What is the Cerrado and Why Does It Matter for Our Planet?

What is the Cerrado and Why Does It Matter for Our Planet?

What is the Cerrado and Why Does It Matter for Our Planet?

Nestling within Brazil’s expansive and varied landscapes, the Cerrado thrives as a vast savannah ecosystem.

While the Amazon rainforest often steals the spotlight, the Cerrado covers approximately one-fifth of Brazil’s landmass and holds immense importance in the local ecosystem.

Renowned for its remarkable biodiversity, this biome hosts over 11,000 plant species, 860 bird species, and an abundance of other flora and fauna. Its distinctive blend of scattered trees, woodlands, grasslands, and streams creates a truly unique mosaic.

Upside down Forest: Brazil’s Unique Natural Wonder

The Cerrado, known as Brazil’s “upside down forest”, may appear sparse above ground, but its extensive underground roots play a crucial role in helping plants survive seasonal droughts and fires.

These underground resources also make the area a significant carbon sink, storing approximately five times more CO2 in its roots and soil than above ground. This is why it has earned the nickname “the upside-down forest”.

In 2017, estimates revealed that the Cerrado contained 13.7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, surpassing China’s emissions in 2020.

The Cerrado earns its nickname ‘the cradle of waters’ for its vital function as a water tower. It regulates rivers that support downstream ecosystems and serves as the source of many of Brazil’s major rivers.

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Under immense pressure

However, the Cerrado is facing significant challenges due to human activities. The increasing global demand for agricultural products such as soybeans and beef has led to the conversion of land for large-scale agriculture and cattle ranching, which poses a major threat.

Surprisingly, while the annual deforestation rate in the Brazilian Amazon has decreased by half in 2023, the Cerrado has experienced a 43% increase in deforestation.

This extensive deforestation is causing disruptions in natural habitats, putting biodiversity at risk, and altering the Cerrado’s crucial role in regulating water and storing carbon.

The significance of the Cerrado for the climate of our planet cannot be emphasized enough. If its destruction continues, it will hinder the UN climate target of limiting global heating to 1.5C.

The Cerrado plays a crucial role not only in terms of ecology, but also in promoting social justice and preserving culture. It is home to many Indigenous and traditional communities, including Quilombolas (descendants of runaway slaves) and Ribeirinhos (riverside dwellers), who rely on the immense open-canopy woodland.

Unfortunately, the lands and livelihoods of these local communities are now at risk.

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What measures can be taken to protect the Cerrado?

The significance of the Cerrado often overlooks its crucial role in biodiversity, water security, climate stability, and the well-being of its inhabitants. While we have witnessed the positive effects of political pressure and policies on biomes such as the Amazon, the Cerrado lacks sufficient legal protection and voluntary agreements. Shockingly, less than 8% of the Cerrado is currently safeguarded against deforestation, in stark contrast to nearly half of the Amazon.

It is worth noting that a substantial portion of the Cerrado falls outside the scope of the EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR), a groundbreaking law that prohibits the trade of commodities produced on deforested land. This situation is concerning as it leaves the Cerrado vulnerable and at risk of becoming an ecological “sacrifice zone”.

In 2024, the European Union will deliberate on whether to expand its deforestation policy to include more of the Cerrado. This would involve recognizing the importance of biomes that do not fit the traditional definition of a forest but fall under the category of “other wooded land”. The EU and governments worldwide urgently need to implement and strengthen laws preventing the sale of products linked to deforestation, not just from the Cerrado but other regions too.

Agribusiness giants like JBS, Minerva, and Marfrig must eliminate all forms of deforestation from their supply chains, crucial for the preservation of the Cerrado. Until they demonstrate their commitment to this cause, global financial centers should withdraw their financial support.

It is imperative that we take immediate action to protect the Cerrado and ensure that products tainted with deforestation do not make their way onto our supermarket shelves.

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