One of Brazil’s most valuable assets is its dense covering of rainforests. Of course, the Amazon Rainforest is the most significant of these, covering a vast portion of the country and providing the ideal habitat to approximately one-third of all animal species in the world. To date, there have been identified approximately 56 000 species of plants (described), 1 700 bird species, 695 amphibian species, 578 mammal species and 651 reptile species.
Rainforests cover almost 60% of the entire area of Brazil at 477 698 000 hectares, which is equivalent to 1 844 394 square miles or just under 3 million square kilometres. This means that Brazil is home to a third of the world’s rainforests, making it one of the most intriguing and beautiful lands on earth. The dense rainforests of Brazil consume an enormous amount of the world’s Carbon Dioxide and release Oxygen in return. However, when they are destroyed, the trees release the Carbon as greenhouse gases, with huge implications for earth and its atmosphere.
Aerial view of the Araguaia River running through the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, with patches of green fields,indicating deforested areas.
Most of the rainforest areas in Brazil are concentrated within the Amazon Basin, which is particularly humid, with year-round precipitation, making for the ideal ‘jungle’ environment.
The Brazilian rainforests, also dubbed as the “lungs of the world” for the valuable Oxygen that they release during respiration, serve many purposes for humankind. This has, unfortunately, led to their large-scale destruction. Currently, more than 5.5% of the rainforests are used for production, approximately a quarter are used for social services and about 45% serve multiple services. Only about 8.5% of the rainforests enjoy a conservation status, while less than 20% are officially protected. Of all the tree species, there are 7 880 native tree species, of which 34 are critically endangered, 100 are endangered and 187 are vulnerable.
Deforestation, the destruction of these priceless rainforests, is the result of several activities, including:
• Agriculture – replacing the rainforest vegetation with grass for cattle and crops for human consumption. This extends both to commercial agriculture and small-scale farming.
• Urbanisation – as the number of people in Brazil grows, the amount of space that they occupy needs to be expanded. Rainforests are being cleared to make way for urban and suburban expansion.
• Infrastructure – new roads and other infrastructural changes invariably extend into the Amazon Basin and other rainforests in time.
• Logging – the cutting down of trees for timber or for clearing an area for other purposes is a major industry in Brazil, providing jobs to many people.
If deforestation continues at its current rate, the entire Amazon Rainforest will be depleted by the end of the 21st century. Some of the valuable fruits, spices and other plants that this gem yields include coconuts, avocados, lemons, grapefruit, bananas, guavas, figs, oranges, pineapples, mangos, tomatoes, corn, potatoes, rice, black pepper, cayenne pepper, chocolate, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, sugar cane, turmeric, coffee, vanilla nuts and cashew nuts.
Incredibly, about 25% of the modern prescription drugs that come from plants actually hail from rainforest vegetation. These include drugs that tackle cancer, AIDS symptoms, viruses and infections.
There is no question, then, as to the importance of these natural treasures, and the urgency with which they need to be conserved and protected.