Biodiversity: Brazil’s wasted economic potential

. Nov 12, 2018
Biodiversity: Brazil's wasted economic potential Brazil is home to 20% of the earth's biodiversity

At the United Nations Biodiversity Summit (COP14), which will take place from November 13 to 27 in the Egyptian city of Sharm El Sheikh, the 196 countries which have signed the Convention on Biodiversity will work with scientists to develop a strategic plan for biodiversity. Brazil is a key player in that discussion, as it is home to 20 percent of earth’s biodiversity and 40 percent of its remaining forest coverage. As a matter of fact, 70 percent of natural areas in the world are found in only four countries besides Brazil: Australia, Canada, the U.S., and Russia.

Preserving Brazil’s biodiversity is not only an environmental concern but also an economic matter. Recent research shows that preserving natural vegetation is good business, even for agricultural producers, who constantly complain that environmental protections hamper their activities. A new report, by the Brazilian Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (BPBES), agrees. The country’s environmental assets are key to keeping Brazilian agribusiness—the motor of our economy—sustainable in the long run.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Of the country&#8217;s </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">141 crops</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, 85 depend on animal pollination (especially from bees), and over 40 percent of the primary energy production in the country comes from </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">renewable sources</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">. &#8220;Brazil&#8217;s environmental capital is the country&#8217;s &#8216;insurance policy&#8217; in a world of increasing number of crises of different natures,&#8221; says Mercedes Bustamante, a professor at the University of Brasília who co-authored the report.</span></p> <h2>Bad use of soil</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">By 2030, the improper use of land will continue to be the main vector of biodiversity loss. Despite the reduction in annual rates of habitat loss—especially in the Amazon—deforestation in Brazilian biomes remains high. That is particularly true in the </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Cerrado</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">, a savannah-like biome that spans over a quarter of the country&#8217;s territory (of which 236,000 square-kilometers were lost) and the </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Caatinga</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">, a semi-arid biome in the northeast (which has lost 45 percent of its original coverage).</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Over the past few years, the loss of forest area in Brazil exceeded at least three times all promises of reforestation.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;Biodiversity is usually seen as a hurdle—or, at most, an appendix—to the process of development. In reality, it is a way to gain competitiveness on a global scale,&#8221; says Ms. Bustamante.</span></p> <h2>How biodiversity could make Brazil money</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Brazil has, according to the BPBES report, over 245 plant species being used in cosmetics and pharmaceutical products, with a further 36 registered as phytotherapeutics. With more investment, that number could be much, much higher.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">From the </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">cerrado</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">, for instance, there are </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">fava d&#8217;anta</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> beans, a major source of quercetin which is used in </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">anti-aging, anti-inflammatory drugs</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">. Brazil exports the product to 36 countries, with Merck laboratories being its main customer. Last year, almost USD 1 million worth was exported from the states of Maranhão and Piauí.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Tropical fruits found in Brazil can also be used to produce food dyes, thus reducing the need for artificial products which have caused adverse reactions in consumers, especially in children and the elderly. After more than five years of research, scientists of the </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> (Embrapa) developed natural dyes from the skins of fruits such as jabuticaba, jambu, and jamelão. Rich in anthocyanins (which act as antioxidants and fight free radicals), they also provide health benefits.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">And this is not to mention the food value of native plants. The report shows that 469 plant species are cultivated in agroforestry systems. Brazilian fruits are the richest in vitamins A (buriti) and C (camu-camu) in the world. &#8220;We have the world&#8217;s largest potential to enhance the quality and quantity of available food, and several species have yet to be explored,&#8221; says Ms. Bustamante. In the Amazon, for instance, a new species is discovered every three days.</span></p> <h2>No bees, no agro</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Brazil agricultural producers are become known for crops that are not native to the country, which is the case of soybeans, cotton, coffee, or tomatoes. Landowners depend heavily on the work of stingless bees, whose pollination work saves about USD 12 billion every year. For instance, soybeans—the driving force of Brazilian big agro—depend on bees to produce flowers and grains.</span></p> <div id="attachment_11252" style="width: 1010px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-11252" class="size-full wp-image-11252" src="" alt="bees biodiversity brazil amazon" width="1000" height="667" srcset=" 1000w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" /><p id="caption-attachment-11252" class="wp-caption-text">Dozens of Brazilian crops depend on bees.</p></div> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The same thing happens with coffee beans, which need a specific type of Brazilian bee that could become extinct by 2030. &#8220;Coffee crops give us the sense of urgency we must have in preserving biodiversity,&#8221; says the report.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Today, 40 percent of Brazil&#8217;s forest coverage is concentrated in only 400 municipalities—7 percent of the country&#8217;s total—which house 13 percent of our population, most of whom live in extreme poverty. &#8220;While poverty is a vector of deforestation, environmental protections could generate more lucrative forms of interactions with the forest. It is a matter of will and political strategy,&#8221; said the report&#8217;s authors.</span></p> <h2>Brazilian biodiversity in numbers</h2> <ul> <li style="font-weight: 400;"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Brazil is home to 42,000 vegetal species, 9,000 vertebrate animal species, and 129,000 of invertebrate animal species;</span></li> <li style="font-weight: 400;"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Brazil exports over 350 types of agricultural products;</span></li> <li style="font-weight: 400;"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Family crops produce 70 percent of what is consumed by Brazilians;</span></li> <li style="font-weight: 400;"><span style="font-weight: 400;">85 of Brazil&#8217;s 141 analyzed crops depend on pollination from animals;</span></li> <li style="font-weight: 400;"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Brazil is the third-largest exporter of silviculture, being responsible for 3.64 percent of the global volume.

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