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Cerrado: The Most Biodiverse Savanna in the World, Under Threat
14 Dec 21

Cerrado: The Most Biodiverse Savanna in the World, Under Threat

Have you heard of the Brazilian Savanna?

Little remembered by the corporate press, unlike its neighbor Amazonia, the Cerrado is today the most threatened biome in Brazil. Despite the proven importance of the Cerrado for the health of the Brazilian environment due to its extremely rich biodiversity and water abundance, the discourse of “worthless vegetation” still prevails, suitable to be removed and make room for “economic progress”. This explains why more than 45% of the Cerrado’s total area, which totals 2,045,064 km2, is taken up by agricultural production, as pointed out by @wwfbrasil.

An emblematic case of this tension between “development” and environmental protection in the Cerrado is the ???????? region, which is also absent from the headlines. Named with the acronym of the initials of the states in which it is located – Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia, see the map on the side 😉 –, the area is sold as “the showcase of Brazilian agribusiness”, responsible for almost 10% of production of country grain. However, the massive advance of monocultures, especially soy, on the area’s native vegetation has made it, in fact, one of the largest deforestation frontiers in Brazil, a stage for theft of public lands by land grabbers and other environmental crimes. Between August 2018 and July 2019, according to Greenpeace data, 62% of deforestation recorded in the Cerrado was concentrated in the region.

???????? concentrates an area of ​​738,698 km2, with nearly 6 million people (2010 Census), distributed in 337 municipalities. Ownership of all this land, however, has progressively passed into the control of transnational groups, suffocating the region’s traditional communities and their ancestral ways of life.


History: What follows the advance of soy in the Matopiba region?

Inequality, environmental destruction and land theft from Cerrado communities.

The agricultural exploration in the region, which comprises the Cerrado biome in the states of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia, advanced especially in the second half of the 1980s, but it was only in 2015 that the delimitation of the area was defined by the State. Since then, Matopiba’s importance in the country’s grain production has only grown. Among its 337 municipalities, there are 10 of the 100 largest soy producers in Brazil. And, according to the 2010 Census, the estimated GDP of the region was R$ 53 billion. Economic prosperity, however, is for the few.

→ Aggravated by land grabbing, inequality is a hallmark of Matopiba. According to the report “The environmental and human costs of the land business”, the 80% establishments in the region classified as very poor and the 14% classified as poor account, respectively, for 5.22% and 8.35% of gross income Of region. Already the only 0.42% of the rich class account for more than half, 59.78%.

→ Matopiba’s economic potential has intensified land appropriation and speculation, threatening the ancestral way of life of local communities that have their livelihood on the land. The dispute for water in regions with springs is a frequent problem reported by the traditional population, as well as the decrease in the volume of springs, which directly impacts their subsistence agricultural practices. This is because deforestation driven by the expansion of agricultural production “cleans” the soil, compromising the absorption of water by vegetation. The use of pesticides on large plantations is another threat. Sprayed by planes, pesticides are carried by wind and water to the communities’ crops and gardens, also contaminating fishery resources.

And this is just a brief look. The socio-environmental impacts of the territorial expansion of soy in the region are not “costs inherent to progress”, as the sectors that exploit Matopiba portray, but serious components of a reality of land mercantilization and the suppression of rights.


Resistance in MATOPIBA: A Quilombola Community’s Struggle in the Cerrado Biome

It is necessary to listen to those who have always been at the heart of the Cerrado, long before agribusiness chose the region as its showcase. For this, we invited Leandro dos Santos, from the Cocalinho Quilombola Community (MA), to talk about the movements that are resisting in defense of the biome:

“I am part of the Maranhão Web of Traditional Peoples and Communities (Teia de Povos e Comunidades Tradicionais do Maranhão), which works on: economy, health, communication, food sovereignty, defense and protection of territories, education, gender relations, good government, memory, the common , care, autonomy, history, spirituality and ancestrality. 

All this agribusiness is changing in our way of life because our natural resources are in extinction: fruits, game and babassu. Deforestation is affecting our food production since the insects that move to our crops and are increasingly resistant to our organic pesticides, that’s why our production is decreasing. And this is the government’s fault. Due to the lack of titling of the territories, we have to live with invaders of our territories .

The cerrado is for us a place to maintain our culture. Not just planting or harvesting. Without practicing this culture of maintaining our spirituality, we will be losing our practices more and more. The Cerrado is where we live.

Our quilombola community Cocalinho is 100 years old and covers an extensive area of ​​fertile land and rich in water, founded by our patriarchs and matriarchs in 1916. 

It is formed by African-Brazilian descendants of ancestral roots who joined other families in a Quilombo and where 800 people live today, making a livelihood from and within the territory. The oppressions that we suffer also happen in other places in our state, as in Quilombos de Guerreiro, in Parnarama, Tanque da Rodagem and São João, in Matões, Marfim and Cuba, in Santa Inês and in the Gostoso/Traditional Community in Aldeias Altas. All of them are under pressure from land grabbers, miners, agribusiness and the lack of adequate titles and public policies.”

Leandro’s account reinforces the question: Matopiba’s productive model brings “progress” for whom?


Written by Julia Alves. Adapted to English by Marianna Olinger.

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