Iguaçu National Park worth over $300 m a year | WWF Brasil

Iguaçu National Park worth over $300 m a year

08 Janeiro 2014   |  
Cataratas do Iguaçu
© WWF / Michel GUNTHER
by Aldem Bourscheit

Iguaçu National Park, which is 75 years old on 10 January, is the second most visited park in Brazil1 and has an estimated annual economic and ecological value of over $300m.

According to a study by the Institute for Applied Economic Research (Ipea, acronym in Portuguese)2, tourism in the national park generates over $37m a year for the local economy and neighboring municipalities raise $4.28m a year in ecological value added tax revenue (see link next to this article).

Furthermore, using a method that estimates the economic value of environmental services per acre of preserved Atlantic Forest, the current value of the environmental services provided by this protected area, such as clean water supply, nutrient cycling, soil protection and restoration, erosion control and climate regulation is estimated at over $258m a year3.

Iguaçu National Park therefore has an estimated annual value of over a $300m and is a permanent source4 of natural resources and economic income.

However, despite the wealth of its natural resources and scenic beauty of the Atlantic Forest protected by the park - comprising 19 large waterfalls and 275 discrete falls that form a curtain of water in the rainy season - the Iguaçu Falls (see photograph) are not free of threats: a bill which proposes the construction of a road that would stretch through 18 kilometers of the park has been approved by the Chamber of Deputies and is currently under consideration in the Senate.

The Bill was introduced by a Labor Party deputy from the State of Paraná and rekindles a 1980s movement headed by politicians and businessmen which used a word game claiming the cultural and historic significance of the proposal to transform the Settlers Road into a “park road”, even though this category of road does not exist under Brazilian law.

However, as Dr. Paulo José Koling, PhD in History from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul, states, what is happening is the “invention of a tradition linking communist movements and rebel army officials to the migration of southern settlers based merely on a series of historical events occurring in the same region at distinct moments in time”5. Koling goes on to add that christening this route as the Settlers Road “has the purpose of legitimizing the present, regardless of historical facts”.

Clandestine – The road was opened in the 1950s after the park had already been created. It was therefore illegal and was permanently closed in 2003 by a federal court injunction and has since been overrun by the Atlantic Forest (see photograph).

Historically the road left the park open to environmental problems inside the protected area, such as hunting, deforestation and wildlife trafficking, and other problems such as smuggling, drug trafficking and transport of stolen vehicles due to its proximity with the Triple Frontier where the borders of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet.

Iguaçu National Park was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986 and with more than 1.5m visitors a year provides direct economic benefits to the region. The park has a total area of 457,000 acres which when combined with the neighboring Parque Nacional Iguazú in Argentina gives a total area of 617,000 hectares acres of protected Atlantic Forest.

In 2010, the Brazilian park almost lost its World Heritage Site status due to another attempt to reopen the so-called "Settlers Road". Such move would have led to serious side effects, such as losses in economic income generated by tourism and negative impacts on the conservation of the Atlantic Forest.

For this reason the Brazilian Government made a commitment to UNESCO to not permit the reopening of this problem road and promote regional sustainable development to compensate supposed economic losses due to its permanent closure.

It is fundamentally important that the government honors this commitment so as to promote a development model that effectively conciliates traditional economic activities with the maintenance and recognition of the importance of Iguaçu National Park. Today, tourism is concentrated in Foz do Iguaçu, where the only park entrance is located. However, a realm of potential opportunities exists for opening new entry points in neighboring municipalities.

Anna Lobo, WWF-Brasil’s Atlantic Forest Coordinator, highlights: “tourism in the park stimulates regional development though employment and income generation, but is concentrated in the Foz do Iguaçu region. Because of this the rest of the park is turning into an “empty forest” due to the impact of palm heart extractivists and hunters, and conflicts with farmers. The jaguar, for example, is highly threatened. Less than 20 individuals are currently registered in the park compared to over 150 in 1996”.

The ecological integrity of the park is fundamental for the survival of threatened species such as the black-fronted piping guan, white-bearded antshrike, little spotted cat, helmeted woodpecker , margay, red bat , the butterfly Ochropyge ruficauda, jaguar, puma, black-capped piprite and fasciated tiger-heron.

Booklet – Almost 1000 Brazilian civil society organizations mobilized against the reopening of the road produced a 10-page booklet called The road is not the way (a Portuguese PDF version can be downloaded by clicking on the link next to this article) to make available reliable technical and historic information regarding the impasse over the road. The booklet contains a number of photographs and texts written by members of public authorities, the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of the government, and civil society, compiling information and economic, social and ecological data related to the continuing impasse.

As Christopher Thomas Blum PhD, professor of forest engineering at the Federal University of Paraná highlights in the booklet: “this discussion (of the bill) is an enormous setback. Conservation is seen as an obstacle instead of a shared responsibility. We need to wake up to the fact that having a park is the key to stimulating the economy of the surrounding region”.


1) Currently, the most visited protected area in Brazil is the Parque Nacional da Tijuca, in Rio de Janeiro which receives more than 2.5m visitors a year.

2) This estimate was made in the early 2000s when the park received 800,000 visitors a year. Today the park receives more than 1.5m visitors a year (this study may be downloaded by clicking on the link next to this article).

3) It was estimated that each hectare of Atlantic Forest preserved by the park generates approximately $1,398 a year in environmental services. Given the total area of the park (185,000 hectares) it was therefore estimated the total annual economic value of the environmental services generated by the park was R$ 258,630,000.

4) As opposed to other economic activities, such as mining, soybean, sugarcane and eucalyptus plantations, the income and environmental services generated by protected areas are permanent.

5) "With respect to the production of historical knowledge of the region, it is interesting to note that the pro-road movement (AIPOPEC, acronym in Portuguese) has rewritten the history of the road and created a romanticized vision of the past. With respect to the first point, they seek to claim that the origins of the road lie in the Coluna Prestes that travelled the southeast and west of the State of Paraná, including the area which is now national park, in 1925. Indeed, the Coluna Prestes, a social rebel movement, was present in this and many other corners of the State of Paraná between 1924 and 1925, and also acted and influenced local society and proposed change in the country. However, the facts claimed by the pro-road movement do not fit and serve only to create a vision of a so-called common past to legitimize the reopening of the road. In other words, they are inventing a tradition that, based merely on a series of historical events occurring in the same region at distinct moments in time, links the movements - the Coluna Prestes (communists and rebel army officials) between 1924 and 1925, the migration of southern settlers between 1940 and 1960 and the pro-road movement between 1986 and 2005. The christening of this route as the Settlers Road has the purpose of legitimizing the present, regardless of historical facts (to download this study click on the link next to this article).


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