Just the creation of Brasília, in 1960, brought around 3 million people to the Center-West of Brazil, in addition to entrances and infrastructure that directly impacted one of the largest biomes in the world, which is the Cerrado. This September 11th, the day on which Cerrado Day is celebrated, Brasil de Fato DF interviews professor Reuber Albuquerque Brandão, from the University of Brasília (UnB).
For Brandão, who researches Cerrado conservation and management at the Department of Forestry Engineering (EFL), the advance of agribusiness, changes in environmental legislation and the lack of attention from Brazilian society are the main causes of the increase in deforestation in this biome. “We have already lost the fight for the Cerrado”, said the UnB professor.
The Cerrado is present in the Federal District and 14 Brazilian states, occupying 22% of the national territory and feeding eight of the 12 large Brazilian river basins. According to the Space Research Institute (Inep), in the first half of 2023 the total number of areas under deforestation alerts in the Amazon showed a drop of 33.6%, while in the Cerrado there was an increase of 21% in the same period.
For the professor, in addition to the current federal government’s attention being focused on the Amazon, many farmers have advanced in promoting deforestation due to the political change. Furthermore, he also points out that real estate speculation presents the greatest risk to the preservation of this biome in the country’s capital.
Check out the interview:
Brasil de Fato DF – First, I would like you to talk about the importance of having a day celebrating the Cerrado.
Reuber Albuquerque Brandão – I’m not very optimistic. I think it is important to have the date, it is important to have the record, it is important to recognize the Cerrado as an important biome. So, it is important to celebrate, but also not to reduce the discussion to these dates. In the Cerrado, deforestation has increased significantly, due to the relaxation of state legislation.
How did this happen?
And the fact is that we have already lost the fight for the Cerrado. This is the point. People today are seeing this increase in deforestation, the advance of the agricultural frontier, these attempts to increasingly reduce the remaining natural areas are out of control. What we are seeing today is the result of a process that happened in the past: changes in the forest code, resistance to the creation of full conservation units in the Cerrado during previous governments and the transfer of deforestation licenses to the states. So we have nothing to celebrate.
:: Agricultural frontier: find out why deforestation has skyrocketed in the Cerrado ::
And what is the importance of the Cerrado for Brazil?
Everyone already knows that the Cerrado is the birthplace of water. You know that these areas are the most biodiverse on the planet. You already know the importance of the Cerrado for carbon capture. We already know all this and yet we don’t protect (the Cerrado).
“We already know all this and yet we don’t protect (the Cerrado).”
I would like you to explain a little more about this relationship between the expansion of the agribusiness frontier, which currently occurs mainly in the Central-West, and the increase in deforestation in the Cerrado.
The Cerrado is almost all within Brazil. There is a little bit of Cerrado in Paraguay, a little bit in Bolivia, but more than 95% of the Cerrado is within Brazil. And it is a biological and global conservation asset. In other words, it is a unique thing and is being very threatened. So governments, the State and Brazilian society failed the Cerrado. Because it was Brazil’s mission to carry out this protection, to protect this biological heritage from a global point of view. This has already been done with the Atlantic Forest, and today it is only 10% original. This is what will happen with the Cerrado, it only has 3% of an integral conservation unit.
:: Soybean plantations occupy space 10 times larger than the entire Brazilian urban area, says MapBiomas ::
And what percentage of the Amazon?
In the case of Amazônico it is a little more. It is around 8% (of the entire conservation unit). So it’s very little and the Cerrado is less. Now the Amazon has another protection because when it brings together the protection units in general it becomes more protected. Now full protection, which is the only conservation category that effectively prevents deforestation, is a very serious problem and they will not create more protected areas in the Cerrado.
And how do rural property reserves in the Cerrado work in practice?
In fact, rural property reserves, whether for settlements or farms, are not a conservation unit. It is a vegetation protection policy associated with the forestry code. And the forest code provided for 20% of the Cerrado, plus the APP (Permanent Preservation Area), which would be the springs, slopes, etc. In 2012, when they revised the forestry code, they changed it profoundly. Therefore, the 2012 forest code allows APP to be superimposed on legal reserves. In other words, if the property has a lot of springs, the guy goes and puts his legal reserve there. So, it already reduces more areas to deforest. And the areas that were all deforested by 2008 were all amnestied. So, it was worth deforesting and that’s what the 2012 forest code stated.
It was worth deforesting and that is what the 2012 forest code stated.
Could you make an analysis of the current government’s national policies to ensure the conservation of the Cerrado. And the advances in relation to the Bolsonaro government?
Comparing an extremely anti-conservation project with a government in which conservation is more debatable is a bit obvious. At that point it improved a lot. We had a previous government where the environment and conservation were criminalized and persecuted. And then the government changed and at least conservation has been discussed. Conservation units have already been created by this government. But in the imagination of most of Brazilian society, the Cerrado does not have the same importance as the Amazon.
:: Land grabbing, deforestation and violence grow in Matopiba amid land speculation ::
Why this discrepancy in terms of importance between Cerrado and Amazon?
In the mentality of Brazilian society, what has to be conserved is the Amazon and even so, look there, because there are a series of interests based on the Amazon theme.
And what Brazilian society has not realized until today is that Brazil only has the greatest biodiversity on the planet because we have a sector of fantastic biomes. We have the Amazon with its importance and we have the Cerrado, the Caatinga and we have the Atlantic Forest that has practically ended. There is only the Atlantic Forest today where it was impossible to plant or raise cattle, in mountain areas. It also has the Pantanal and the Pampa. So, all of this contributes to Brazilian diversity, it’s not just the Amazon, and people forget the collective, the set of biomes.
And even in the minds of many people with a progressive mindset, the environmental issue boils down to a social issue. People confuse conserving biodiversity a lot with conserving people who are there in the natural environment and they are complementary strategies, because even if there are additional changes, which go on for many years in an area that is there, this community is interested in land use. So, you cannot reduce, summarize the environmental issue in a socio-environmental issue. It’s much more than that. It is much more than simply the fight for land, which is an important agenda, an essential agenda, an agenda that has to be faced, but it is an agenda that does not overlap, that does not exhaust the biodiversity conservation agenda.
:: In 12 months, deforestation rises 16.5% in the Cerrado and falls 7.4% in the Amazon, shows Inpe ::
What justifies this increase in deforestation in the Cerrado, even with environmental preservation policies proposed by the current government?
The Cerrado has always been in the areas of states that are linked to agribusiness, they are Goiás, Mato Grosso do Sul, Mato Grosso, Tocantins, West Bahia, West Piauí, West Maranhão, most of Minas. These are places where the occupation model combined with monoculture is very strong. And then, all the attention was paid to illegal deforestation in the Amazon and not in the Cerrado.
And the second issue is that a large part of this deforestation is taking place within rural properties, which have authorization for deforestation. Of course there is also illegal deforestation, but many legal deforestation. And there were cases in which people said: ‘man, we have to deforest quickly, because if not, this government (Lula) will give a soy moratorium and will do something there that will prevent us from deforesting’.
Finally, what is the current situation of the Cerrado in the Federal District?
Generally speaking, the time to protect large areas against deforestation in the Cerrado has passed. Now in the DF, it still has an advantage because large protected areas were created, it has the Ecological Station of Águas Emendadas, the National Park of Brasília, the Farm of the University of Brasília, the Roncador Reserve of the IBGE, the ecological station in the Botanical Garden and the military area of the Navy.
Now the big problem is that there is a lot of APA (Environmental Protection Area). The APA is a very fragile conservation unit, because it is not fully protected and is subject to pressure. So, the pressure on the DF to occupy the land is very strong, but because it has a full protection conservation unit, deforestation tends to end there. Because it is a guarantee of differentiated protection.
What is the greatest risk for the Cerrado in the DF? The advance of agribusiness or real estate speculation?
The biggest risk for the Cerrado in the DF is the attempt to change the categories of conservation units or create mechanisms to occupy areas that currently have a certain degree of protection. So, there are territorial planning tools such as the PDOT (Territorial Planning Master Plan), for example, areas that are water sources, areas that are of interest for conservation, that would be important areas for ecological corridors and simply put a new profile in that region of occupation that allows subdivision to meet real estate interests.
Source: BdF Distrito Federal
Editing: Márcia Silva