Mennonites lead fragmented deforestation in Peru's Amazon -report

LIMA, Oct 19 (Reuters) - Groups belonging to the Mennonites have emerged as a notable source of deforestation in Peru's Amazon, having cut down an area close to the size of Manhattan since 2017, according to a new report.

The estimates by the Monitoring the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP) suggest deforestation near Mennonite camps has reached 659 hectares (1,628 acres) so far this year, compared to 98,400 hectares all around Peru's Amazon.

While small-scale agriculture and illegal gold mining remain responsible for over 99% of deforestation in Peru’s Amazon so far this year, MAAP Director Matt Finer told Reuters this deforestation near Mennonite camps deserved scrutiny.

"Most of the deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon is small scale," Finer said. "But in terms of having one major entity that is responsible for (this much) deforestation, that is quite rare."

Since 2017, MAAP estimates deforestation linked to Mennonites has reached 4,800 hectares (11,861 acres), four-fifths the size of Manhattan in New York.

Mennonites are a reclusive Christian group who have expanded around the world. They say they live peaceful lives and that expanding their farming is the will of God and a way to provide their families with a simple life.

They could not be reached for comment on the deforestation report.

Peru has the world's second largest section of the Amazon, the world's largest rainforest whose preservation is considered critical to mitigate climate change. Most of Peru's rainforest is sparsely populated and inaccessible, which has helped preserve it.

Deforestation in Peru's Amazon has remained relatively stable in recent years, with a significant spike in 2020 during the first year of the pandemic.

"An entity that can continue expanding ... I think that's what makes this troubling, and not only the current deforestation," Finer said, "but the potential escalation of continued deforestation."

The Mennonite settlements have drawn attention from Peruvian authorities over whether they have engaged in illegal deforestation, according to Mongabay, an environmental news organization.

Mennonites have also drawn attention in Mexico over deforestation, detailed in a recent Reuters report.

Reporting by Marcelo Rochabrun Editing by Bill Berkrot

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