The Amazon rainforest has lost over 750,000 square kilometers of land since 1978, due to deforestation. For the larger part of history, subsistence farmers who clear cut chunks of land to grow crops for locals and their families, have been the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon. As time went on, it was no longer subsistence farmers who were primarily responsible, instead it was industrial activities and large-scale agriculture. Eventually cattle-ranching, was responsible for more than three-quarters of forest clearing in the Amazon by the 2000s. As a result of deforestation, land in the Amazon was cleared faster than ever before from the late 1970s up until the mid 2000s.
Currently in the Amazon rain forest, the leading cause of deforestation is cattle-ranching. According to government figures this has been the case since at least the 1970s in Brazil. From 1966-1975 around 38 percent of deforestation in Brazil, was due to large-scale cattle-ranching. This still holds true today, only now it is closer to 70 percent of the deforestation being attributed to cattle ranching. There are people making money from the cattle, and then there are also people that make money from selling the converted land. Forest land itself has little value, but once it is cleared and turned into pastureland, it can then be sold to be used for cattle or for large-scale farming.
The current situation is possibly starting to change, at least in Brazil. Since 2009, after being pushed by environmental campaigners, the Brazilian government along with major cattle buyers, have begun to crack down on the amount of deforestation that is due to cattle production. There have been pledges made by some major slaughterhouses, to enforce stricter controls on their cattle sourcing in order to make sure they are not a driving force in the deforestation.
Another major factor towards deforestation is commercial agriculture. From the 1990s until the mid 2000s the production of soy was a huge contributor to deforestation. The production of the soybean really increased after a new variety of soybean was made by Brazilian scientists which was able flourish in the climate of a rain forest. While there was deforestation due to the actual forest that was converted into soy fields, the crop had more of an impact than just that. It drove up land prices, which caused farmers to move deeper into the rain forest, and also brought new motivation to produce more highways. A high-profile campaign that was run by Greenpeace started to turn things around when they stepped in back in 2006. They made one of Brazil’s largest soy producers commit to avoid clearing land for new production. Soy is not the only form of commercial agriculture that contributes to deforestation, and others include corn, sugar cane, and rice.
Due to all of the efforts made since the mid 2000s, Brazil which contains nearly two-thirds of the Amazon rainforest, has seen the annual forest loss decline almost 80 percent.
A few of the efforts include satellite monitoring, heavy pressure from environmentalists, increased law enforcement, new protected areas, as well as many others. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for all Amazon counties, some of which have been actually experiencing a rise in deforestation since 2000.