Who takes care of the Amazon?

Agronomist, PhD in Ecology from the University of Stirling (UK). She studies the ecology of the Amazon rainforest. Titular researcher and former director of the Goeldi Museum. Counselor of the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science (SBPC).

Ima Vieira

Translated by Silvia Benchimol, Ewerton Branco, Ma. Annarry Tavares (UFPA/ET-Multi)


The most wide-ranging tropical forest on Earth, situated in the most expansive fluvial system, concentrating the largest amount of liquid mass in the planet and housing one of one of every ten existing species on the planet, the Amazon is shared among nine countries. It is in Brazil, though, where the high rates of deforestation and the intensity of forest fires have been worrying the whole world. The lives of those who live ‘with’ the forest and some of the most important issues about what currently affects human life on Earth are at stake: the climate changes and the crucial conservation of ecosystems for our survival as a species.

The history of the Amazonian region along the last five centuries has presented a trajectory of losses and damage, heightened from the XX century forward. The incentives to the intense occupation of the Amazon have promoted the increase of deforestation rates and of changes in the handling of the land, drastically modifying the region’s fire procedures. Different geopolitical projects and powerful economic concerns have sustained the destruction of the world’s richest forest. Until the beginning of the 70’s decade, the desertification of the Amazon forest was of less than 1% of its territory, but, in 2019, it has grown into approximately 20%.

The deforestation and the deterioration of the Amazon forest are gradually becoming more complex as the land market becomes more dynamic, the access to the consumer market is expanded and new geostrategies for the occupation of the agricultural frontier are configured. Recent researches investigate how the threat that hovers above the Amazon reaches beyond the ones who live in it. The Amazon is already considered a relevant factor of global warming, according to an analysis developed by more than 30 researchers. Scientific studies show a major impact in the transmission of malaria caused by the deforestation of the Amazonian’s hydrographical basin and health issues in the Brazilian population caused by the fires. The scientists alert that the environmental imbalance and the social vulnerability of its population turn the Amazon into a potential incubator for the next pandemic, and defend that the rupture of the integrity of its ecosystems lessen the capability of producing food, affecting the survival of the human race.

In this context, we must keep ourselves especially aware of the actions of public administrators when facing a socio-environmental issue of such magnitude. The two presidential candidates for the runoff elections talk about preserving the Brazilian biomes, mainly the Amazon, however, both have governed the country already and we know what they have done.

During the term of office of President Lula da Silva (2003-2010) a series of measures for the protection of the Amazon against deforestation were stablished, winding up with a substantial drop in deforestation, from 25.300 km² in 2003 to 6.451 km² in 2010. The strategies of improving the surveillance systems, creating protected areas around large infrastructural projects and in the areas under the expansion of the agribusiness, extending the oversight operations and the credit restriction measures to the deforesters, were fundamental for this decrease.

Going the other way, some of president Jair Bolsonaro’s administrative decisions (2019-2022) have weakened environmental controls. Looking at the period from august, 2019 to July, 2021, the deforestation of the biome was 56,6% superior than the same period of august, 2015 to July, 2018. The specialists’ prediction is that in 2022 the deforestation will encompass 15.000 km². This abrupt exponential growth is not by chance. We have watched the weakening of the surveillance and of the environmental institutions, the lack of punishment for environmental crimes, the noticeable decrease in actions of fighting and controlling deforestation and changes to a series of laws, which lead to catastrophic consequences for the Amazon and its people. There is an institutional crisis with no precedents that leads to the subordination of the governmental initiatives about the Amazon to the interests of those that promote and profit from illegal deforestation, attacking peoples and communities that protect the forest.

As such, one can observe that the trajectories of the two runoff presidential candidates are conflicting in regard to the environmental issues in the Amazon.

From a programmatic point of view, the current president approaches the environmental causes as a hindrance for the exploitation of the region's riches, betting on activities of high environmental impact as an engine for development, and he intends to continue the same policies that have weakened the environmental cause. The candidate Lula da Silva highlights in his government program the need for reconstructing the environmental policies, strengthening the science and technology institutes and the environmental and indigenous bodies, removing the gold miners from indigenous lands and creating the Ministry of Traditional Peoples. 

Pope Francis, a wise man, warns us that “to take care of the Amazon, it’s good to conjugate the ancestral wisdom with the contemporary technical knowledge, but always aiming at interfering in the territory in a sustainable way, preserving at the same time the lifestyles and the value systems of the inhabitants.” 

Dear reader, look at the Amazon before voting and consider who takes care of it having eyes for the future.