>> Brazil, in recent years, has become an agricultural powerhouse. The world's largest exporter of soy, and a major producer of pork and corn. But that growth has come at a heavy cost to the environment. With farmers rapidly deforesting avast tropical savanna called the Cerrado to make space for crops.
Roughly the size of Mexico, and home to 5% of all species on the planet, the Cerrado was once entirely covered by fruit trees, tangled woodlands, and a thick undergrowth. But, over the past 50 years, about half of its native forests and grasslands have been converted to farms, pastures, and urban areas.
Reuters' correspondent Jake Spring.>> I'm standing here in a vast soy field in the central Brazilian state of Tocantins on the frontier of Brazil's agricultural development. Tocantins is dominated by a biome known as the Cerrado, which takes up 25% of Brazil's land area, second to only the Amazon rainforest.
But unlike the Amazon rainforest, where 80% of natural vegetation must be protected, in most of the Cerrado, only 20% must be protected. Therefore, this area has been opened up to rapid development of agriculture.>> As vegetation vanishes, the region's water resources are suffering. Waterways like the São Francisco, Brazil’s longest river outside the amazon are endanger with levels hitting never before seen lows in the dry season.
What we are most worried about is water. Without water you can’t live. How can you raise children? Everything here is dry. Wildlife too is under threat as their habitat shrinks. More than 300 species that dwell here are threatened with extinction including rare hyacinth macaws. But Brazilian farmers say they need the extra land to meet growing global demand for grains.
>> Farmers argue that what their doing is necessary. Because much of the Amazon is protected, they need an area that can be opened up, much like the central plains of the United States, in order to develop the Brazilian economy. They argue they operate within the bounds of the laws.
And that what they are doing is helping the country.>> And helping China, now Brazil's number one buyer of soybeans used as feed for hogs and chickens.