Brazilian State Aims to Restore Ecosystems on Agricultural Lands

Brazil's Cerrado is the most biologically rich savanna grassland in the world. It's also a critical region for the country's agricultural production. (© CI/photo by Olaf Zerbock)

Brazil’s Forest Code has been a controversial discussion topic lately; revision of this law could clear the way for massive destruction of the country’s remaining forests.

Yet in the face of these threats, there have also been local victories. The municipality of Luis Eduardo Magalhaes in Bahia state, for example, is launching a campaign that will restore permanent protected areas which have been degraded. This is the first initiative of its kind that could set a model to be copied by other municipalities and states throughout Brazil.

Western Bahia is located in the heart of the Cerrado, the most biologically rich savanna grassland in the world. The Cerrado contains one-third of all Brazilian biodiversity, including some 10,000 plant species, more than 4,000 of which are found nowhere else. The second-largest biome in the country after the Amazon, the Cerrado is the birthplace of waters that form the country’s three major river basins: the Amazon, São Francisco and Paraná/Paraguay.

About a quarter of a century ago, all the land in Western Bahia was Brazilian savannah. In recent years, its grasses and woodlands have been disappearing twice as fast as the Amazon rainforest, giving way first to cattle pastures and then to endless fields of corn, soy, cotton and coffee.

According to the Forest Code, which is under attack in the Brazilian Senate by groups connected to the agribusiness sector, 20 percent of vegetation on all private productive lands in the Cerrado must be preserved. These territories are divided into two main categories: legal reserves, which are areas set aside for conservation and sustainable production, and permanent protected areas (known by the acronym APP), including riparian zones, steep slopes and high-altitude regions.

In actuality, the vast majority of rural properties are not in compliance with the Forest Code, and the discussions by the Brazilian Congress to weaken the law are worsening the situation. That is not the case, however, for Luis Eduardo Magalhaes, where much of the APPs are intact and only 6 percent are in need of restoration.

In this region, CI-Brazil aims to engage landowners and the agribusiness sector to restore degraded areas, providing technical support and over 70 varieties of native seedlings to those willing to comply with the environmental law. Through this campaign, we have united a broad alliance of stakeholders in the region: the agribusiness sector, the government, NGOs, universities and research institutions.

Not by chance, multinational agrochemical company Monsanto is one of our partners, taking advantage of the direct channel with its customers to contribute to community education. Through informal talks and workshops, salespeople from Monsanto will show local farmers the many benefits that healthy forests provide for agricultural production, such as the role that riverbank vegetation plays in preventing soil erosion.

There are still many untouched vegetation fragments in Western Bahia that could be saved if these measures become broadly applied, avoiding unnecessary deforestation like that which has already occurred in states like Mato Grosso. The success of this initiative can set a new model of land occupation within the perimeter of Brazil’s new agricultural frontier.

Valmir Ortega is director of CI-Brazil’s Cerrado/Pantanal Program.

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