Soy occupies 10% of the Cerrado

The biome has already lost almost half of its native vegetation and is getting hotter and drier

Access the highlights of the Cerrado in Collection 7 of MapBiomas Brasil

September 11, 2022 - Between 1985 and 2021, the area occupied by soy crops in the Cerrado grew by 1443%, occupying almost 20 million hectares, or 10% of the biome, last year. In these 37 years, agricultural activities expanded 508%, from 4 million hectares to almost 25 million hectares in the Cerrado. Of this total, 20 million are soybean. In the last 10 years, however, this crop has advanced mainly over areas of native vegetation in the Matopiba states (Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia). Together, they account for 80% of the direct conversion of native vegetation for soybean cultivation between 2011 and 2021. Another state that stands out is Minas Gerais, where soy farming jumped from 14 thousand hectares in 1985 to 2.4 million hectares in 2021.

The data is from the most recent collection of information on land occupation and land use in Brazilian territory produced by MapBiomas from all the images available over the last 37 years by Landsat satellites.  The survey on Brazil's second largest biome, which is being released this Sunday, 11, when Cerrado Day is celebrated, also shows that practically one third (30.6%) of the anthropization of Cerrado areas took place in the last 37 years. In 2021 only half of the biome (53.1%) is still covered by native vegetation.  Between 1985 and 2021, 27.9 million hectares of native vegetation will have been lost.

"The Cerrado is undergoing two simultaneous transformation processes. On the one hand, already anthropized areas, of pastures, are being converted into crops. On the other, however, we are seeing crops growing directly on native vegetation. This indicates that the increase in production in the biome is not due to better practices and soil management, but to the opening of new crop areas," explains Dhemerson Conciani, an IPAM researcher who is part of the Cerrado team in MapBiomas.  The substitution of pastures by grain cultivation occurs with more intensity in the South and Southeast of the biome, in the states of São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Mato Grosso do Sul.

MapBiomas researchers fear for the effects of this transformation, so rapid and radical. "We don't know the point of no return for the Cerrado," warns Julia Shimbo, IPAM researcher and scientific coordinator of MapBiomas. "However, there is already evidence of the impact of this loss of native vegetation on the regional climate." An article published by Brazilian researchers concluded that the conversion of native Cerrado areas to pastures and agriculture has already made the climate in the region almost 1°C warmer and 10% drier. "Global climate change may worsen this scenario of increased temperature and reduced rainfall, bringing damage to agriculture, water supply to cities and energy production in the country," adds Julia. 

The preservation of the Cerrado depends heavily on private landowners, because the biome has only 12% of its territory protected by some kind of conservation unit or indigenous land. "This means that 67% of the remaining native vegetation is on private property, accentuating the responsibility of the private sector in the conservation of the most biodiverse savanna in the world," she points out.

The biome will gain a new system for monitoring deforestation alerts next week. The Cerrado Deforestation Alert System (SAD Cerrado), is launched this Monday, September 12 at 10:30 am, by IPAM in partnership with the MapBiomas network and LAPIG/UFG. The system uses artificial intelligence algorithms and Sentinel-2 satellite images of 10-meter resolution to detect deforestation alerts covering the entire biome.