Trees with twisted trunks, countless waterfalls, fauna and flora resistant to annual droughts and periodic fires. This is the Cerrado, Brazil's second largest biome that spans an area of 2,036,448 km2 and is celebrated this September 11 across the country. Encompassing approximately 22% of Brazil's land, the Cerrado's high aquifer potential has earned it the “water tank” moniker for housing the springs of the three largest watersheds in South America. In total, an estimated 11,627 species of native plants have been catalogued in the biome, as well as 199 species of mammals, and a rich avifauna composed of 837 species[i].
Considered the area with the greatest agricultural potential on the planet from an economic perspective, the Cerrado is where most agricultural activities in Brazil take place, accounting for 60% of the country's grain production[ii]. In addition to its economic importance, the Cerrado carries social relevance as a place with traditional populations who subsist on the region's natural resources, in addition to indigenous peoples, geraizeiros, babaçueiras, riverside communities, vazanteiros and quilombola communities that, together, are part of Brazil's historical and cultural heritage and possess ancestral knowledge of the country's biodiversity.
In recognition of such rich biodiversity, ten years ago Brazil conceived the Brazil Investment Plan under the Forest Investment Program (FIP) aimed at the conservation and sustainable development of the Cerrado. I was part of the team that designed the program in 2011 and could hardly imagine then that FIP Brasil would become so relevant to the integration of government efforts aimed at environmental conservation and development in the Cerrado, which involve all 11 states located in the biome.
At the time, the government made the strategic decision to work with several ministries instead of just one, thus joining efforts to address the challenge of promoting conservation in the Cerrado. After a lengthy consultation process with the government and private institutions, researchers and traditional communities, the decision was made to use a portfolio of individual projects and the World Bank as the focal point for multilateral development banks involved in FIP in Brazil, funded with support from the Climate Investment Fund (CIF).
In these ten years, the FIP Brazil has achieved significant and innovative results, improving production methods in the Cerrado, integrating institutions at different levels and fostering unity among traditional peoples and communities living in the region. Estimates show that these combined actions have already impacted the lives of 51.7 beneficiaries, 37,000 rural properties and 64 traditional communities so far.
Under the FIP ABC Cerrado project (ended in 2019), rural producers changed their properties in the field by recovering pastures and employing other low-carbon agricultural practices. These producers show their commitment to sustainable practices by investing 7 reais for each 1 Brazilian real put in by the project. Where once there was degraded pasture, today productive pastures and protected springs abound.
In late 2021, the activities under the FIP Monitoring project will come to a successful end. They will leave behind a legacy of reliable and publicly-accessible systems and data on deforestation, fire management, forest fire risk management, and estimating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from deforestation and fires in the Cerrado. The main outputs have already been delivered, organized and unified in the project's website.
DGM Brazil (Dedicated Grant Mechanism for Indigenous People and Local Communities), a project that the entire team cares about, will be delivering its results in early 2022. With 55 completed sub-projects under its belt, DGM Brasil not only strengthened the traditional communities and indigenous peoples of the Cerrado, but also presented an opportunity for indigenous peoples, quilombolas, geraizeiros and coconut breakers to sit together at the same table and begin a dialogue, joining forces to achieve common goals for the protection of the biome. Women have played a key role in this project, leading 13 of the 64 sub-projects, in addition to the National Steering Committee, currently headed by quilombola Lucely Pio.
FIP in Brazil activities will continue in the coming years with the Paisagens Rurais (Rural Landscapes) project, which promotes sustainable agricultural techniques, restoration and environmental conservation among rural producers in selected areas. FIP Rural Environmental Cadastre project also includes activities to formalize rural properties and adapt them to Brazil's environmental laws. FIP Coordination, in turn, continues to monitor and evaluate project activities and enable information exchanges and synergies across the entire portfolio.
A decade later, some of the things we planned from the outset continue to apply, such as efficient production practices and environmental conservation. But reality has imposed major challenges on us all, such as changes in legislation and public policies, changes to the market, exchange rate challenges and, finally, the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced us towards remote and virtual solutions.
As such, this Cerrado Day is an important milestone and a chance to look back at the path trailed by the projects so far and all the achievements made in this constant journey to conserve our Cerrado.
[i] BRASIL. Ministério do Meio Ambiente. O bioma Cerrado. 2020. Available at: https://antigo.mma.gov.br/biomas/cerrado.html. Accessed on: 19 Aug. 2021.