The destruction of the Amazon rainforest receives a lot of publicity, but the fact is that the Atlantic Rainforest is much more seriously threatened. 20% of the Amazon forest has gone – but over 93% of the Atlantic Rainforest has disappeared, and with it the creatures that make it their home — nearly 70% of the vertebrate species classified as endangered in Brazil are found in the Atlantic Rainforest.

It is generally believed that tropical forests restore their full biodiversity in 500 years. Yet, at today’s rate, the Atlantic Rainforest does not have 500 years. The rate of destruction and forest clearance is not decreasing — it is accelerating. In 1988, the Atlantic Rainforest was declared a national heritage and the government prohibited any further cutting or clearance. However, in the six years from 1990 to 1995 more than 500,000 hectares or 1235527 acres were destroyed.

In most of the Atlantic Rainforest region, and certainly around Iracambi, the main cause of recent destruction has been clearance for agricultural land, mainly to grow coffee. When the forest is cleared away the land rapidly loses fertility — despite the abundance of the rainforest vegetation, the soil is not incredibly rich or fertile but quite the opposite. Rainforests survive due to complex relationships between the trees and plants and tiny micro-organisms or fungi from whom they can extract the minerals and nutrients they need to grow. When the forest is cleared these microorganisms also die, and the poverty of the soil quickly becomes apparent. Once cleared and intensively farmed, its fertility is lost within 20 years or less, after which the farmer needs to clear more land to maintain his level of income.

Add this to an unstable economy and real problems result. Much of the forest which disappeared in recent years did so because of the effects of the Brazilian economy going haywire in the 1980s. Brazil suddenly had to start to pay the bills run up by its military rulers. Subsidies to agriculture were drastically cut and inflation ran like the plague just as worldwide terms of trade turned against agriculture. The pressures on Brazil’s farmers to overexploit their resources were immense. As a result, hillside soils were intensively farmed, and their fertility rapidly depleted by coffee. Then they were converted to pasture and massively over-grazed by cattle. Left unprotected against the heavy rainfall, the topsoil began to wash away and serious erosion damage set in. With the topsoil gone, the land was useless. The farmer had to clear more forest to plant his crops in order to survive.

As the Brazilians say, Brazil is a country blessed by God. It is rich in natural resources and scenic beauty, but it is not plagued by natural disasters. A vast territory of this country is covered by forests: the Amazon rain forest stretching along the Amazon River in the North and the Atlantic Rain Forest in the South-East.

The average temperatures range between 55 to 70 F in the south (14-21 C) to 80 to 100 F in the north (26-37 C), therefore the climate varies according to latitude and altitude and produces immense biodiversity. There are approximately 10.000 species of plants and 50% of those are endemic.

The Rainforest today is only a semblance of what it used to be

  • The Atlantic Rainforest preserves a large quantity of Medicinal plants, many not yet properly studied, an important legacy to Medicine.
  • The endemic level rises significantly when flora is grouped, reaching 53.5% for arboreal species, 64% for palm trees and 74.4% for bromeliads.
  • The Atlantic Rainforest is vital for the ecosystem; it regulates climate, temperature, humidity and rain.
  • Even with an accelerated devastation, the Atlantic Rainforests still harbors a significant parcel of the Brazilian biological diversity, with high levels of endemism. Of the 202 endangered animal species, 171 are found in the Atlantic Rainforest.
The Rainforest today is only a semblance of what it used to be only a few decades ago.

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