Amnesty says Brazil must combat illegal Amazon cattle ranching

Cattle in the Amazon rainforest in September 2019

Amnesty International called on Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday to halt illegal cattle farms it said was fuelling the destruction of the Amazon.

The organization and a group of indigenous people from the Amazon delivered a petition that had gathered 160,000 signatures to Bolsonaro's offices.

"Illegal cattle farming is the main driver of Amazon deforestation," said Richard Pearhouse, Amnesty's head of environment.

"It poses a very real threat, not only to the human rights of indigenous and traditional peoples who live there, but also to the entire planet's ecosystem," he said.

"While the Bolsonaro administration slashes environmental protections at the federal level, some state authorities are effectively enabling the illegal cattle farming which destroys protected areas of the rainforest."

Before handing over the petition, signed by people in 53 countries, activists and tribal representatives unfurled a flag saying "Bolsonaro, protect the Amazon and the peoples of the forest."

An Amnesty report said two-thirds of the Amazon deforested from 1988-2014 has been fenced off and converted to grazing pasture -- an area of almost 500,000 square kilometers (190,000 square miles), five times the size of Portugal.

The report said some state authorities in Brazil were effectively enabling cattle farming in protected areas.

It said cattle farmers and private speculators seize land by cutting down and clearing trees, lighting fires to burn off the undergrowth, before planting grass and introducing cattle.

Brazils is the world's biggest cattle meat exporter.

Satellite data collected by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) show 9,762 square kilometers were cleared of trees in the year to July 2019 -- a 29.5 percent increase from the previous 12 months.

The proliferation of wildfires in August sparked a wave of criticism from the international community against Bolsonaro and the Brazilian government's environmental policy.