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Society of American Foresters                                                                               International Society of Tropical Foresters



Joesio Deoclecio Pieren Siqueira and Mara Freire Rodrigues Souza, Universidade Federal do Paraná
Gabriel Penno Saraiva, STCP Consultant

1. - Country Data

1.1. - General Indicators

Brazil (officially known as the Federative Republic of Brazil) is formed by the union of 26 States plus a Federal District (Figure 1- see attachment below). Its total area is of 8.5 million km² (850 million hectares (ha) , or 3.3 million mile²), or 47% of South America. Brazil is bordered by the South Atlantic Ocean along its entire coast. In 2007, about 185 million people inhabited Brazil. However, most of this huge population is concentrated along the coasts, while the interior of the country is still characterized by the lack of human presence (Lucci 1999). Brazil was estimated to have 478 million ha of forests in 2005 (FAO (2007). Lucci (1999) describes the landscape, climate, and hydrography of Brazil thoroughly, which we paraphrase in the following three sections.

1.2 - Landscape

Around 40% of Brazil’s territory is below 200 meters (650 feet) of altitude; another 45% is between 200 and 600 meters (650 and 2,000 feet); between 600 and 900 meters (2,000 and 3,000 feet) are 12%; and only 3% are mountain areas, above 900 meters (3,000 feet) of altitude. Thus, Brazil’s landscape is divided in two basic landscape units: highlands and lowlands.

1.2.1. - Highlands

Highlands occupy approximately 5.0 million km² (500 million ha; 1.8 million mile²), or 59% of Brazil, and are basically distributed in two different large areas, separated by lowlands. The largest one is the Brazilian Highlands, and the smallest the Guiana Highlands.

The Brazilian Highlands are a vast plateau and low mountain region located in central South America. It is present in all central Brazil, as well as in parts of its northeast, southeast and south regions. It was mostly formed during the Precambrianera. Due to its enormous extension, it is sub-divided in the Central, Southern and Borborema Highlands.

The Guiana Highlands are a plateau and low-mountain region of South America located north of the Amazon and south of the Orinoco River. Comprising a heavily forested plateau, they cover the southern half of Venezuela, all of the Guianas except for the low Atlantic coastal plain, the northern part of Brazil, and a portion of southeastern Colombia. They are geologically similar to the Brazilian Highlands (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2008).

1.2.2 - Lowlands

Lowlands cover about 3.5 million km² (350 million ha; 1.4 million mile²) of Brazil, or 41% of its territory. They are divided in three large areas: the Amazon Lowlands, the Coastal Lowlands and the Pantanal Lowlands.

The Amazon Lowlands are the largest area of the lowlands found in Brazil. They are located in north Brazil, between the Brazilian Highlands (south), the Guiana Highlands (north), the South Atlantic Ocean (east) and the Andes Mountains (west).

The Coastal Lowlands form a long and thin strip, from the State of Amapa, next to the frontier with French Guiana, to the State of Rio Grande do Sul, to the frontier with Uruguay. In certain parts of this land extension, especially in the northeast coast, the Brazilian Highlands reach the South Atlantic Ocean and interrupt the Coastal Lowlands, with the occurrence of cliffs (Lucci, 1999).

The most typical lowlands in Brazil are the Pantanal Lowlands. They were formed during the Quaternary era. The Pantanal is located in the west part of the State of Mato Grosso do Sul and southwest of the State of Mato Grosso, between the Central and the Southern Brazilian Highlands. Fed by the Paraguay River and its affluents, it is flooded annually, when a vast aquatic layer covers almost all land in the region.

1.3 - Climate

Due to many factors, Brazil has considerable climatic diversity. These include geographic physiognomy, territorial extension, topography, and air mass dynamics. The last factor is of extreme importance, since it affects both temperature and rainfall directly, causing regional climatic differences. The most important air masses influencing the climate of Brazil are Equatorial (continental and maritime), Tropical (continental and maritime) and Polar (maritime).

1.3.1 – Equatorial Humid Climate

In Brazil, the Equatorial Humid Climate occurs in the Amazon Region, in the States of Acre, Amazonas, Roraima, Amapa, Para, the north of the State of Tocantins, the west of the State of Maranhao, and the north of the State of Mato Grosso. It is governed by the Continental Equatorial Air Mass, which is generally warm and moist. This climate’s main characteristics are very high mean temperatures, ranging from 25°C to 29°C (77 to 84ºF), abundant and well distributed mean annual rainfall (about 2,000 mm, or 80 inches), and reduced thermal amplitude, of up to 3ºC (5°F).

1.3.2. – Tropical Season Climate

The Tropical Season Climate encompasses the State of Goias, the east of the State of Maranhao, most of the State of Tocantins, the west of the State of Piaui, the south of the State of Mato Grosso, most of the State of Mato Grosso do Sul, the west of the State of Bahia, most of the State of Minas, the west of the State of São Paulo and the north of the State of Paraná. It is characterized by mean annual temperatures, from 20 to 27°C (68 to 81ºF), thermal amplitude between 5 and 7ºC (9 and 13°F), and two well defined seasons: one rainy and another dry. Its mean annual rainfall is of about 1,500 mm (60 inches). The rainy season takes place between November and April, when the Continental Equatorial Air Mass is over this zone, and the dry season occurs when this air masses moves back to the Amazon Region, diminishing the moisture over central Brazil.

1.3.3 – Tropical Dry Climate

The Tropical Dry Climate characterizes the interior of northeast Brazil. This region, that encompasses the east of the State of Piaui, the central part of State of Bahia, the west of the State of Sergipe, the west of the State of Alagoas, the west of the State of Pernambuco, the west of the State of Paraiba, the west of the State of Rio Grande do Norte, and most of the State of Ceara, is known as “Poligono das Secas” (Drought Polygon). This region is mostly influenced by the Maritime Tropical Air Mass, however, due to geographic isolation when it arrives to this region it is already depleted of moisture. It is characterized by very high mean temperatures (from 25 to 29ºC, or 77 to 84ºF) and low and poorly distributed annual rainfall. During the southern hemisphere summer (December to March), the Maritime Equatorial Air Mass arrives to this region, providing most of the annual rainfall during this period.

1.3.4 – Tropical Humid Climate

This climatic type can be found in a long and thin strip that extends since the east of the State of Rio Grande do Norte until the east of the State of Santa Catarina. It is directly influenced by the Maritime Tropical Air Mass, which is warm and moist, and therefore causes intense rainfall. This climate is warm, with mean annual temperatures varying from 18°C and 26°C (64 and 80ºF), and higher thermal amplitude to the south of this long and thin strip. Mean annual rainfall of 2,000 mm, or 80 inches.

1.3.5 – Tropical Mountain Climate

In Brazil, the Tropical Mountain Climate is found in the Brazilian Highlands higher elevations, between 800 and 1,500 meters of altitude (2,600 and 5,000 feet), bordering the southeast Coastal Lowlands, in the east of the States of Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro and Espirito Santo. It is influenced by the Tropical Maritime Air Mass, which causes a large amount of rainfall during the southern hemisphere summer (December to March). Its mean annual temperature is mild, between 18°C and 22°C (64 and 72ºF), and annual thermal amplitude between 7°C and 9°C (13 and 16ºF). During the southern hemisphere winter (June to September) frosts may occur with a certain frequency due to cold fronts originated from the Maritime Polar Air Mass.

1.3.6 - Subtropical Humid Climate

The Subtropical Humid Climate is basically found in the latitudes below the Tropic of Capricorn. It encompasses the south of the State of Sao Paulo, most of the States of Parana, Santa Catrina and Rio Grande do Sul, and the south of the State of Mato Grosso do Sul. It is mostly influenced by the Continental Tropical and by the Maritime Polar Air Masses. This conjunction determinates mean annual temperatures varying between 14°C and 20ºC (57 and 68ºF) and mean annual thermal amplitude of about 10°C (18ºF). Annual rainfall varies between 1,000 and 2,000 mm (40 and 80 inches), and is well distributed along the year. During the southern hemisphere winter (June to September) frosts occur with frequency and occasionally some snow.

1.4 - Hydrology

As a large continental country, Brazil possesses one of the largest hydrographic complexes in the world, possessing many rivers with great length, width, and depth. Most of these rivers begin in low altitude regions, with the exception of the Amazon River and some of its tributaries, which begin in the Andes Mountains.

Rivers flowing in the highlands allow vast and profitable hydroelectric power generation, however, almost none of these mighty rivers are utilized as waterways due to the almost complete absence of locks in the dams. Nevertheless, rivers flowing in the lowlands are sometimes used as waterways, especially in the Amazon.

The seven largest rivers found in Brazil are the Amazonas (total length of 6,500 Km, or 4,000 miles) Parana (total length of 4,900 Km, or 3,000 miles), Sao Francisco (total length of 3,200 Km, or 2,000 miles), Paraguay (total length of 2,500 Km, or 1,600 miles), Tocantins (total length of 1,900 Km, or 1,200 miles), Parnaiba (total length of 1,800 Km, or 1,100 miles), and Uruguay (total length of 1,600 Km, or 1,000 miles).

2. - Hydrology

2.1 – Natural Forests

Five main forest types are found naturally in Brazil: (i) Equatorial Humid Forest (Amazon Forest); (ii) Tropical Seasonal Forest (Cerrado); (iii) Tropical Dry Forest (Caatinga); (iv) Tropical Humid Forest (Atlantic Forest); and (v) Subtropical Humid Forest (Araucaria Forest).

2.1.1. – Equatorial Moist Forest

The Amazon Forest covers 60% of Brazil’s territory, or 5.2 million km² (520 million ha; 2 million mile²). It occurs principally in areas with Equatorial Humid Climate (Coelho et al., 2001).

According to FAO (2000), the Equatorial Moist Forest of South America, popularly known as the Amazon Forest, extend over the whole Amazon Basin. Huge amounts of rain fall in the heart of the Amazon Basin and along the western coast—more than 3,000 mm (120 inches), even up to 8,000 mm (300 inches). Elsewhere, rainfall is between 1,000 and 3,000 mm (40 and 120 inches), often with a short dry period in winter (June to September). Temperatures are very high, where the mean temperature of the coldest month is always above 20°C (68ºF).

The Amazon Basin contains the world's largest area of tropical rain forest (see picture 1 - attached below). In this vast extent at least 10 to 20 different vegetation types might be distinguished. The wettest type is found in the State of Amazonas. The vegetation is luxuriant, multilayered evergreen forest, up to 80 meters (280 feet) tall, with emergent trees. The most important tree families are Annonaceae, Bombacaceae, Burseraceae, Clusiaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Leguminosae, Moraceae and Sterculiaceae (FAO 2000).

The most extensive rain forest is somewhat drier and occurs in the Amazon Basin and on the eastern foothills of the central Andes. It is a multilayered forest up to 50 m (160 feet) tall, with or without emergent trees, mainly evergreen but with marked leaf reduction during the short dry season, where Leguminosae are particularly important. Evergreen swamp forest covers large areas in the Amazon region, particularly in the delta of the Amazon River (FAO 2000).

Mangrove forests are well established in the larger estuaries along the Atlantic coast. From the sea inland there is first a lower belt, and, finally, on higher ground vegetation dominated higher vegetation is often edged on its landward side by a fringe of palms (FAO 2000).

2.1.2 – Tropical Seasonal Forest

Tropical Seasonal Forest occurs principally in areas with Tropical Seasonal Climate, occupying a zone of more than 2 million km² (200 million ha), or about 23% of Brazil (Coelho et al., 2001). This zone roughly corresponds to the Brazilian and Guiana Highlands. A wide area with rather high rainfall but a pronounced dry season that extends around the wet Amazonian Basin (FAO 2000).

Cerrado, a mosaic of grasslands, tree savannas and woodlands with patches of semi-deciduous forest, mainly covers this large zone (see picture 2 - attached below). The flora is rich, with Leguminosae and Myrtaceae prevalent in the tree and shrub canopies. In some areas a real forest occurs, the Cerradao - a short semi-deciduous forest, 10 to 25 m (30 to 80 feet) tall, of medium density. The zone also includes the grasslands and forests of the Pantanal Lowlands, the world’s largest wetlands (FAO 2000).

2.1.3 – Tropical Dry Forest

The Tropical Dry Forest in Brazil is found in areas sheltered from the humid trade winds, where the climate is drier. Rainfall varies between 500 and 1,000 mm (20 and 40 inches) or less, with a dry season of 6 to 9 months. Temperatures are always high near the Equator (mean temperature of the coldest month greater than 20°C, or 68ºF). In Brazil, this vegetation is known as Caatinga, xerophytic vegetation types varying from dense to very open (see picture 3 - attached below). The trees are more or less deciduous, thin-stemmed and with a low canopy, from 5 to 15 meters (15 to 50 feet). The flora is rich, with fairly numerous Leguminosae species, and often includes Cactaceae. The palms assume considerable importance in flood plains (FAO 2001).

Caatinga occurs principally in areas with Tropical Dry Climate, encompassing about 7% (600,000 km², or 230,000 mile²) of Brazil’s territory (Coelho and Terra 2001).

2.1.4 – Tropical Humid Forest

The Atlantic Forest (“Mata Atlantica”) stretches along Brazil's Atlantic coast, from the northern state of Rio Grande do Norte to the southern State of Rio Grande do Sul. It also includes the offshore archipelago of Fernando de Noronha and several other islands off the Brazilian coast (CI 2008).

Long isolated from other major rainforest blocks in South America, the Atlantic Forest has an extremely diverse and unique mix of vegetation and forest types (see picture 4 - attached below). Its occurrence area is a narrow strip of about 50 to 100 km (30 to 60 miles) along the coast, stretching across the foothills of the Sea Mountains (“Serra do Mar”). These forests range as high as 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) above sea level. Altitude determines at least three vegetation types in the Atlantic Forest: the lowland forest of the coastal plain, tropical mountain forests, and the high-altitude grassland, called “Campo Rupestre” (CI 2008).

2.1.5 – Subtropical Humid Forest

According to FAO (2000), the Subtropical Humid Forest zone, known in Brazil as the Araucaria Forest (“Mata das Araucarias”), includes highlands in south and southeast Brazil, in altitudes above 500 meters (1,600 feet) (see picture 5 - attached below). The two main climatic characteristics are lower temperatures in winter (mean temperature of the coldest month less than 15°C, or 59ºF) and rainfall evenly distributed throughout the year, varying between 1,000 and 2,500 mm (40 and 100 inches).

The Araucaria Forest is a mixed broad-leaved/coniferous forest some 40 meters (130 feet) tall dominated by the Araucaria angustifolia. The forest is very dense, with multiple strata. Genera represented from the Lauraceae family include Ocotea, Phoebe, Nectandra and Persea. Today this forest type is very fragmented because of its unsustainable exploitation for timber in the past, and land use conversion for agricultural purposes (FAO 2000).

2.2 - Planted Forests

According to ABRAF (2008), total area planted with Eucalyptus and Pinus (main genera planted in Brazil) was 5.6 million hectares in 2007 (see picture 6 and 7 - attached below). This area grew in size by 3.4% in relation to 2006, as summarized in Table 1.

Table 1 – Plantation Area of Pinus and Eucalyptus in Brazil, 2005-2007 (1,000 ha)



According to ABRAF (2008), besides Pinus and Eucalyptus, other genera are also commercially planted in Brazil, such as Acacia, Tectona, Hevea, Araucaria, Populus and Schizolobium, as shown on Table 2 (see picture 8 - attached below).


3- Industrial Forest Investments

Brazil is currently experiencing a new cycle of industrial forest plantation expansion. Increasing demand and attractive prices for several forest products, as well as Brazil’s silvicultural competitive and comparative advantages, based on its strong forest research and development (R&D), and the consequent fast growth and high forest yields, are the main factors behind the management decision for the construction of new forest industries and expansion of the existing ones. These new projects are concentrated in the south, southeast and center-west regions of Brazil. The most favored sectors are pulp and paper, wood panels, and charcoal for iron metallurgy (ABRAF 2008). These investments have attracted both national and foreign capital. In the pulp and paper sector alone, there have been investments of about USD $12 billion in the last 10 years (ABRAF 2008).

The new pulp and paper projects in Brazil will represent a demand increase for timber of approximately 13 million m³/year, principally of species from the Eucalyptus genera, as companies from the pulp and paper segment that used only Pinus timber now prefer a mix of fibers. This basically has occurred due to advances in the productive processes, superior quality of the Eucalyptus fiber, as well as in the shorter rotations and superior yield provided by this genera (ABRAF 2008).

The wood panels segment is also experiencing a strong movement of expansion. Most of the new projects target the production of MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) and MDP (Medium Density Particleboard), favored by the domestic demand increase, especially from the furniture industry. It is estimated that the announced expansions will represent an increase of 4 million m³ in the demand for timber during the next 10 years. These industries focus their investments in the south and southeast regions of Brazil (ABRAF, 2008).

During the last 10 years, demand for charcoal from the iron metallurgy sector has grown more than 50%. However, only half of this extra volume was supplied by planted forests, and the rest by natural forests. This sector is increasing its area planted with Eucalyptus, especially in the States of Minas Gerais, Maranhao, Para and Mato Grosso do Sul (ABRAF 2008).

The planted area in Brazil is increasing in average 3.0% per year. However, this growth is still not sufficient to comply with the increased demand for timber from the different segments of the forest sector. However, planted forests are continuously increasing their yield (ABRAF 2008).

Needing to increase the planted area, large companies are releasing huge projects with innovative concepts, such as to partially or entirely base its supply in partnerships with small and medium independent rural producers, as well as with small companies. The so called Forest Outgrowing Schemes (“Programas de Fomento Florestal”) seek to stimulate forest plantations, especially in small rural properties, supplying the producers with quality seedlings, materials and technical assistance, as well as guaranteeing the subsequent purchase of the timber. This is currently a very attractive enterprise in Brazil, with an average profitability superior to cattle (ABRAF 2008). Cubbage et al. (2007) found that timber investment returns in Brazil for Eucalyptus were the generally greatest in the Americas for landowners who already had purchased their land, and Pinus species were also very attractive.

Another aspect that reinforces this trend are the characteristics generally demanded from the industrial timber from planted forests. Most of the consumption is related to small logs for pulp or reconstituted panels, that do not need prunings or thinnings, thus forest management costs are lower (ABRAF 2008).

Additionally, rotations may be shorter, and with increasing MAI (Mean Annual Increment) due to intense R&D investments, more timber can be produced per area unit. Therefore timber may be produced at lower costs, increasing the profitability and making forest plantations a more attractive enterprise, working as an induction instrument for the planted area increase and for new forest industry projects (ABRAF, 2008).

4 – Amazon Issues

Of course, the greatest issues about forest in Brazil relate to the Amazon (see Verrissimo and Lentini 2008 in this enyclopedia). Perhaps the fundamental issue driving forest policy issues in the Brazilan Amazon is the ongoing rapid rate of deforestation. The United Nations FAO (2007) data indicate that Brazil lost about 42 million hectares of forests from 1990 to 2005, decreasing from 520 million ha to 478 million ha. This would be an average loss of 2.8 million ha per year, or 0.5%. The loss amounted to an overall of 8% of the 1990 forest area by 2005. The rate of forest loss actually increased slightly from 2000 to 2005, at 3.1 million ha per year, or 0.6% per year (FAO 2007). Not all of this loss occurs in the Amazon, but the majority does. INPE (2008) estimates that the Amazon lost an average of 18,000 km2 (1.8 million ha) per year of forests from 1990 to 2005, although this decreased to about 14,000 km2 in 2006 and 11,000 km2 in 2007.

Deforestation in the Amazon can be attributed to conversion to cattle ranches, gradual increases in logging and roads, and associated ground fires as more remote areas are developed and settled (Fearnside 2005). Complex problems occur with determining and granting land tenure, promotion of agriculture and land clearing, assignment of land to new reserves for indigenous peoples, and enforcement of rules and regulations that do exist. The local, country, and global benefits of the Amazon have been widely touted and promoted in the popular and scientific literature. Thousands of books and articles and more than a million web references address forests and the Amazon. Benefits of the Amazon that could be lost through deforestation include protecting wildlife and biodiversity, storing carbon, maintaining hydrological cycles, sustaining indigenous and traditional communities, and providing timber and other commodities, to mention a few. These global issues have prompted both world reprobation and considerable assistance and aid to protect these local and global resources.

The tension between increasing development of the Amazon for agroindustry—ranching, crops, and associated logging—and the conservation of its natural resources and cultural heritage has led to national debate in Brazil. Another national issue is the balance between national and local interests in determining resource use and protection. And the effectiveness of government responses is often criticized, either for excessive bureaucracy or for direct or subtle corruption. These issues determine resource allocation and use in the Amazon, and their reform will determine whether the region will be able to stabilize its forest cover and benefits, and if, when.

5 - Conclusion

Brazil has the largest forest area in the Americas with 478 million ha (FAO 2007), and is second only to the Russian Federation for having the largest forest area in the world. These forests consist of highland topography (59%) that are more than 200 meters in elevation, but only 3% of this area is in mountainous areas above 900 meters. The lowlands cover 350 million ha, which more area than all the forests in any other country in the Americas. Brazil has a tropical climate for most of its forests, with a small area of subtropical forests in the South.

Native forest and species comprise the vast majority of the forest area in the country, with forest plantations comprising only about 1.1% of the forested area. However, these forest plantations grow extremely fast, perhaps the best in the world. And they have formed the basis for most of the new pulp and paper and panel board sector in the country, and are continuing to attract large amount of domestic and foreign direct investment capital.

The native forestry sector remains vibrant and has many opportunities for timber and nontimber forest products, and perhaps for environmental services in the future. The Amazon comprise the largest share of native forests, but a variety of cerrado, caatinga, Atlantic Forest, and Araucaria Forest types extend through the rest of the country. These native forests have been exploited heavily, and are generally the focus of international and national concern for retention, management, and protection. At the same time, and increasing share of the industrial wood production will be provided by exotic plantations, and Brazil will increase its R&D and investments in that sector.

6 - Supporting Documents

a.) Table 1 - Media:Brazil-Table-01.xls
b.) Table 2 - Media:Brazil-Table-02.xls
7 - References
ABRAF (Associação Brasileiro de Productores de Florestas Planatadas) Anuário Estatístico 2008 – Ano Base 2007. Brasilia, 2008.

CI (Conservation International). Atlantic Forest. Biodiversity Hotspots. Available at: Last Access: 20 June 2008.

Coelho, M. A. and L. Terra. 1991. Geografia Geral: O Espaço Natural e Socioeconômico. Editora Moderna. 4ª ed. P. 68 a 103. 2001.

Cubbage, F., P. Mac Donagh, J.Sawinki, Júnior, R. Rubilar, P. Donoso, A. Ferreira, V. Hoeflich, V. Morales Olmos, G. Ferreira, G. Balmelli, J. Siry, M.N. Báez, and J. Alvarez. 2007. Timber investment returns for selected plantation and native forests in South America and the Southern United States. New Forests 33(3):237-255.

Encyclopedia Brittanica. 2008. Guiana Highlands. Available at: Last Access: 19 June 2008.

FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States). 2005. Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000. Available at: <>. Last Access: 2008 June 19.

FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States). 2007. Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005. Available at: <>. Last access: 27 May 2008.

Fearnside, Philip. 2005. Deforestation in Brazilian Amazonia: history, rates, and consequences. Conservation Biology 19(3):680-688.

INPE. 2008. Estimativas Anuais desde 1988 até 2007- Taxa de desmatamento anual. (Annual estimates of deforestation n the Amazon). Accessed at: 28 April 2008.

Lucci, E. A. 1999. Geografia: O Homem no Espaço Global. Editora Saraiva. 4ª ed. P. 320 a 336.

Verissimo, A. and M. Lentini. 2008. The Brazilian Amazon. In: Frederick W. Cubbage, Editor. Encyclopedia of Forests and Forestry in the Americas. Acessed at: 29 June 2008.

Joesio Deoclecio Pieren Siqueirai is STCP Director; he has a Bachelor of Forestry; Master of Forest Management; Doctor of Forest Policy and Economy, and is Forestry Professor of the Universidade Federal do Parana.

Mara Freire Rodrigues Souza has a Bachelor of Forestry and Bachelor of Law, and is a Specialist of Environmental Assessment; Specialist of Environmental Law; Master of Forest Management.

Gabriel Penno Saraiva ia a STCP Consultant; he has a Bachelor of Business Administration; and is a Specialist of Forest Administration.

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