TAGUATÓ, Paraguay — The Upper Parana Atlantic Forest is one of the world’s most endangered forests. The ecoregion has been almost entirely cleared in Brazil, and Argentina holds the largest remaining areas of connected habitat. In Paraguay, studies estimate less than 10% remains, mostly as fragmented forest islands scattered across a largely unprotected, denuded landscape.
Agriculture is the driving force of deforestation in Paraguay, with much of the country’s forests cleared legally to make way for cattle, soy, corn and sugar cane fields over the past half-century. But clearing for illicit marijuana cultivation is also taking a toll on the eastern Paraguay’s forests. According to the National Anti-Drug Secretariat (SENAD), 81,871 kilos (180,494 pounds) of marijuana were seized and 797 forest parcels were destroyed in Paraguay’s portion of the Upper Parana Atlantic Forest between 2015 and 2020. Investigation by Mongabay and La Nación found marijuana farms carved out of several national parks and reserves in eastern Paraguay.