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November 24, 2014

Squatters Account for Deforestation in eastern Amazon Region

After making progress for nearly a decade in reducing deforestation in the eastern Amazon Region, the Brazilian efforts to combat the practice suffered a setback in 2013.

A majority of the rainforest clearing in Brazil has been occurring in the eastern Amazonian state of Para which encompasses the eastern Amazon Rainforest including the mouth of the Amazon River. The State of Para released a report last week of all the areas illegally deforested during 2013 and the report indicated that squatters on public lands were the principal cause of the deforestation.

According to data generated by the Amazon Forest Satellite Monitoring Program, between 2004 and 2013 deforestation in the state of Para declined 74%, but between 2012 and 2013 it registered an increase of 35% to 2,346 square kilometers that were deforested in 2013 (579,500 acres).

The coordinator of the program to monitor deforestation in the state Justiniano Netto, reported that satellite imagery had detected 200 areas that appear to have been deforested illegally by squatters. The size of these areas averaged 300 hectares and an examination of the areas indicated that they were probably cleared by subsistence farmers. It is unclear who actually cleared the areas because the perpetrators disappear before state officials arrive for inspection.

In an effort to further comate the practice, the state has instituted a program called Green Municipalities. If an area has been determined to have been cleared illegally, then occupants of the area will be denied credit, licenses, or authorization to sell agricultural products or forestry products from the area.

Agrarian reform and squatter activity has been a chronic problem in Brazil for decades. Many of the “landless poor” demand that the government give them small plots of land for subsistence agriculture, but the government has not been able to keep up with the demand. Some strike out on their own and move to the Amazon region to clear small parcels of public land to farm for several years.

Part of the problem in Brazil is also the fact that many areas have overlapping land titles making it very difficult to determine who is the legitimate owner because all the titles claim to be legitimate. The squatter groups take advantage of the confusion surrounding land titles to lay claim to public or private land claiming there is no legitimate owner of the land.