Brazil has announced a new plan to protect the Cerrado, a massive expanse of biologically diverse savannah that is under huge pressure from encroaching development by boosting spot checks and sustainable development.
The Cerrado Plan will see US$200 million of federal money being invested over the next two years to protect the mixed woodland-savannah, which covers 21percent of Brazil’s landmass, an area about the size of Greenland. Numerous important tributaries of the Amazon River originate in the Cerrado. It also feeds the world’s largest wetland, the Pantanal.
“The Cerrado has been traditionally been viewed as the ugly duckling of Brazil’s biomes, as a free area to expand on an unsustainable basis. The Cerrado region, however, is one of the richest places of biodiversity in the world, and is a source of essential resources for Brazil’s development,” said WWF-Brazil CEO Denise Hamú in a statement.
The Cerrado is one of the most threatened and over-exploited regions in Brazil, second only to the Atlantic Forests in vegetation loss and deforestation. Unsustainable agricultural activities, particularly soy production and cattle ranching, as well as burning of vegetation for charcoal, continue to pose a major threat to the Cerrado's biodiversity. Despite its environmental importance, it is one of the least protected regions in Brazil.
The plan is focused on restoring the savannah’s most vulnerable places ― areas with high deforestation rates, rich biodiversity and important freshwater resources. Targets include the creation of 25,000 sq km of national parks and other protected areas, the ratification and demarcation of 5.8 million hectares of indigenous territories, and a land use plan that balances environmental and economic needs.
Located between the Amazon, Atlantic Forests and Pantanal, the Cerrado is the largest savanna region in South America.
Central to this is a legal framework that protects the environmental services provided by the resource-rich area. Studies show that close to 90 percent of Brazilians consume energy generated in the region, most of which comes from protected areas. However, only 8 percent of the Cerrado is now officially under the government’s watch. The new commitment will, however, shelter an additional 15 percent of the savannah by the end of 2010, including the regulated indigenous territories that appear in the plan.
"Everything indicates that in the last two years carbon dioxide emissions in the Cerrado have been bigger than those from the Amazon forest, because of greater deforestation," Roberto Smeraldi, the head of an environmental group called Amigos da Terra Amazonia, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
And to insure other valuable resources aren’t ignored, the government has stated it will increase patrolling and train 4,500 new forest rangers and firefighters. Real time satellite monitoring will also be used, similar to the exiting PRODES system that has proven a huge success in reducing deforestation rates in the Amazon.
"For the first time, the Brazilian government is putting its attention on the Cerrado, which is of vital importance because its ecosystem forms the transition with the Amazon forest," said Hamú.