Brazilian Cerrado May Disappear by 2030

7/7/2004

A Conservation International study shows that the biome is being deforested at a rate equivalent to 2.6 soccer fields a minute

Bras�lia, Brazil - A study by Conservation International (CI) indicates that the Brazilian Cerrado may disappear by 2030. Some 57% of the 204 million hectares of original vegetation cover have already been completely destroyed and half of the remaining areas are very impacted and may not be appropriate for biodiversity conservation. The annual rate of deforestation is alarming, reaching 1.5% or 3 million hectares a year.

The main pressures on the Cerrado are the expansion of the agricultural frontier, fire, and the unplanned development of urban areas. The degradation is worst in the State of Mato Grosso do Sul, Goias and Mato Grosso, in the triangle of the State of Minas Gerais and the Western part of the State of Bahia. The study, based on satellite imaging, is the result of the partnership between CI-Brazil and Oreades, an NGO in the city of Mineiros.

"The Cerrado loses 2.6 soccer fields' worth of its original vegetation every minute. This rate of deforestation is 10 times greater than in the Atlantic Forest, which loses a soccer field's worth per minute," explains Ricardo Machado, CI-Brazil director for the Cerrado program and one of the authors of the study. "Many leaders and decision-makers wrongly justify this deforestation because the Cerrado is not covered with dense tropical forests like the Amazon or the Atlantic Forest. This reaction ignores the fact that the biome harbors the richest savanna in the world, with abundant biodiversity and watershed resources that are of great importance for Brazil. In the "chapadas", high plateau, we can find the head waters of the main rivers of the Amazon Basin, the Prata Basin and the San Francisco Basin."

Among the problems created by the deforestation of the Cerrado is the degradation of important rivers like the San Francisco River and the Tocantins River and the destruction of the habitat that impacts the survival of thousands of species, many of which are endemic, only found in that region and nowhere else in the planet, such as the parrot "galego" (Amazona xanthops) and the fox (Dusicyon vetulus).

Many other resources are disappearing, such as medicinal plants and fruit species that are abundant in the region. According to Embrapa Genetic Resources and Technologies, more than 330 species of plants used for folk medicine have already been recorder in the Cerrado. Among those plants are Arnica (Lychnophora ericoides), the Barbatim�o (Stryphnodendron adstringens), the Sucupira (Bowdichia sp.), the Mentrasto (Ageratum conyzoide) and the Velame (Macrosiphonia velame).

"Besides estimating the rate of deforestation, the CI-Brazil study also mapped the most important patches of original Cerrado vegetation remaining in the region," explains M�rio Barroso, manager of the CI-Brazil Cerrado Program and co-author of the study. "This data will be incorporated into our conservation strategy for the biome, which is based on the implementation of Biodiversity corridors."

The biodiversity corridors avoid the isolation of protected areas, allowing species to move freely throughout the mosaics of different sustainable land use - parks, public or private reserves, indigenous lands as well as farming areas which develop activities that preserve the natural environments.

Today CI-Brazil is implementing six biodiversity corridors in different regions of the Cerrado: Emas-Taquari, Araguaia, Paran�, Jalap�o, Uru�u�-Mirador and Espinha�o. The Ibama, the agency for the environment and the hydrological resources of Goias (SEMARH), the University of Brasilia and local NGOs are among the partners of CI-Brazil in these corridors.

Data promote conservation action

The data found about the deforestation for the Cerrado are now being presented by CI-Brazil to decision-makers at different levels. The study was presented during a meeting of the National Biodiversity Council (CONABIO), at the beginning of July, to the Secretary of Biodiversity and Forest, Joao Paulo Capobianco. After the presentation, the Secretary declared that the Minister of the Environment will create a specific group to discuss urgent actions for the Cerrado, as had been previously done for the Amazon and the Atlantic Forest.

In the State of Goais, which counts with a number of very valuable patches of native vegetation, the presentation of the state of conservation of the Valley of the Parana in the National Environmental Council resulted in the creation of a temporary technical commission to discuss and propose actions to control the deforestation in the region.

The Valley of the Parana, located in the border of the states of Goias and Tocantins is considered a center for endemic birds, has the largest concentration in the Cerrado of a type of dry forest, and is the reminiscent of a natural corridor that used to link the Caatinga to the Paraguay Chaco, some 20 thousand years ago. The work of CI-Brazil is done in partnership with Embrapa Genetic Resources, the University of Brasilia and the local NGOS, Pequi and Funatura.

In the biodiversity corridor Emas-Taquari, which includes areas of the states of Goias, Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, the deforestation data is shared with the municipalities of 17 counties. With the Project Municipalities of the Biodiversity Corridors, CI-Brazil, in partnership with the NGOs Oreades and Oikos is strengthening municipal and state environmental agencies in each city. A number of managers and other technical people received training to collect local data, prepare maps and apply the environmental legislation. The project also includes the creation of environmental education groups and the participation of local stakeholders, such as community leaders.

"To put a stop to the destruction of the Cerrado, the rural investments of the Federal Government for the next harvest season should include conservation action, particularly the protection of watershed, the recovery of degraded areas and the maintenance of conservation units", affirms Machado. "If the government, the private and the public sectors come together to create a fund for the conservation of the Cerrado associated with investments that are destined to the production of cereals, then we will be implementing in a fair and effective way, the transversal application of the environmental policy of Brazil."

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