Case Study: The Amazonian Road Decision

Case Study: The Amazonian Road Decision

The proposed Pucallpa–Cruzeiro do Sul will connect the Amazon’s interior to urban centers and export markets in Peru and Brazil. However, critics are worried that the road will also create new opportunities for illegal logging and infringe on the territory of indigenous communities and wildlife.


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Biology, Geography, Human Geography

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A grand highway is being proposed in South America. It would connect the countries of Peru and Brazil.

This road would connect the town of Cruzeiro do Sul, in Brazil, with the larger city of Pucallpa, in Peru. It would cut through the Amazon rainforest.

Many people want the road. They say it would connect farms to the cities. This way, farmers could easily get their goods to city markets. It would also make it easier to carry logs from the Amazon rainforest. These logs would get sold around the world.

Many others fear the road would destroy the Amazon rainforest. They say many large mahogany trees would be cut down. These trees are valuable and are often used to make furniture. Animals and plants use them as shelter. If the trees went missing, it would hurt plants, animals, and people, critics say.

The People and the Environment

The Amazon Basin is in South America. It is almost three million square miles. It would cover more than two thirds of the United States. Nearly 70 percent of the basin falls within Brazil. Some of it is also in the countries of Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, and Guyana.

The Ashéninka people have lived at the border of Peru and Brazil for hundreds of years. They have a simple way of life, depending on the river and wildlife around them to survive. They hunt, fish and farm crops, such as sweet potato, corn, coffee, and sugar cane.

A Variety of Life and Mahogany Trees

The rainforest surrounding the Amazon is the largest river on the planet. About 33 million people live there. It also has an enormous mix of plant and animal life. More than two million species of insects live here. There are howler and spider monkeys, sloths, snakes, iguanas, parrots, and toucans. Many of these species are only found in the Amazon rainforest.

Mahogany is one of the most precious materials from the Amazon forest. The tree has a red color and strong wood. Many businesses use it for building. A single mahogany tree is worth thousands of U.S. dollars.

Logging or cutting and selling trees, is only allowed in a few places in the Amazon. In other places, people cut the trees without permission. These large trees and their roots are important to the riverside. Without them, the areas are at risk of flooding. Soil could fall apart and get washed away.

A Conflict of Interests

The Pucallpa-Cruzeiro do Sul road is part of a larger plan. Officials hope to link many of South America's faraway areas. Some people say the roads would make it easier to carry precious goods from the Amazon. This would help bring more jobs and businesses. People in the countryside could also use the roads to get better healthcare and education.

Others are worried that new roads will destroy nature in the Amazon. The road would make is easier for loggers to explore the forest. Some of them may cut down mahogany trees, even if they are not allowed.

The Major Stakeholders

Native Communities: Many of the Ashéninka people want to protect their lands. Some think the road is a good idea because it would make it easier to get clothes, soap, and medicine. Others are worried that the road may bring diseases they have never had before. Their land might also get taken over by big businesses.

Wildlife: The Pucallpa-Cruzeiro do Sul road would run through nature reserves. These are spaces where certain animal species are protected. The road could destroy the homes of animals like the spider monkey. These animals need trees for food and shelter, so they would have to move. This would also make it easier for hunters to see them.

Amazonian Ecosystem: The Pucallpa-Cruzeiro do Sul road could wear away the land. It could also hurt water quality. Fewer forests means more greenhouse gases will enter the air. Greenhouse gases are released in the air when people burn fuel or wood. Scientists say greenhouse gases are causing Earth to get hotter. This is known as global warming. Trees help again global warming because they take in greenhouse gases and send out oxygen.

Logging Companies: If a road is built, loggers can get to trees more easily. This will allow them to make more money for their families and communities. This could mean better education and better healthcare for them.

Residents of Farming Communities: The road would allow farmers and businesspeople to carry goods from the rainforest to Peru's west coast. Right now, it is only possible to travel by plane between Cruzeiro do Sul and Pucallpa.

International Sales: Mahogany is popular around the world. It is especially popular in the U.S. and Europe. It is used to make cabinets and floors. Selling this wood would bring more money to South America.

Trying to Find a Compromise

The arguments about the road have gotten tense. Some groups are hoping to lower the tension. They want more discussion.

Some groups want to protect the environment in the Amazon. They say plans for the Pucallpa-Cruzeiro do Sul should stop for now. The community needs to talk more about it. They want more information on how much the project could hurt the environment. Some groups also say native people in the Amazon need to fully approve the road.

Other groups say roads are not the only option. There are other ways to help businesses in the area. People already travel by river. Goods are shipped by water. Maybe these rivers could be better used instead of building roads.

The Upper Amazon Conservancy (UAC) is a group that protects the environment and cultures of southern Peru. It is working with native people in the Amazon. Some loggers come to native lands and cut trees without permission. The UAC and native groups came up with a plan. They set up teams to be on the lookout for illegal loggers.

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Research Manager
Paulina Vaca, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Heather J. Johnson, Vanderbilt University
Caryl-Sue Micalizio, National Geographic Society
Elizabeth Wolzak, National Geographic Society
Jessica Shea, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Educator Reviewer
Christine Wolfe, Environmental Science Educator, Wicomico Day School, Salisbury, Maryland, Wicomico Day School, Salisbury, Maryland
Expert Reviewer
Sarah Haines, Professor, Science Education & Biology, Towson University, Towson University
Parker Ziegler, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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