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Sugarcane Ethanol and Amazon Rain Forests

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Destruction of rain forests and their fragile ecosystems in Brazil is a serious and widely-recognized problem, but sugarcane is not the culprit. Most sugarcane (90 percent) cultivated for ethanol production is

harvested in South-Central Brazil, more than 1,500 miles away from the Amazon. The rest (10 percent) is grown in Northeastern Brazil, over 1,000 miles from the Amazon’s eastern-most fringe (view the full map). To compare these distances using American cities, if the heart of the Amazon were located in Dallas, then most sugarcane cultivation would occur in New York City.


The sources of deforestation are well-documented. They are primarily a result of lack of land ownership and weak enforcement in a vast and highly remote area. Researchers, including environmental organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), have confirmed that illegal logging and cattle ranching are likely the key drivers of deforestation in Brazil.

The Brazilian government's Agro-Ecological Zoning (for english version, click here) restricts sugarcane cultivation to areas with minimal impact on biodiversity. The expansion of sugarcane fields cannot take place in sensitive biomes such as the Amazon, the Pantanal wetlands and Upper Paraguay river basin in Brazil. Expansion in areas with native vegetation is also severely restricted. As the U.S. Environmental Agency (EPA) found (see pages 373-381 of the Final Regulatory Impact Analysis), sugarcane expansion is occurring predominantly on cattle grazing areas as cattle productivity increases, consequently freeing up land for other crops, like sugarcane.

What the Experts Are Saying

Improved Forests

Brazil and Indonesia, which had the highest loss of forests in the 1990s, have significantly reduced their deforestation rates.

—The Global Forest Resources
Assessment 2010,
Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO)


copyright 2010 Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association