journey to the Amazon’s newest deforestation frontier

  • In August, Mongabay contributor Gustavo Faleiros and filmmaker Marcio Isensee e Sá visited the unique biodiverse Amazon forests located on the divide between the Purus and Madeira river basins, where a decades-delayed plan to improve the BR-319 highway is gaining momentum, bringing environmental transformation.
  • The introductory video and story presented here, along with a series of feature articles to follow in coming weeks, shows how federal road improvements are bringing outsiders, entrepreneurs and outlaws to the region — all eager to profit by reducing the forest via logging operations, cattle production and other businesses.
  • In this first dispatch, we profile Realidade, a small village in the Brazilian Amazon where loggers, businessmen and land grabbers are still in the early stages of occupation.
  • Although deforestation here isn’t yet as fast or serious, as in Pará, Mato Grosso and other states, business growth rates are among Brazil’s highest. With scientists warning that further Amazon deforestation could worsen climate change, bringing extreme drought and a shift from rainforest to savanna in the region, analysts urge that the vast Purus-Madeira moist forest ecoregion be conserved.

When we arrived in Realidade, in Amazonas state in the Madeira basin, we were received with immediate suspicion. Our first stop was at the sawmill of Adilson Balbinotti, an agitated man in his 50’s. As we parked our pickup truck, he ducked his head in the passenger window and spotted our cameras, GPS units and mobiles, which displayed maps noting the most recent deforestation alerts.

We explained that we were journalists, and he quickly assured us he had no problem speaking with us about his business. “Everything we do here is legal,” he guaranteed.

Balbinotti is typical of many entrepreneurs from Brazil’s South arriving in the Amazon. He is known as Gauchinho, a nickname that refers to his state of origin, Rio Grande do Sul; a southern source of loggers, sawmill operators, cattle ranchers and farmers since the first Amazon migration wave hit back in the 1970s.

Businessmen like Balbinotti began arriving in Realidade roughly 10 years ago. They were attracted by the hope of new economic opportunities brought by a government pledge to pave and improve the BR-319, a federal road that crosses through the village.

This story first appeared on Mongabay

South Africa Today – Environment

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