|Written by Peter Caton|
|01 Jun 2011|
The Cerrado is biologically the richest savannah in the World. A vast eco-region of Brazil, 10 times the size of Britain, it is home to an enormous biodiversity of plants and animals, and is one of the main water sources that form one of Amazonia’s three water basins. Spread over numerous states, the landscape is characterised by extensive savannah formations, canopy forests and stream valleys.
Unlike the Amazon, the misconception that the Cerrado is homogenous resulted in Brazilian legislators excluding it from the national heritage list drawn up in 1988. With near to 12,000 species of plants, 45% of which are endemic, and over 1,600 species of fauna, the Cerrado has been left vulnerable to exploitation and monoculture farming on an epidemic scale; resulting in deforestation at a record rate of 30,000 sq km per year (more recently, around 14,000 sq km per year).
At present, only 20% of virgin Cerrado remains, less than 3% which is really protected. Until the 1960’s the Cerrado was considered largely worthless, infertile land. Inhabited by indigenous people such as the Kraho and traditional land dwellers, whose livelihoods depend on the ecosystem, the discovery that phosphorus and lime additive could enrich the soil has made it an agricultural gold mine. Soybean plantations are completely surrounding the Kraho reserve, 3,200 sq km of pristine Cerrado.
Encroaching monocultures such as eucalyptus, sugarcane, corn, and industries such as cattle-ranching has put the Kraho, ‘Guardians of the Cerrado’, under constant threat of losing their borders. Chemical use on soy plantations is suspected to be contaminating the Kraho water supply and contributing to an increase in illness, particularly during the pesticide crop spraying season. Expansive eucalyptus plantations appear to be draining the water table and running the rivers dry. Furthermore, the Tocantins River has seen the construction of innumerable hydroelectric plants, and is being dammed in order to raise water levels for soya barge convoys; allowing easier access to ports for livestock feed to Europe and China and minimising the cost of exportation. Unfortunately, the dams will result in disastrous flooding to the Kraho’s most fertile land, threatening their traditional way of life.
What only 70 years ago was practically an untouched diverse biome made up of trees and shrubs that evolved to adapt to periodic fires through their extensive root systems and thick bark trunks, its destruction is increasingly growing into an environmental disaster. Alarming environmental impact studies suggest that one of the world’s greatest and unexplored biodiversities is rapidly transforming into an inhospitable landscape. While the world rests assured that the deforestation caused to the Amazon has been stabilised, the Brazilian Cerrado has come under siege of a relentless invasion to fuel Brazil’s economic growth and foreign investments. With an absence of sustainable agricultural measures and effective application of environmental protection laws, we are at the pinnacle point of losing the richest savannah in the world.
Contributor: Chris Aoki
Music credit: João do Vale - Minha Historia
This work is part of an ongoing project.