Forest Conversion for Commercial Agriculture and Associated Exports
New high-resolution satellite imagery analysis revealed in 2013 that Paraguay had the second highest deforestation rate in the world during 2000-2012 (Hansen et al 2013). While earlier deforestation was driven by sugar, tobacco, and tree plantations, from the late 1990s onwards conversion for industrial soybean plantations became the main driver of deforestation in Paraguay. Most recently, industrial-scale cattle ranching has grown to become the largest threat to the country’s forests. In the eastern ‘Atlantic forest’ region of Paraguay, the push to expand soy production has resulted in near total deforestation of the native forests, with less than 5 percent still standing (World Bank 2003). Concern over the loss of Atlantic Forest led the Government to pass a two-year “zero-deforestation” law for the eastern part of the country in 2004, which has since been extended and currently runs till 2018. This law has led to a dramatic decline in deforestation in the east, but has only served to displace deforestation to the western ‘chaco’ dry forests, which are now suffering the highest deforestation rate in the world (Hansen et al 2013). The dry forests of the Gran Chaco, which also stretch over Bolivia and Argentina, are Latin America’s second most important forest (behind only the Amazon in terms of biodiversity and and size).
The Government of Paraguay has in the past estimated that 40 percent of forest loss in the east was due to cattle ranching, and the rest due to soy production (Republic of Paraguay 2008). Most current deforestation occurs in the west, however, and is predominantly driven by cattle ranching.
Almost all of the soy produced in Paraguay is exported, and the European Union is the largest destination for exports. Paraguay exported 60 percent of its beef production in 2012, with 70 percent of exports destined for Russia and the rest mostly to other Latin American countries (Lawson 2014). In 2003 total exports of beef from Paraguay amounted to 38,000, by 2015 this number had increased more than seven-fold, to 272,000 tonnes. As of 2014, 707 ha of forested land are being lost every day in the Paraguayan Gran Chaco, due to cattle ranching.
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Illegalities in conversion
Illegal deforestation for soy is common in Paraguay, where soy production is by far the largest recent driver of deforestation.The 2004 total ban on forest conversion in the eastern part of the country (where only 5 percent of the original forest remains) has been regularly violated, especially in districts along the border with Brazil, with land being converted for pasture or agriculture. WWF Paraguay (2013) published satellite images showing more than 12,000 ha were illegally deforested between 2010 and 2013 for a single ranch in the Department of San Pedro. In Teixeira, illegal deforestation is now occurring in protected areas, nature reserves, and parks in both the Upper Parana Atlantic Forest (on the Brazilian border) and the Chaco biosphere reserve in the north of the country.
Soy expansion elsewhere has displaced livestock producers into the forests of the Chaco, where illegal conversion is widespread. In 2012, Paraguayan authorities confirmed that a cattle-ranch owned by a major Spanish conglomerate had been found to have illegally cleared forest. NGOs claim the forest concerned is inhabited by a group of un-contacted Ayoreos Indigenous Peoples. In 2013, NGOs alleged that satellite images showed another company illegally clearing for cattle pasture in the area, and called for a boycott of Paraguayan beef exports. According to local WWF officials, compliance with environmental laws in Paraguay is “poor or non-existent”.
A damning 2016 study entitled ‘Deforestation and Impunity’ analysed 32 cases of alleged illegal deforestation in the Atlantic Forest eco-region and found that in most cases, enforcement agencies had failed to carry out meaningful investigations. It found that the cases demonstrated “the absolute apathy with which investigations related to environmental crimes are carried out in Paraguay.” Though the study related only to the eastern Paraguayan forests, the report suggested that the findings very likely apply equally in the Chaco forests of the west (INECIP 2016). There has been relatively little analysis of the levels of illegality in the conversion taking place in the Chaco, but there are well documented illegalities relating to breaches of the rights of the indigenous Ayoreo people (The Guardian 2016), and satellite imagery has also revealed clearance in National Parks (Clark 2014).
It has been estimated that 0.7 million hectares of forest in Paraguay was illegally converted for export-oriented agriculture during 2000-12 (Lawson 2014), the equivalent of 200 football pitches every day. Thirty percent of Paraguay’s soy exports are reckoned to originate from illegally deforested land, as are 20 percent of the country’s beef exports (ibid.)
Hansen, M.C., P.V. Potapov, R. Moore, M. Hancher, S.A. Turubanova, A. Tyukavina, D. Thau, S.V. Stehman, S.J. Goetz, T.R. Loveland, A. Kommareddy, A. Egorov, L. Chini, C.O. Justice, and J.R.G. Townshend. 2013. “High-Resolution Global Maps of 21st-Century Forest Cover Change.” Science 342 (6160): 850-853. doi: 10.1126/science.1244693.
Republic of Paraguay. 2008. Forest Carbon Partnership Facility Readiness Plan Idea Note (R-PIN), July.INECIP. 2016. Deforestación e Impunidad: Análisis de la actuación del Ministerio Público y del Poder Judicial en los casos de deforestación en la zona del Bosque Atlántico del Alto Paraná (BAAPA)
WWF Paraguay. 2013. “Alarmante deforestación en tierras de Teixeira, en Paso Kurusu.” WWF Paraguay, October 25.
The Guardian. 2016. Disappearing world: Paraguay’s Ayoreo people fight devastating land sales. 25th January 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/jan/25/paraguay-ayoreo-people-chaco-fighting-back-land-sales
Clark, P. 2014. ‘Not even Paraguayan national parks are free from Deforestation!’, blog citing data from Guyra Paraguay, 27th Oct 2014, http://nationalparksofparaguay.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/not-even-paraguayan-national-parks-are.html
Lawson, 2014, Consumer Goods and Deforestation,
This summary was last updated in September 2016. For more recent information, please see news on Paraguay here.