Loss of 9.1 million hectares of native grassland in 38 years

The South American Pampa lost 20% of its grassland vegetation between 1985 and 2022, including 9.1 million hectares of native grassland, according to an analysis of satellite images taken during the period by MapBiomas Pampa, a collaborative network of experts from Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. The data on the transformations of this biome, which extends over more than one million square kilometers between Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, occupying 6.1% of South America, was released today (28/11) by the researchers. The new collection of annual land cover and land use maps is the most complete ever produced for the biome and updates the data from the previous collection, launched last year.

Os dados revelam que a vegetação nativa já cobre menos da metade do Pampa (47,4%). A maior parte dela corresponde à vegetação campestre (32% do território), e que tradicionalmente é utilizada para a pecuária. Trata-se de um caso singular em que a produção animal e a conservação da biodiversidade geralmente integram sistemas produtivos com notável sustentabilidade ambiental. Apesar disso, quase metade (48,4%) da região já teve a vegetação nativa convertida para o desenvolvimento da agricultura, pastagens plantadas ou silvicultura. As áreas de agricultura e silvicultura aumentaram 15% no período, o que significa um incremento de 8,9 milhões de hectares. Em área, o avanço da silvicultura foi menor: 2,1 milhões de hectares. Mas isso representou um crescimento de 327%. Já a vegetação campestre nativa, que é a base para a produção animal, sendo a vocação natural do bioma, caiu de 44 milhões de hectares em 1985 para 35 milhões de hectares em 2022.

>> Acesse os principais destaques do Pampa Trinacional (1985-2022)

"Several studies indicate that the South American Pampa, where native non-forest vegetation predominates, is one of the least protected and most threatened biomes on the continent, precisely because of the high rates of transformation in land cover and use and the low levels of protection of its natural ecosystems," explains Eduardo Vélez, from the MapBiomas Pampa team. Although in 1985, when the mapping period began, the degree of conversion of native vegetation was already high (40% of the region with agriculture, forestry and urban areas), the transformations over the last 38 years have continued, further altering the landscape. In other words, the region has not yet stabilized the process of converting natural environments into anthropized areas. The consequences of this are bad for biodiversity and ecosystem services, as well as jeopardizing the region's potential to produce meat sustainably on a large scale from the biome's typical grassland vegetation.

Brazil, highest proportional loss

The country with the greatest proportional loss of grassland vegetation was Brazil, with 2.9 million hectares - equivalent to 58 times the area of the municipality of Porto Alegre (RS). This is a loss of 32% of the area existing in 1985 in just 38 years. The main driver of this change is the expansion of agricultural areas to plant soybeans. Agricultural land use increased by 2.1 million hectares between 1985 and 2022. Forestry, on the other hand, expanded its territory by more than 720,000 hectares in this period - an impressive increase of 1,667%. In 1985, the total area occupied by grasslands was 9 million hectares and this will rise to 6.2 million hectares in 2022.

Argentina, biggest absolute loss

Em termos absolutos, no entanto, as maiores perdas de vegetação campestre foram na Argentina: 3,7 milhões de hectares – o mesmo que 182 vezes a cidade de Buenos Aires. Foi uma perda de 16% da área em 38 anos. Em 1985, eram 23,1 milhões de hectares; em 2022, 19,4 milhões. Assim como no Brasil, o principal vetor foi a expansão das áreas de agricultura e das pastagens plantadas com espécies exóticas. “O uso  agropecuário do solo teve um aumento líquido de 3,4 milhões de hectares, sendo o resultado do aumento da área de agricultura, que chegou a 5,8 milhões de hectares, combinado com a perda de 2,4 milhões de hectares de pastagens plantadas”, comenta Diego Abelleyra, do INTA-Argentina.  A silvicultura, por sua vez, aumentou 317 mil hectares entre 1985 e 2022.

Uruguay, largest forestry area 

In Uruguay, the loss of grasslands was also very significant: 2.5 million hectares, or 47 times the size of the department of Montevideo. This was a drop of 20% in relation to the total area in 1985, a combined effect of the advance of agriculture and forestry. Agricultural land use alone increased by 42% between 1985 and 2022, from 3.2 million hectares to 4.5 million hectares. But the big change, in proportional terms, was in forestry, which expanded its area by 748%, from 143,000 hectares in 1985 to 1.2 million hectares in 2022. The area of forestry in Uruguay already exceeds the area observed in the Pampa region of Argentina (775,000 ha) and Brazil (762,000 ha).

Fact sheets

  • The South American Pampa covers 6.1% (109.2 million hectares) of South America;
  • 66% of the mapped area is in Argentina (72 million hectares), 18% in Brazil (19.4 million hectares), and 16% in Uruguay (17.8 million hectares);
  • The net loss of grassland vegetation between 1985 and 2022 was 9.1 million hectares;
  • The areas of agriculture and planted pastures combined grew by 16%, from 43.2 million hectares to 50.1 million hectares and
  • The area of forestry (the planting of exotic trees) increased from 645,000 hectares to 2.8 million hectares (an increase of 327%).

About MapBiomas Pampa Trinacional

MapBiomas Pampa Trinacional https://pampa.mapbiomas.org/ is an initiative involving a collaborative network of experts from Argentina (Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria-INTA, Universidad de Buenos Aires and the NGO Fundación Vida Silvestre Argentina), Brazil (Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul and GeoKarten) and Uruguay (Faculty of Agronomy and Faculty of Sciences of the Universidad de la República, Instituto Nacional de Investigación Agropecuaria-INIA and the Ministry of the Environment). The project uses Landsat satellite images (30 x 30 meter resolution) and cloud computing through the Google Earth Engine (GEE) platform to produce annual maps of land cover and use with high technology and low cost. The initiative is part of the MapBiomas Network, which began in 2015 with MapBiomasmapbiomas.org.).