The Brazilian Cerrado at risk

One year ago, the Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park – one of Brazil’s most beautiful, featuring over 10,000 kinds of plants and 1,500 species of animals – was partially destroyed by arson. A massive fire spread across the reserve, allegedly started by landowners in the region. While the culprits remain unidentified and unpunished, environmental institutions have joined forces with civil society in a bid to protect the reserve.

The Mosaic Veadeiros-Paranã project intends to monitor 42 protected areas – from indigenous lands, territories belonging to quilombolas (traditional slave communities), federal, municipal, and state conservation units – as well as private reserves. “Twenty protected areas are already formally under our care, which is a considerable number. If the project contributes to improving administration in these areas, it will be a huge advance,” says Fernando Tatabiga, a biologist who serves as the park’s director. Unfortunately, though, it will be hard to get all 42 lands under the project.

The area will be monitored in a “mosaic” model, which tries to integrate different protected areas under a set of environmental policies – all while engaging the local population in the protection of biodiversity. This model also includes economic actions to ensure the sustainability of the local economy. There are another 23 mosaics spread across the country – but none with the same amount of protected lands.

Mosaic Veadeiros-Paranã is financed by the Brazilian Biodiversity Fund, a result of the Tropical Forest Conservation Act, a bilateral accord between Brazil and the U.S. government. This American law takes debt countries have with the U.S. and exchanges it for investments in the preservation and sustainable use of forests. Brazil has financed dozens of projects since 2010, when the deal was struck.

Cerrado: Brazil’s most devastated area

chapada dos veadeiros cerrado preservation

Last year’s fire was the worst in Cerrado’s history

Not as well-known as the Amazon, the Brazilian Cerrado is by no means less important. The biome, which is a tropical savannah, spreads over 2 million sq. kilometers and encompasses 12 Brazilian states. Its soil is among the oldest on the planet.

So far, the Cerrado has already lost over 50 percent of its original vegetation, according to Brazil’s Space Research Institute. Data from the Ministry of the Environment shows that deforestation is slowing down, but over 236,000 sq. kilometers were cut down between 2000 and 2015 – an area close to the size of the United Kingdom. For the sake of comparison, the Amazon lost 208,000 sq. kilometers over the same time span.

The biggest culprit is agribusiness, which has turned monoculture into the rule of the land. Of the Cerrado’s 540,000 sq. kilometers, 220,000 are occupied by grain monocultures, largely soybeans and corn. Eucalyptus monocultures are another big crop, despite not being native to savannah regions. The latter poses an additional problem, as eucalyptus is known for being a thirsty tree which dries out the already dry Cerrado land.

The advances of the agricultural industry are already affecting the biome’s biodiversity and are putting Brazil’s water resources in jeopardy – as The Brazilian Report published on May 15. The savannah in central Brazil is home to some of the country’s main river waterbeds – such as the one of the Tocantins River, which flows into the São Francisco River – one of South America’s biggest.

How the project will be funded

The project is not the first conservation initiative to be carried out with resources from the Tropical Forest Conservation Act. In the Cerrado alone, 24 other projects have already been carried out. The budget for the recently-created mosaic will amount to BRL 87,000.

“Our next step will be to elaborate a Land Development Plan based on conservation practices, which has already been done in other mosaics,” says Mr. Tatabiga. “We want to stimulate every economic activity that is coherent with the goal of preserving our ecosystem,” he continues.

The land under the Mosaic Veadeiros-Paranã umbrella can extend up to 1,600 sq. kilometers. “One of our main goals is to stimulate the ecotourism industry,” says Julio Itacaramby, from the technical coordinator of the project. 

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SocietyAug 28, 2018

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BY Caio Paes

Paes is a journalist and has a master’s degree in communications. He focuses on human rights, culture, and data surveillance.