Brazil destroyed 18,962 km2 of the Cerrado between 2013 and 20151. In other words, every two months during that time, an area of the Cerrado the size of the Greater London disappeared. Deforestation rates of the Cerrado have exceeded those of the Amazon for over 10 years. The pace of this destruction makes the Cerrado one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet.
Considered the birthplace of many of Brazil's great water systems, the Cerrado – the world’s most biodiverse savannah – has already lost 50% of its original area. According to a recent article published in Nature Ecology & Evolution2, the rate of destruction in the Cerrado will result in the catastrophic extinction of species.
Moreover, continued destruction of the Cerrado will cause changes in the region’s rainfall patterns, affecting agricultural productivity3, as has already occurred in the Amazon4. The Cerrado stores the equivalent of 13.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2)5, and the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from native vegetation conversion will impede Brazil's international commitments under the climate and biodiversity conventions.
The main cause of conversion in the Cerrado is the expansion of agribusiness. Between 2007 and 2014, 26% of agricultural expansion in the Cerrado occurred directly into areas of native vegetation6. In Matopiba alone – located in the states of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia, and considered the main frontier of vegetation conversion – 62% of agricultural expansion replaced native vegetation7. Recent analyses suggest that, between 2000 and 2016, 49% of pastureland expansion in Matopiba occurred in the Cerrado8. An area that is converted for grazing is often later used for crops such as soy9.
It is unnecessary for the livestock and agricultural sectors to continue expanding into natural habitats in the Cerrado, especially considering there are around 40 million hectares already cleared in Brazil suitable for cultivating soy – the main crop associated with the destruction of native vegetation10. Modest gains in cattle-raising efficiency would free millions of hectares for other types of land use11.
Responsibility for this problem – and the search for solutions that can quickly stop the destruction of the Cerrado – is shared by all actors of the production and supply chains, from the producers to consumers, including traders, meat-packing companies, retailers, investors, agricultural producers, and land developers.
The Brazilian government also needs to ensure that the law and international commitments are met by putting instruments and policies in place that can improve governance of agricultural production in the Cerrado. It is essential that protected areas be created, and that the right of access to the land is guaranteed for indigenous people, traditional communities, and small farmers in the region. It is also crucial that official data on deforestation and native vegetation conversion in the Cerrado be published annually, as is already the case for the Amazon.
Incentives and economic instruments need to be developed by both the government and the private sector to reward farmers’ efforts to conserve areas of native vegetation, even when they are eligible for legal clearance.
This collective and multisectoral effort will enable production to continue while a diversified economy is developed in the region, guaranteeing rights and income for local communities and adequate protection of the Cerrado’s valuable natural ecosystems.
1. Rates of deforestation and conversion are extremely high
A serious and consistent conversion process is taking place in the Cerrado. Even during successive droughts and crop shortfalls, the rates of conversion in the Matopiba region remained high, as demonstrated for the period between 2013 and 2015 (INPE & FUNCATE, 2017). In addition, the 10 municipalities with the highest deforestation rates in the Cerrado are located in Matopiba.
2. Territorial expansion and land conversion in Matopiba are uncontrolled
Studies predict the conversion of 6.6 million hectares of land with low productive capacity and a high risk of desertification (Carneiro Filho & Costa, 2016).
3. The rates of deforestation and conversion could increase in 2017 due to:
4. The expansion of production should only occur in previously cleared areas
The 40 million hectares mentioned in this manifesto (Carneiro Filho & Costa, 2016) are enough for Brazil to meet the goals of soy production expansion over the next 50 years. The soy sector already knows how to expand into previously cleared areas, as this is standard practice in regions other than Matopiba, such as the Amazon biome and other areas of the Cerrado.
5. The law does not go far enough
The law still allows for the legal deforestation and conversion of 40 million hectares of the Cerrado. Soy production expanded by over 250% in Matopiba between 2000 and 2014 (Agrossatélite, 2015), mainly through the conversion of native vegetation, which accounted for 62% of this expansion (Carneiro Filho & Costa, 2016). Much of this took place in compliance with the legal provisions of the Forest Code.
6. Cattle-raising activities need to incorporate more technology and free up more land
Modest improvements to cattle-raising production standards using existing techniques and consolidated technology can increase productivity while freeing up land for crops, without affecting national production (Strassburg et al., 2014).
7. Logistical infrastructure projects may further stimulate expansion
Expansion of the logistical infrastructure of Matopiba will further stimulate speculative deforestation and conversion. A range of projects for future ports, highways, railways, and waterways are being planned or being implemented in the region (PDA, 2015).
8. Carbon emissions in the Cerrado will accelerate climate change
The Cerrado stores substantial amounts of carbon, equivalent to approximately 13.7 billion tons of CO2 (CEPF, 2016). The percentage of biomass below soil can reach 70%. Considering the total biomass stored in the distinct Cerrado ecosystems, the average density of carbon is equivalent to 137.3 tons of CO2 per hectare (CEPF, 2016). This carbon density is close to that for some areas of the Amazon. Therefore, conversion in the Cerrado is a significant problem for the planet and will compromise the commitments made by Brazil as part of the UN’s Climate Change Convention.
9. Agricultural expansion may aggravate the water crisis
The Cerrado is home to the sources of eight of Brazil’s 12 hydrographic regions, including the Amazon/Tocantins, São Francisco and Prata river basins, as well as three large aquifers: Guarani, Bambuí and Urucuia (CEPF, 2016). Studies show that rivers decreased their flow after the conversion of native areas into plantations and grazing land (TNC, 2016). Moreover, in 2017, Brazil’s National Water Agency (ANA) recorded the lowest flow rate for the São Francisco River in at least 70 years (ANA, 2017).
10. Unique ecosystems and biodiversity could be lost
The Cerrado is home to a third of Brazil’s biodiversity, with 44% of plants endemic to the region (Klink & Machado, 2005). It is the world’s most biodiverse savannah (MMA, 2017). The loss of biodiversity poses risks to not only the species and ecosystems that make up the biome but also to local populations that depend on these natural resources to survive.
11. There is a lack of state presence in the Matopiba region
Institutions are weak across almost all sectors, and often do not have the ability to prevent rights violations associated with land grabbing, the eviction of local communities, water contamination, and other crimes (field data*).
12. The social risks and vulnerability of local communities in Matopiba are significant (field data*):
* Note on Field Data in 11 and 12: Data collected in the field during a scientific expedition in September 2016 to the states of Matopiba. The following organisations took part in the expedition: the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), the Brazilian Institute of Agricultural and Forest Management and Certification (IMAFLORA), the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF-Brasil), the Earth Innovation Institute (EII), and The Nature Conservancy (TNC).
13. Fighting poverty
The agricultural expansion should occur exclusively in previously cleared areas, allowing local communities and people living in areas of native vegetation to keep their livelihoods and guaranteeing the maintenance of environmental services. In areas that already have been deforested and are degraded, poverty should be addressed by adopting best production practices, restoring native vegetation, and potentially substituting pastures for crops or other activities with a higher financial return.
14. The figures reflect the seriousness of the situation (Strassburg et al., 2017)
If the destruction of the Cerrado continues at the rate observed for the period 2003-2013, by 2050 we can expect the following:
15. Official data on Cerrado conversion will be available annually
One of the private sector’s arguments for failing to monitor the supply chains is the lack of geospatial data on Cerrado conversion. The Ministry of Environment (MMA) has already published the official data up to 2015 (INPE & Funcarte, 2017) and has stated that monitoring of this area will now take place annually, as is already the case for the Amazon. In addiction, according to the MMA, data on deforestation and conversion that took place between 2015 and 2017 will be published in 2017. The lack official information is no longer a problem.
Agrosatélite. (2015). Análise geoespacial da dinâmica das culturas anuais no bioma Cerrado, 2000-2014 (“Geospatial analysis of annual crop dynamics in the Cerrado biome”). Available at biomas.agrosatelite.com.br.
ANA (2017). Bacia Hidrográfica do Rio São Francisco. Brasília: Agência Nacional de Águas. Available at http://www2.ana.gov.br/Paginas/servicos/saladesituacao/v2/saofrancisco.aspx.
Câmara dos Deputados. (2017a). Projetos de Lei e Outras Proposições. Available at http://www.camara.gov.br/proposicoesWeb/fichadetramitacao?idProposicao=373948.
Câmara dos Deputados. (2017b). Projetos de Lei e Outras Proposições. Available at http://www.camara.gov.br/proposicoesWeb/fichadetramitacao?idProposicao=257161
Carneiro Filho A. and Costa, K. (2016). A expansão da soja no Cerrado: Caminhos para a ocupação territorial, uso do solo e produção sustentável (“Soy expansion in the Cerrado: Forms of territorial occupation, land use and sustainable production”).
INPUT, Agroicone. Available at http://www.inputbrasil.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/A-Expans%C3%A3o-da-Soja-no- Cerrado_Agroicone_INPUT.pdf
CEPF. (2016). Profile of the Cerrado Ecosystem Biodiversity Hotspot. Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund: Conservation International & the Institute for Society, Population and Nature. Available at http://www.cepf.net/SiteCollectionDocuments/cerrado/CerradoEcosystemProfile-PR.pdf
CONAB. (2017). Monitoring of Brazilian grain harvests: Agricultural monitoring for the 2016/17 harvest. Available at http://www.conab.gov.br/OlalaCMS/uploads/arquivos/17_06_08_09_02_48_boletim_graos_junho_2017.pdf
Costa, M. and Pires, G. (2009). Effects of Amazon and Central Brazil deforestation scenarios on the duration of the dry season in the arc of deforestation. International Journal on Climatology, v. 30, pp. 1970-1979. doi: 10.1002/joc2048.
Gil, J. Siebold, M. Berger, T. (2015). Adoption and development of integrated crop-livestock-forestry systems in Mato Grosso, Brazil. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment. Elsevier, v. 199, pp. 394–406. DOI: 10.1016/j.agee.2014.10.008.
Meyfroidt, P. et al (2014). Multiple pathways of commodity crop expansion in tropical forest landscapes. Environmental Research Letters. IOP Publishing, v. 9, n. 7, p. 1-13. DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/9/7/074012.
INPE & Funcate. (2017). Anthropization data: The Cerrado between 2013 and 2015. Available at http://combateaodesmatamento.mma.gov.br/analises-no-cerrado
Klink, C. and Machado, R. (2005). Conservation of the Brazilian Cerrado. Conservation Biology, v. 19, n. 3, p. 707–713. DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2005.00702.x.
MMA (2017). O Bioma Cerrado. Brasília: Ministério do Meio-Ambiente. Available at http://www.mma.gov.br/biomas/cerrado.
Noojipady, P. et al. (2017). Forest carbon emissions from cropland expansion in the Brazilian Cerrado biome. Environmental Research Letters, v. 12, n. 2, p. 25004. DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/aa5986.
PDA (2015). Matopiba Agricultural Development Plan. Brasília: Presidency of the Republic. Available at http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/_ato2015-2018/2015/decreto/d8447.htm
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1. INPE & Funcate, 2017.
2. Strassburg et al., 2017.
3. Silvério et al., 2015; Spera et al., 2016; Costa e Pires, 2009.
4. Meyfroidt et al., 2014.
5. CEPF, 2016.
6. Carneiro Filho & Costa, 2016.
8. IPAM, unpublished. 49% of the existing pasture area in Matopiba in 2016 was a result of native vegetation conversion since 2000. Data for this analysis is available on the Mapbiomas platform: http://mapbiomas.org/map#transitions.
9. Carneiro Filho & Costa, 2016.
10. Carneiro Filho & Costa, 2016.
11. Strassburg et al., 2014.
Source: Tropical Forest Alliance