The Amazon rainforest is burning at an unprecedented rate, and the fires are unlikely starting themselves. Rather they may be set by people in an attempt to clear land for cattle ranching.
Cattle ranching is responsible for as much as 80% of the ongoing deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. A significant portion of the global beef supply, including much of the UK’s corned beef supply, originates on land that was once Amazon rainforest and is now denuded.
“The fire that we’re seeing today is a fire that’s directly related to deforestation,” Ane Alencar, the scientific director of Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental Research in Amazonia), told forest news website Mongabay. These are not wildfires, she said, but rather fires set by people seeking to create cattle ranches, intentionally ignited during the dry season each year. “They cut the trees, leave the wood to dry and later put fire to it, so that the ashes can fertilize the soil.”
When the rainy season returns, grass for cattle briefly flourishes, thanks to the nutrients left by the ashes, Mongabay reports.
In satellite images of Mato Grosso, Brazil provided by satellite company Planet, taken on Aug. 20, smoke wafts above fragments of the rainforest interspersed with tan-colored squares of farmland, where the Amazon has already been deforested for agriculture.
As Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has expressed disdain for conserving the rainforest, his support for industrial growth has reportedly encouraged ranchers and other developers to move more brazenly into undeveloped forest land—much of which is indigenous territory.
Research has shown that indigenous management practices are the