Cutting down on Amazon deforestation: Watch, think, and act

10 December, 2014 by (comments)

amazonReducing deforestation in the Amazon is possible – Brazil has done it. Now it’s the turn of other Amazon countries to do something. With Terra-i and other Global Forest Watch contributors, let’s start by monitoring land cover changes in the region to better pinpoint drivers of deforestation and formulate appropriate responses.




Between 2004 and 2011, Brazil reduced deforestation rates in the Amazon by 77%, thus decreasing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by more than a third. This is an all-time record. No country had ever been able to cut down emissions so drastically over a similar period, including reductions in transportation, energy and all other sectors[i].

That reduction in deforestation also had enormous positive conservation benefits for biodiversity, water, soil, and other environmental services.

However, 40% of the Amazon rainforest lies outside Brazil, shared between Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Surinam, Guyana and French Guiana. So what’s going on in those countries?

Well, the picture does not look so good. According to CIAT’s experts, while deforestation rates went down in Brazil, they increased in other Amazon countries, with a rise in their combined contribution to Amazon deforestation from 8-15% around 2005 to 23-30% in 2011[ii].

While the effect of the global economic crisis on demand for commodities certainly helped curb deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, a combination of targeted interventions really made the difference. Similar policies and programs are necessary in other Amazonian countries to achieve the same kind of results.

These include for example commodity moratoriums in the same vein as Brazil’s soy and beef moratoriums, law enforcement actions and effective threats of prosecution, government policy, low emissions land-use change, the strengthening of protected areas, broad international donor support for programs to reduce emissions, and better forest monitoring[iii].

Since April 2014, Peru has adopted CIAT’s Terra-i as an early warning system to monitor land cover and land-use change.

Terra-i detects land-cover changes resulting from human activities in near real-time and currently covers all of Latin America. It showed that between 2004 and 2011 the region of Madre de Dios in Peru lost almost 30,000 hectares of natural vegetative cover. More recent imagery shows that deforestation continued to extend after 2011 in relation to gold mining (see image below). Terra-i also registered alarming deforestation rates in the Provinces of Manu and Tambopata, where mining activities have expanded considerably since 2005 due to the continuous surge in gold prices. (blog)


In September 2013, researchers also validated Terra-i’s observations in Pucallpa, the capital of the Ucayali region in Peru, where drastic land clearing had been detected over large areas. The team confirmed on the ground that new oil palm plantations had been taking a toll on the Peruvian Amazon through cutting, slashing, and burning of forest – and its wildlife (blog).

By using Terra-i as an early warning system, the Peruvian government now has the means to react swiftly to deforestation threats, and can rely on up-to-date and sound data for its decision making related to land use dynamics and the strategic development of natural resources.

Terra-i Peru is widely used by technicians in the Peruvian Ministry of Environment to quickly detect new areas of change and act accordingly,” says CIAT’s Louis Reymondin, who belongs to the Terra-i team. “Now, they can even determine the drivers behind deforestation in specific sites – for example, agriculture, livestock, mining, or others – thanks to a new collaboration with the National Service of Natural Protected Areas, which gives them access to reports from park rangers’ field visits,” Reymondin adds.

Indeed, park rangers were trained to use Terra-i Peru to identify new areas of change within protected areas and help technicians at MINAM with the hard task of protecting the forests (blog).

Terra-i currently covers all of Latin America and will be expanded over the next year to cover the entire tropics. As of December 2014, Terra-i is a partner in Global Forest Watch (GFW), which is convened by the World Resources Institute (WRI), and contributes its data on forest changes to this worldwide initiative.

According to WRI, Terra-i is a pivotal addition to the GFW platform. It enables users to put tree cover loss alerts into context with data on relevant forest cover, communities and biodiversity for an increased understanding of where – and why – forests are disappearing.

CIAT’s work on Terra-i with diverse partners forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

[i] Boucher et al., 2013

[ii] Analysis of multiple information sources – including Terra-I, FORMA and Hansen data sets

[iii] Boucher et al., 2013; Börner et al., 2011; Macedo et al., 2012; Nepstad et al., 2014; Soares Filho et al., 2010

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Filed Under: Climate Change, Latin America and the Caribbean