The Transamazonica (or Trans-Amazonian highway) was built by the Brazilian military between 1969 and 1974 in an effort to open up the vast resources of the Amazon. This “highway” was intended to stretch the width of South America and open a land route that could be used for transportation and shipping across the continent as well as create access to the millions of acres of land for Colonistas to settle and farm. Side roads were cut every few kilometers perpendicular to the Transamazonica where settlers could stake a claim amidst the jungle.
The project was one of the most expensive roadway construction projects in history and touted by many as an environmental disaster. The project was ultimately abandoned leaving a vast majority of the highway unpaved, in disrepair, and impassable during much of the year due to heavy rains.
The presence of the Transamazonica was enough to open this territory to loggers, ranchers, and farmers. The image above was taken from Google Earth and clearly shows deforestation as “hairy” looking offshoots along the Transamazonica, or BR-230.
The plan to “develop” the Amazon in the name of “progress” has so far been miserably unproductive and worse yet harmful to the environment. Farming the land across the Amazon is an uphill battle due to the lack of nutrients in the dusty sand like soil. The jungle foliage is adept at quickly retrieving any and all nutrients that fall to the forest floor, so the majority of biomatter is in the form of living organisms.
Once this foliage is cleared for farm land, or worse yet, cattle pasture, the nutrients remaining are quickly washed away with the heavy rains. Once a field is no longer productive (a few years usually) more forest must be burned to access suitable earth.
Government land grants were most favorable to those equipped with the man power or money to work larger tracts of land. The easiest way to occupy the land, with the least labor force, is cattle ranching. Unfortunately this is practically the least productive use of land possible. Swaths of land across the Amazon are succumbing to clear cutting and deforestation (much of which is irreversible) due to cattle ranching. On top of that, only a few individuals profit from all this destruction, leaving many of the settlers struggling to farm for their own subsistence.