Brazil: Cerrado peoples work to protect the biome and leave poverty behind

September 30, 2013


“In some areas forest fires is already turning the Cerrado into a desert. And fire also affects its fruit trees, which feed so many people," says Jailton Hycroh.

Mariana Ceratti/World Bank.

  • Sustainable activities undertaken by indigenous, quilombola and other traditional Cerrado peoples will be funded by the World Bank and the Climate Investment Funds (CIF).
  • This support provides unprecedented recognition of the efforts made by these peoples to avoid deforestation and preserve the region's species.
  • The Cerrado is the second largest and one of the least protected biomes in Brazil.

The day has barely started in Carolina city (MA) and Jaylton Hycroh, age 23, is already working hard. One by one, he brings boxes and more boxes of cashew to a table where he and four colleagues will separate the good fruit from the bad. Later, the cashew fruits will be processed into frozen pulp.

“I like this job because in addition to preserving the Cerrado's fruit it provides a source of income for those who live in indigenous villages,” he says. Nowadays 20% of the raw materials processed at Fruta Sã —where the young Krikati works—comes from the tribes.

This percentage could be even greater (up to 50% says Geert Haveman, the factory manager), but the communities are not always able to harvest and transport the fruits safely. For instance, “The Krikati often refrain from sending us the acai berries they harvest in the village because they don't have a freezer,” states Hycroh.

Fear of delinquency

Approximately 1500km to the south, in Montes Claros (MG), several traditional communities obtain their livelihood by processing sugarcane, manioc and 18 types of fruit from the Cerrado.

There the challenges are different, albeit equally substantial, as we hear from Braulino dos Santos, coordinator of the Alternative Agriculture Center from the North of Minas Gerais. “In order to sell their products, these communities have to abide by the same standards imposed on industrialized products, but even so they get paid less.”

“Since traditional communities are not prepared to access public policies, rural producer associations end up defaulting on their debts quite frequently,” he adds.

Despite being very different, the stories of Jailton Hycroh and Braulino Santos summarize the daily lives of those who generate jobs and income by using the Cerrado in a sustainable way. Nevertheless, they put their stakes on a better scenario for the local communities.

Customized funding opportunities

The World Bank and CIF have joined efforts to finance preservation activities in the biome for the first time. Investments will total USD 6.5 million (close to R$ 14 million), of which nearly 70% will go directly to the hands of indigenous peoples and traditional communities.

" The communities really want to learn how to improve their products and increase their market access "

Júlia Miras

World Bank consultant

Opinions obtained in three public consultations—the last one in September—will help to shape the project and make sure that money is available for those who really need it. “Money only makes a difference when it’s used in projects that the communities come up with themselves,” explains Júlia Miras, World Bank consultant.

“We still don't know what activities will be funded, but the communities really want to learn how to improve their products and increase their market access”.

The danger of forest fires

Whether through family farming, sustainable harvesting or handicraft production, the beneficiary families will help to preserve a biome that covers 22% of the Brazilian territory.

Despite being recognized as one of the richest savannahs in the world, the Cerrado is one of the country's least protected biomes: only 8.21% of its lands are located within conservation units. Moreover, according to the Ministry of Environment 137 of its animal species are currently endangered.

Deforestation, coal production and disorderly land occupation not only generate social conflicts, but also increase the risks and effects of climate change in the biome. Solving this last problem, by the way, is one of the new project's main objectives—and good news from those who live in the region and depend on its wealth.

“In some areas forest fires is already turning the Cerrado into a desert. And fire also affects its fruit trees, which feed so many people. That's why it’s so important to preserve it,” argues young Jailton Hycroh before going back to work.