From 2006 to 2010, deforestation in the Amazon frontier state of Mato Grosso decreased to 30% of its historical average (1996–2005) whereas agricultural production reached an all-time high. This study combines satellite data with government deforestation and production statistics to assess land-use transitions and potential market and policy drivers associated with these trends. In the forested region of the state, increased soy production from 2001 to 2005 was entirely due to cropland expansion into previously cleared pasture areas (74%) or forests (26%).
From 2006 to 2010, 78% of production increases were due to expansion (22% to yield increases), with 91% on previously cleared land. Cropland expansion fell from 10 to 2% of deforestation between the two periods, with pasture expansion accounting for most remaining deforestation. Declining deforestation coincided with a collapse of commodity markets and implementation of policy measures to reduce deforestation. Soybean profitability has since increased to pre-2006 levels whereas deforestation continued to decline, suggesting that antideforestation measures may have influenced the agricultural sector.
We found little evidence of direct leakage of soy expansion into cerrado in Mato Grosso during the late 2000s, although indirect land-use changes and leakage to more distant regions are possible. This study provides evidence that reduced deforestation and increased agricultural production can occur simultaneously in tropical forest frontiers, provided that land is available and policies promote the efficient use of already-cleared lands (intensification) while restricting deforestation. It remains uncertain whether government- and industry-led policies can contain deforestation if future market conditions favor another boom in agricultural expansion.