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DATE: February 26, 2021
SNIP: Parts of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest are being illegally sold on Facebook, the BBC has discovered.

The protected areas include national forests and land reserved for indigenous peoples.

Some of the plots listed via Facebook’s classified ads service are as large as 1,000 football pitches.

“The land invaders feel very empowered to the point that they are not ashamed of going on Facebook to make illegal land deals,” said Ivaneide Bandeira, head of environmental NGO Kanindé. [C]ampaigners have claimed the country’s government is unwilling to halt the sales.

Anyone can find the illegally invaded plots by typing the Portuguese equivalents for search terms like “forest”, “native jungle” and “timber” into Facebook Marketplace’s search tool, and picking one of the Amazonian states as the location.

Some of the listings feature satellite images and GPS co-ordinates.

Many of the sellers openly admit they do not have a land title, the only document which proves ownership of land under Brazilian law.

The illegal activity is being fuelled by Brazil’s cattle ranching industry.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is at a 10-year high, and Facebook’s Marketplace has become a go-to site for sellers like Fabricio Guimarães, who was filmed by a hidden camera.

“There’s no risk of an inspection by state agents here,” he said as he walked through a patch of rainforest he had burnt to the ground.

With the land illegally cleared and ready for farming, he had tripled his initial asking price to $35,000 (£25,000).

Fabricio is not a farmer. He has steady middle-class job in a city, and views the rainforest as being an investment opportunity.

The BBC later contacted Fabricio for his response to its investigation but he declined to comment.

One man, called Alvim Souza Alves, was trying to sell a plot inside the Uru Eu Wau Wau indigenous reserve for about £16,400 in local currency.

It is the home to a community of more than 200 Uru Eu Wau Wau people. And at least five further groups that have had no contact with the outside world also live there, according to the Brazilian government.

The BBC showed the Facebook ad to community leader Bitaté Uru Eu Wau Wau.

He said the lot was in an area used by his community to hunt, fish and collect fruits.

“This is a lack of respect,” he said.

“I don’t know these people. I think their objective is to deforest the indigenous land, to deforest what is standing. To deforest our lives, you could say.

He said the authorities should intervene, and also urged Facebook – “the most accessed social media platform” – to take action of its own.

A common strategy is to deforest the land and then plead with politicians to abolish its protected status, on the basis it no longer serves its original purpose.

The land grabbers can then officially buy the plots from the government, thereby legalising their claims.

For its part, Facebook claims trying to deduce which sales are illegal would be too complex a task for it to carry out itself, and should be left to the local judiciary and other authorities. And it does not appear to see the issue as being serious enough to warrant halting all Marketplace land sales across the Amazon.

Ivaneide Bandeira, who has been trying to combat deforestation in the state of Rondônia for 30 years, said she was losing hope.

“I think this is a very hard battle. It is really painful to see the forest being destroyed and shrinking more and more,” she said.

“Never, in any other moment in history, has it been so hard to keep the forest standing.”