Agriculture triples cultivated area in 37 years

Forestry mapped area grows almost six times between 1985 and 2021

Agriculture continues to expand throughout the Brazilian territory. In 2021, this activity will occupy 62 million hectares - three times more than the 19 million mapped in 1985 by MapBiomas.  During this period, forestry went from 1.5 million hectares to almost 9 million hectares mapped in 2021 - an expansion of 598% over 37 years. The data are from the most recent MapBiomas survey, which is based on satellite images and automated classification.  

Almost all the cultivated area in Brazil is temporary crops, such as soy, rice, sugar cane, cotton and other crops.  Together, they occupy almost 60 million hectares - an area larger than that of countries such as France and Spain. The expansion in the last 37 years was 3.3 times, from 18.3 million hectares in 1985 to 59.9 million hectares in 2021. 

This growth caused the number of municipalities with more than a thousand hectares of temporary farming to increase from 1,570, in 1985, to 2,985 in 2021.  There was an increase in the area of temporary farming mainly in municipalities of the Cerrado and Pampa, where there is already a consolidation of agricultural areas. However, there was also an advance in the Amazon biome, covering municipalities in the states of Amazonas, Rondônia, Acre, Roraima, and Pará.

With 8.8 million hectares mapped in 2021, forestry has advanced 598% between 1985 and 2021. Municipalities with more than a thousand hectares of forestry went from 250 in 1985 to 1,052 in 2021. That is, 802 municipalities incorporated the activity in less than four decades. According to the mapping, the biome with the largest proportional area dedicated to forest plantations is the Atlantic Forest, with 4%, closely followed by the Pampa (3.9%) and the Cerrado (1.6%). 

In recent years, there has been a stabilization of conversion over natural areas and an increase in the expansion of forestry over already anthropized areas. In the biomes with the largest forestry areas (Atlantic Forest and Cerrado), the expansion took place mostly over already anthropized areas, such as pastures. In territorial extension, the area mapped for forestry in 2020 reached 4.4 million hectares in the Atlantic Forest, 3.2 million hectares in the Cerrado and 700,000 hectares in the Pampa. 

MapBiomas is starting to track the history of some perennial crops, mainly coffee and citrus. These had a slower expansion than the temporary crops mapped by MapBiomas: the growth between 1985, when they occupied 800,000 hectares, and 2021, when they will reach 2.28 million hectares, was 2.9 times.  

The increase in area of perennial crops mapped by MapBiomas occurred more significantly (about 19,000 ha) mainly in the regions of the Minas Gerais triangle and southern Minas Gerais state, where coffee cultivation is significant, besides northeastern Pará state, where there is monoculture of oil palm, and northern Bahia state, the irrigation hub of Petrolina.  This expansion caused the number of municipalities with more than a thousand hectares of perennial crops to increase from 206, in 1985, to 447, in 2021. 

In general, between 1985 and 2021, the expansion of agriculture took place mostly in areas of pasture and previously anthropized areas. After the definition of the 2008 environmental regularization framework by the 2012 Forest Code, there was an increase in the conversion of pasture areas to temporary agriculture, in the Amazon and Cerrado biomes. For example, between 1996 and 2008, in the Amazon about 1 Mha of pasture were converted to temporary agriculture, and in the Cerrado, about 5 Mha. Between 2009 and 2021, in the Amazon, the conversion of pasture to agriculture was 3 times greater, while in the Cerrado this increase was about 1.12X after the 2008 timeframe.