NGO battles biodiversity loss in the Brazilian Cerrado and Amazon

A global crisis that has consequences for the whole planet: deforestation. This is a problem that affects Europe’s fragile ecosystem adversely, and some other areas even more acutely. The Earth’s connected systems are open to a number of different influences across the world and here, Marjolein Mooij from the Black Jaguar Foundation, a Dutch-Brazilian NGO, shines a spotlight on tackling the biodiversity crisis arising in the Brazilian Cerrado and Amazon, and the importance of their protection to local communities and the whole world. This topic was brought to our attention by the Black Jaguar Foundation, who provided us with insights, details and images on this matter.

Please also read: Call for a radical change to stop deforestation once and for all

Recent reports show alarming numbers regarding deforestation. The Brazilian Cerrado lost one third of its original forest cover between 2004 and 2017. However, not all hope is lost. Initiatives to restore nature and halt deforestation are becoming more prominent. One of the NGOs heavily involved in this is the Black Jaguar Foundation. While restoring nature on a massive scale, they are also combatting climate change and biodiversity loss, using these avenues to create sustainable jobs for the local community.

Deforestation threats in the Cerrado and Amazon

The Brazilian River Araguaía connects the Amazon Rainforest and Cerrado Savanna. These are two precious ecosystems, that have unfortunately suffered greatly from deforestation. Responding to the high deforestation rates, the Black Jaguar Foundation restores land around the borders of the River Araguaía. Along the whole length of the river, 2 600 kilometres, on a stretch measuring a width of 20 kilometres either side of the river, they will help nature to restore. The native trees will capture a tremendous amount of carbon and bring back biodiversity. This will create a wildlife corridor, in which flora and fauna, such as the local big five: jaguar, giant river otter, pink river dolphin, pirarucu and caiman, can flourish. So far, the project has already planted around 130 000 trees. By the end of 2021, this number will grow to a million trees!

Most farmers in the Cerrado region are cattle or soybean farmers. With soy prices being high, recently farmers are switching to cultivating soy, sometimes mixed with cotton or corn. This intensive farming dries out and depletes the soil, causing farmers to use increasingly expensive fertilisers. Before 1965, there were no regulations regarding deforestation; farmers could do as they pleased. In 1965, the government created the so-called forest code. This law states that, depending on the location, people should preserve 20, 35 or 80 percent of land for nature. Despite the law’s existence, farmers often lack the money or resources to bring back enough nature on their property.

Sustainable mindsets

This is where the Black Jaguar Foundation jumps in. They actively reach out to farmers in the region they operate in. The foundation also invites farmers to join the reforestation programme for their area and build partnerships. The benefits of nature are explained to farmers: more trees means more water retention and more fertile soil, which, in turn, means less of a need for expensive fertiliser and compliance with the forest code. Moreover, farmers will receive guidance on how to develop sustainable agroforestry and timber systems on the restored land. This way, they have the opportunity to economically benefit from nature restoration. The Black Jaguar Foundation then provides the technical knowledge, necessary seeds, seedlings, fences, equipment and employees to do the restoration.

Involving the locals

The Black Jaguar Foundation acknowledges the importance of local farmers and treats them as the heroes of the story: they are essential to the well-being of their lands, and with a growing world population, food production continues to be necessary. After years of preparation, research and building a team, since 2010, the actual tree planting only started a few years ago, and currently revolves around the municipality of Santana do Araguaía. However, with their positive approach, the Black Jaguar Foundation hopes to keep inviting land owners to join the project. Their aim is to ‘follow the positivity’: live up to farmers’ expectations, make sure everyone benefits from the programme, stay in touch with interested farmers and let the positive news spread to other farmers and the world.

The land around the river Araguaía was formerly dominated by empty, depleted fields and deforested areas. The Black Jaguar Foundation will start to connect intact patches of forest by planting trees. Around Santana do Araguaía, they restored 65 hectares of nature during the last planting season. Next season, a million trees will be planted!

Native restoration

The Black Jaguar Foundation’s focus is not just on planting trees, but on restoring biodiverse nature; the native trees are the mean to realise this green corridor. Naturally occurring native tree species are thus selected for replanting.

As part of the project, the organisation has divided the selected trees into two groups: fast-growing trees and trees that enrich biodiversity. Fast-growing species contribute to ‘building’ the forest. They grow quickly and form a canopy at an early stage. As a result, this completely changes the surroundings: tress help shade out grasses, increase humidity  and lower local temperatures. A canopy also offers shelter to different animal species. Trees oft used as fast-growing species include the West Indian elm (Guazuma ulmifolia), the guama (Inga edulis), the lipstick tree (Bixa orellana) and Apeiba timborbou .

Tree species that enrich biodiversity are able to grow better in the conditions that fast-growing trees create. Biodiversity enriching trees grow slower, but eventually become bigger than fast-growing species. Together, they form a new, higher canopy. The species used as biodiversity enriching trees often include the West Indian locust (Hymenaea courbaril), the diesel tree (Copaifera langsdorffii), the mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) and the yellow mombin (Spondias mombin). The planting of the trees from both groups take place simultaneously.

Reflecting local conditions

Within both groups, the project selected trees based on local circumstances and soil type. For example, if seasonal floods affect certain locations, tree species there must withstand such events. Where soil contains a high percentage of sand, trees there should be able grow well in it.

After planting, the Black Jaguar Foundation carries out specialised aftercare for the newly planted seedlings. They protect them with fences against trampling by cattle and uproot grasses that may overtake the young trees. This way, the growth of a resilient and biodiverse forest along the banks of the Araguaía is assured, contributing to a healthier ecosystem and restoring the Cerrado’s native nature.

Win-win solution

Farmers are not the only ones benefiting from the project. When Brazilian farmers preserve nature on their land, local residents of cities and villages benefit as well: in 2019 independent researchers estimated that by restoring 1 million hectares of nature, the project will create 37 898 jobs, 898 jobs and sequester over 262 million tons of carbon.

The unique approach of the Black Jaguar Foundation shows that there is still hope. By focusing on biodiversity and partnering with local farmers, they create a win-win-win situation. Farmers and community win, with more fertile lands and job openings. Biodiversity wins, as this project restores it to its natural state. And in the end, we all win; this helps combat global warming. On top of all that and most importantly, we all breath the oxygen created in the Amazon and Cerrado, and without the trees, a vital life source would be taken from us.

Click here to contribute to Black Jaguar Foundation’s efforts and donate a tree.

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