- A record number of wildfires are raging through the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.
- Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has blamed farmers starting fires to clear space for livestock and crops, a process known as "slash and burn."
- The nation’s agricultural industry is booming with record exports of beef and soybeans.
- The trade war has boosted demand as China has turned to Brazil for soybeans rather than the US.
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A record number of wildfires are raging through the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, with 72,843 fires detected by Brazil’s space research center INPE this year.
The South American country’s agricultural industry may be partly to blame. Farmers have burned parts of the forest through a process called "slash and burn," in which they cut down trees and set them alight to clear room to grow crops and raise livestock.
Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has been pushing to increase farming and mining in Brazil, as the two sectors have been huge sources of revenue. For example, his administration has loosened protections on natural land reserves.
Bolsonaro has repeatedly denied the negative impact of these measures. "With all the devastation you accuse us of doing and having done in the past, the Amazon would be extinguished already," he previously said.
"I used to be called Captain Chainsaw," Bolsonaro said recently. "Now I am Nero, setting the Amazon aflame." He added that it was the season of the "queimada" or burn, referring to the time of year when farmers clear land.
Here are some key facts about farming in Brazil:
- Latin America is only home to 13.6% of the world’s population, yet its farming industry accounts for over 23% of the world’s beef and buffalo meat production and 21.4% of poultry, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States.
- Brazil exports about $16.7 billion worth of animal products annually, according to the OEC — including $10 billion worth of pig and cattle exports.
- Brazil is the world’s biggest beef producer, and it exported a record 1.64 million tonnes of the animal product last year. Total revenue came to about $7.6 billion, according to the ABIEC, a Brazilian beef export lobby group.
- China is Brazil’s biggest export market. About 22% or $47 billion worth of its exports flow there each year, led by soybeans and beef. The US is its next-biggest customer, buying about 11% of its exports, according to the OEC.
- Soybeans are Brazil’s biggest export — it exports $25 billion of the commodity each year. Demand for Brazilian soybeans has increased due to the trade war, as China has turned to Brazil for soybeans in the face of higher tariffs from the Trump administration.
- "Slash and burn" can cause long-term harm to rainforests. Nutrients in rainforest soil are often depleted quickly, meaning farmers move on swiftly, leaving barren land in their wake.
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