The population of western Bahia, a state in central Brazil, is mostly made up of immigrant families from the south. Coming from other regions, many residents are unaware of the richness and importance of their adopted state’s Cerrado region for the maintenance of biodiversity and ecosystem services — such as freshwater and food provision — throughout the country.
For this reason, last month CI-Brazil and local partners Lina Galvani Institute and Supereco Institute conducted an environmental education workshop for schoolteachers in Bahia. Called “Investigating Biodiversity,” the workshop aimed to raise awareness among teachers about the value of the Cerrado — the world’s most biologically-rich savannah grassland — and enable them to pass on this knowledge to their students.
The Cerrado’s Unique Gifts
The Cerrado is home to some 1,600 species of mammals, birds and reptiles. Among the invertebrates, the most notable are the termites and the leaf-cutter ants that are the primary herbivores of the Cerrado and which play an important role in consuming and decomposing organic matter, as well as constituting an important food source to other animal species such as the giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus) and the giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla). Unfortunately, the populations of these species are under threat from agricultural expansion and other factors, along with the Brazilian tapir (Tapirus terrestris), maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus), jaguar (Panthera onca) and countless others.
The Cerrado provides ample resources for Brazil’s people as well. The region is the birthplace of waters that form the country’s three major river basins: the Amazon, São Francisco and Paraná/Paraguay. São Francisco is particularly important as a water supply for human populations, as the river crosses a vast semi-arid region in the northeast of Brazil, an area with virtually no other water source.
The Cerrado also may provide other benefits we haven’t identified yet. For instance, according to a recent study from the Brazilian Agricultural Research Company, genetic resources from the Cerrado could help scientists identify genes capable of fighting plagues that attack large-scale soy, cotton and corn monocultures. With the help of the Cerrado’s native species, scientists also hope to create crop varieties that are more resistant to extreme weather and climate change.
Educating Teachers, Influencing Students
With the support of Bahia’s government, our workshop enabled 60 school teachers to learn new skills for teaching environmental conservation in the classroom. The content of the workshop is based on the book “Investigating Biodiversity: A Guide to Support Educators in Brazil,” released in 2010 by Conservation International, WWF-Brazil and Supereco Institute. The material explains the complex relationships of the natural world with simple information relevant to our everyday lives.
The two-day workshop featured a variety of activities ranging from recognizing seeds from the Cerrado´s native vegetation to plant seedlings to collecting garbage. Besides practical activities, teachers also learned about biodiversity, natural resources and other large-scale issues.
This workshop, which we intend to repeat during the next year, is part of our work in Western Bahia biodiversity corridor, which focuses on the recovery of degraded areas — a feat which can only be achieved by raising awareness about conservation among local people.
The results of the workshop can be seen in the teachers’ reactions. “I did not know that the Cerrado was so important to the water supply for the Pantanal [Brazilian wetlands] and the northeast,” said one teacher. “We will need an entire change in our municipality´s environmental planning,” said another.
Three days later, we heard that some teachers are already using some of the strategies learned at the workshop in the classroom. In the future, we expect the annual municipal educational planning to include the use of the guide in the classroom.
Fernando Ribeiro is the socioeconomic coordinator of CI-Brazil´s Cerrado/Pantanal Program. Learn more about this project (in Portuguese) on this blog.