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The unknown Cerrado and its colossal biological relevance

Paepalanthus, a species of flora typical of the Cerrado fields. Photo: Aryanne Amaral / IEB Collection


by Michael Becker for publication via Mongabay Brazil


The fires that devastated the Amazon last year they put Brazil in the headlines around the world, and with good reason. The iconic rainforest stores millions of tons of carbon dioxide - burning it means a less stable climate across the Earth. But the fires also devastated, to the same extent, another biome in South America, but news coverage of this catastrophe was sparse.

In the center of Brazil (with small portions in Bolivia and Paraguay) are 200 million hectares of the most biodiverse tropical savanna on the planet, with 5% of the world's species: the Cerrado, a region that, like the Amazon, also holds an amount of carbon fundamental to the climatic balance of the planet.

The lack of knowledge about its importance may be due to what is not visible in its landscape: about 70% of the biomass of the Cerrado it is underground, and that means that the carbon reservoirs that it houses in the soil contribute immensely to determine the concentration of CO² in the atmosphere. As they go through a long dry season each year, the Cerrado trees have adapted, growing downward, instead of upward, in search of water.

Because of this, most Brazilians consider the Cerrado to be an “ugly forest” - the trees in the biome are not tall, as in the imposing Amazon.

Today is the International Biodiversity Day, and it is essential to consider the contribution of this biome: rivers and rains within the Cerrado are connected to almost all of Brazil - bringing water to agriculture, hydroelectric power generation and human consumption.

In addition to the 12,070 species of plants and 1,050 species of vertebrate animals, approximately 46 million people currently live on the natural resources from the region: indigenous peoples, traditional communities, family farmers, urban populations, as well as important sectors, such as agribusiness and mining. The Brazilian Cerrado currently concentrates a large part of the production of agricultural commodities of world importance.

The second largest underground water reservoir in the world - the Guarani Aquifer - as well as the largest flooded plain on the planet - the Pantanal - are made up of the Cerrado springs; and its ecosystem is seriously threatened if we continue with the alarming deforestation promoted by large-scale agriculture, which until today has already eliminated 50% of the biome. That's before the fires that swept across much of the region in 2019.

Research shows that deforestation in the Cerrado is 2.5 times higher than in the Amazon, and even so, it does not generate as much social commotion. In regions like MATOPIBA, an acronym related to the expanding agricultural frontier in the states of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia, the scenario is quite serious - by 2010, 60% of the original cover had been converted into pastures and monocultures, and much of what remains has already suffered some type of anthropic intervention.

The celebration of International Biodiversity Day should remind us that we share our existence with several other beings; as maned wolf, the giant anteater and fruits like the pequi, coquinho-sour and baru, in the case of the Cerrado. One way to interpret biodiversity is to consider that it reflects the interaction of all the elements that make life possible as we know it. So, we need to be responsible for our direct influence on the maintenance of biodiversity, its use and consequences on human, animal and plant life; in any biome or ecosystem.

Covid-19 is the most recent example of human interference in natural processes and their consequences. THE Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) recently released a communication reinforcing the need to reconcile the return to economic activity with the protection of ecosystems and maintenance of biodiversity. If the destruction continues, there will be a significant increase in the likelihood of new pandemics.

There are 1.7 million viruses yet to be identified. Keeping the forests upright prevents us from coming into contact with sources of new diseases. The lesson that the pandemic leaves us is to recognize the vital need to ensure sustainable development in order to maintain our conserved ecosystems if we want to continue to exist. This situation makes us look once again at the unknown Cerrado, which more than ever, if highlighted and protected, will contribute with essential elements, such as water and natural resources, to overcome this and any other future crisis.

At the moment, initiatives such as those being carried out by the Partnership Fund for Critical Ecosystems and at International Institute of Education of Brazil are helping to find the path to this new model towards the sustainable development. The fund has 52 partner institutions, united in the conservation of Cerrado biodiversity and the services it provides to Brazilians. The actions involve 6,335 people and protect 11,533,753 hectares of the biome. In addition to contributing to the processing of 108,125.76 kg of raw material extracted from the Cerrado, which promotes an increase in income for the communities of R$ 119,264.00 in the sale of native seeds and R$ 245,443.78 in Cerrado fruits.

The great results we have achieved so far, certainly bring us a reason for celebration in this International Biodiversity Daybecause it demonstrates that it is possible to reap many fruits of this reconciliation of the use of biodiversity with its protection, which bring direct benefits to the populations that share the Cerrado.

Read the article in full on the Mongabay Brazil!

Find the English version here!


Michael Becker is the leader of the CEPF regional implementation team (Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, or Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund) and has been working since 2000 to ensure civil society's contribution to the conservation of rich and highly threatened ecosystems. In Brazil since 2016, CEPF works with the support of the International Education Institute of Brazil (IEB), a Brazilian third sector institution dedicated to training and qualifying people. This is the list of organizations that are part of the network: http://cepfcerrado.iieb.org.br/lista-projetos/

We thank and congratulate each of our partners for their tireless effort to fight the conservation of the Cerrado and its peoples!

The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund is a joint initiative of the French Development Agency, Conservation International, the European Union, Global Environmental Management, the Government of Japan and the World Bank. A key goal is to ensure that civil society is involved in biodiversity conservation.



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