A third of the loss of native vegetation in Brazil since the discovery happened in the last 37 years

The profile of land cover and use in Brazil has changed a lot in the last 37 years, aggravating the challenges of preserving water, food and energy security

Between 1985 and 2021, Brazil lost 13.1% of its native vegetation, including forests, savannas and other non-forest formations.  This territory was occupied by agriculture and cattle raising, which now accounts for a third of land use in Brazil. These changes result in a series of challenges faced by Brazil in land use management, which MapBiomas will debate at an event this Friday, August 26, when it will launch Collection 7 of the annual land cover and land use maps of Brazil made from satellite images and which will incorporate data from 2021. 

Among the main findings is the fact that the changes caused by human action between 1985 and 2021 were very intense: they correspond to one third (33%) of the entire anthropized area of the country. In this period Brazil went from 76% of land cover of native vegetation (forests, savannas and other non-forest formations), to 66%.  On the other hand, the area occupied by agriculture and cattle-raising grew from 21% to 31% of the country, with emphasis on the 228% growth of the agricultural areas, which now represent 7.4% of the national territory.  

Another verified trend was the reduction of the water surface area: in the last 30 years (1991 to 2021), there was a loss of 17.1%. The phenomenon occurs especially in the Pantanal, which is strongly influenced, for example, by the variation in humidity generated in the evapotranspiration of the Amazon trees.

"This trend towards rapid transformations represents major challenges for the country to develop and occupy its territory with sustainability and prosperity", explains Tasso Azevedo, coordinator of MapBiomas. "Land occupation and rural production need to be compatible with biome conservation", he adds.

>> Access the main highlights of Collection 7 (1985-2021)

MapBiomas' Collection 7 shows that the process of conversion of native vegetation into crop and pasture areas has been more intense in some regions, especially in recent years in Matopiba - an area with predominantly Cerrado between the states of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia - and AMACRO, in the Legal Amazon, between the states of Acre, Amazonas and Rondônia, and in the Pampa in Rio Grande do Sul. The Matopiba concentrates 56.2% of the loss of native vegetation in the Cerrado in the last 20 years. In AMACRO, the loss of forests increased strongly in the last decade, representing 22% of the loss of forest cover in the Amazon against 11% in the period 2000-2010. And the Pampa is the biome with the greatest proportional transformation having its area of native vegetation reduced from 61.3% to 46.3% in 37 years. "Even though its predominant vegetation is native grasslands that are fully compatible with livestock activity, the Pampa has been being converted for agricultural cultivation, especially soybeans and eucalyptus and pine plantations."

In all of Brazil, between 1985 and 2021 there was an increase of 42.2 million hectares of pasture and 43.6 million hectares of agriculture, representing a 39% increase in pasture area and 228% in agriculture.  "Although 72% of the area of agricultural expansion occurred on already anthropized land, mainly pasture, it is important to emphasize that 28% of the change to temporary farming occurred on deforestation and direct conversion of native vegetation," says Laerte Ferreira, professor at the Federal University of Goiás and coordinator of the MapBiomas Pasture Mapping Team and Soils WG.

In the case of the Amazon forest, the importance of Indigenous Lands for its preservation is highlighted: the image of the land occupation of this biome already allows to see outlines of some of them, such as the mosaic of Indigenous Lands that forms a corridor between southern Pará and northern Mato Grosso.  The new MapBiomas data collection indicates that the loss of native vegetation in indigenous territories was only 0.8% between 1985 and 2021, against 21.5% outside protected areas in the Amazon.

Although 66% of the territory is covered by native vegetation, this does not mean that these areas are entirely conserved. The analysis of the evolution of land use changes over the years shows that at least 8.2% of all existing native vegetation is secondary vegetation, in other words, these are areas that have already been deforested at least once in the last 37 years or were already deforested in 1985. In the Atlantic Forest, the proportion of secondary vegetation rises to 27%. On the other hand, it was found that the interruption of the recovery process of native vegetation with new deforestation is also very significant, representing 32.9% of deforestation in the last decade.  

What is new in the platform

MapBiomas Collection 7 brings maps and annual data on the evolution of 27 land cover and land use classes in Brazil from 1985 to 2021 and also includes a module containing data on the annual evolution of deforestation, secondary vegetation, irrigation, mining and pasture quality. Among the novelties of the platform this year are the 3D visualization module projected over the relief and tools for temporal analysis of the data that allow to explore in more detail and depth the transformations taking place in the Brazilian territory.

"Satellites help us reveal the challenges of how to expand agriculture and cattle ranching without deforestation, how to protect water resources and how urban occupation can be safer and less unequal," explains Julia Shimbo, Scientific Coordinator of MapBiomas and IPAM researcher.