestation in the biome so that deforestation can reduce again.

"The trend is that similar laws are passed in other countries, with debates already advanced in the UK and the US, for example. The doors are closing to deforestation, and we need to see this movement as an opportunity to place Brazil as a reference for sustainable productivity. The market no longer accepts cutting any tree, and Brazil can more than double its production using the areas already deforested",  says Frederico Machado, leader of the WWF-Brazil Zero Conversion Strategy.

In 2021, non-forest savanna areas that are not yet covered under the UE bill suffered pressure for deforestation and conversion almost twice as significant as the biome's forest areas in relative value, and close to four times as large in size. Last year, 5,000 km² were cleared only in these ecosystems.

While evidence of global biodiversity loss is being released from COP15, the world's most biodiverse savannas destruction route accelerates. Most of the terrestrial species of the Cerrado threatened with extinction are considered exclusive of these non-forest native formations. An increase in pressure in Cerrado savannas could precipitate these species' extinction. This is the case of the lesser nothura (Nothura minor), 53 species of killifishes and the  Brazilian merganser (Mergus octosetaceus), which depends on the non-forest wetlands of the Cerrado and which is among the ten most threatened aquatic birds in the world.

Other biomes

Unpublished data from the Biomas Project (Environmental Monitoring of Brazilian Biomas by Satellite - Atlantic Forest, Caatinga, Pampa, and Pantanal - Portal Biomas) were also disclosed by INPE. These data refer to the historical series of deforestation and the maps of native vegetation loss in the four Brazilian biomes that were not yet the object of official annual monitoring.

There was an increase in deforestation and conversion of the other biomes between 2020 and 2021, except the Caatinga. In the Pantanal, the destruction rose from 678 to 825 km². It was worse in the Pampa: from 888 to 1,526 km². In the Atlantic Forest, deforestation jumped from 791 to 927 km². In the Caatinga, the area dropped from 2,225 to 2,096 km².

Until 2021, 41% of the natural vegetation of Brazil was lost - totaling 3,052,247 km2. In 2021, this loss increased by 14.2% compared to 2020, with 26,093 km2 deforested, which is equivalent to more than three times the area of the metropolitan region of Sao Paulo.

This data could support the new administration in strengthening public policies to preserve native vegetation, biodiversity, and climate balance.

Mappings were based on PRODES methodology, covered more than 2.2 million km2, and evaluated the period from 2000 to 2021. The annual monitoring of deforestation is planned for all Brazilian biomes.

About WWF-Brazil

WWF-Brazil is a Brazilian NGO that has been working collectively for 26 years with partners from civil society, academia, governments, and companies throughout the country to combat socio-environmental degradation and defend the lives of people and nature. We are connected in an interdependent network seeking urgent solutions to climate emergencies. Donate:
States of the Matopiba region account for higher destruction of the second largest Brazilian biome
© Moisés_Muálem/ WWF-Brasil
Cerrado is also home to 25 million people, about 100 indigenous peoples, and countless traditional communities.
© Marcio Sanches / WWF-Brasil
Covering more than a quarter of Brazil’s land area, the Cerrado is home to thousands of species of plants and animals, and millions of people, including diverse indigenous communities.
© WWF-Brasil/Bento Viana