Brazil has become an agricultural superpower in recent years. The world’s largest exporter of soy, beef, and chicken, the country owes its success in part to lenient policies and inexpensive land. Yet success has come with a steep environmental cost. No, it’s not the rainforest. This time it’s a region you’ve probably never heard of: The Cerado.
Deforestation and Global Warming
Spanning more than 1.2 million square miles, the Cerrado is the largest savanna in South America and the most biologically rich in the world. It’s also one of the most endangered, with less than two percent protected by national parks and conservancies. This, combined with global demands for agricultural products, has led to rapid deforestation.
Since 2008, the Cerado has lost more than 105,000 square kilometers of foliage—50 percent more than the Amazon in the same period. And, like the rainforest, the savanna is essential for storing greenhouse gases and curbing climate change.
Brazil Feeds the World
Brazilian officials have acknowledged that the country must protect native vegetation to meet the requirements of the Paris Accords. However, this comes into direct conflict with agricultural demands—both inside and outside of Brazil. Farmers say the Cerdo’s development is crucial, not only for global food security, but for the nation’s economic stability.
While the economy stagnated overall, Brazil’s agricultural sector grew by 13 percent in 2017. Growth has been fueled largely by China, as the country is a major buyer of Brazilian pork, beef and chicken, and the biggest market for soybeans. The brewing U.S.-China trade war has only increased these demands.
Saving the Cerado
It’s easy to miss the connection between soy-fed livestock and global warming. Yet the numbers are in. Continuous deforestation resulted in the release of 248 million tons of greenhouse gasses in 2016, more than two-and-a-half times the annual emissions from Brazilian cars.
In September 2017, the World Wildlife Foundation, Greenpeace, and the Amazon Environmental Research Institute, among others, released the Cerado Manifesto. The document calls on multinational corporations to act immediately to stop deforestation.
McDonald’s, Unilever, and Walmart are among the 62 companies that have signed on. Both Unilever and Walmart have committed to reaching net zero deforestation in their supply chains by 2020.
However, corporations aren’t the only threat to the Cerados. Under Brazilian law, farmers are only required to preserve 20 percent of the region’s natural cover. To make matters worse, those who don’t maximize land use are subject to having it redistributed due to a 1980 land-reform act. This further incentivizes deforestation.
At the same time, farmers have become a powerful interest group. And rural lawmakers comprise more than 40 percent of the seats in the congress. To save the Cerado, Brazilian leaders must work with farmers and local activists to pass stricter environmental protections.
Need Worldwide Effort
At the 2017 COP23 Climate Summit, Brazil’s former Minister of Environment Jose Sarney Filho proposed an international plan to compensate landowners who preserve native habitats. The proposal has yet to attract any major backers, but it will take a worldwide effort to save the Cerado.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the official policy of Citizens for Global Solutions.