Rampant destruction and raging fires in the Brazilian Cerrado

Posted on 30 September 2021

More than 50,000 fires and almost 4,000 km² of destroyed land so far in 2021 in the Cerrado, the biggest soy supplier to the EU.

Amid fears that the upcoming proposal of the European Commission for an EU deforestation law will overlook savannahs and other natural ecosystems, the devastation of the Cerrado continues to escalate.  Considered the most biologically diverse savannah in the world, the Cerrado is being lost at an alarming rate to expanding soy monocultures that also feed EU markets. 

According to DETER, a satellite-based system for real-time detection of deforestation developed by the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE), 3,774 km² of land, over twice the size of London, has been destroyed between January and August 2021 in the region - an increase of 25% compared to the same period last year. In August alone, the Cerrado has lost as much as 433 km² of native vegetation - 136% more than the same month in 2020.

The Brazilian Cerrado, which is often referred to as “inverted forest” due to the high amounts of carbon it stores, is the target of expanding soy monocultures and cattle ranching, making it more prone to fires. Fires have surpassed 50,000 in the last 9 months, with more than 15,000 happening in August alone - 48% more than the same month last year. 

Soy is the commodity with the largest embedded tropical deforestation imported into the EU and is predominantly used for animal feed. In 2018, 23% of EU soy imports from South America came from the Cerrado and a whopping 70% of EU-imported soy linked to deforestation and conversion was concentrated in this biome. Nevertheless, recent media reports suggest that the eagerly expected legislative proposal for a new EU law to tackle imported deforestation will only focus on forests, turning a blind eye to the ongoing EU-driven destruction of the Cerrado and other grasslands.

 “The EU is unwittingly contributing to the loss of rare bird species, to rivers running dry and to violence against local communities in the region by importing soy and beef that are produced at the cost of native vegetation. Europeans consume ‘hidden soy’ in cheese, milk, eggs and meat and we simply don’t know whether it comes at the expense of precious biodiversity. But right now, the EU has the opportunity to turn the tide and be a world leader in fighting climate change and nature loss: including savannahs and grasslands in the upcoming legislation from the start will steer the boat in the right direction. EU consumption is driving destruction in forests and savannahs alike and we cannot choose one over the other,” said Anke Schulmeister-Oldenhove, Senior Forest Policy Officer at WWF's European Policy Office.

Anke Schulmeister – Oldenhove
Senior Forest Policy Officer
+32 485 84 31 44

Alejandra Morales
Senior Communications Officer, Deforestation
+32 488 84 98 05


Fires continue to devastate the Cerrado
© Marcio Sanches / WWF-Brazil