National Cerrado Day: Biome has already lost 50% of its original vegetation and researchers warn of increased deforestation and fire | Nature

O National Day of the Cerrado is celebrated this Saturday (11), but this year there is no reason to celebrate: the biome has seen, in recent weeks, fire and deforestation records that, for experts heard by the G1, are worrisome.

“The concern is that it is a biome that has already lost 50% of its original coverage, which has already come under considerable pressure due to the transformations of recent decades”, explains researcher Mercedes Bustamante, professor at the University of Brasília (UnB) and one of the main references about the biome in the country.

From January 1st to August 31st, the Cerrado saw the highest number of fire points for that period since 2012, according to the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe). Considering only the figures for the month, there was the largest number of fires since 2014 – even with a ban on the use of fire in the country in force.

Inpe satellite image shows fire points in the Cerrado in Minas Gerais, on September 9th. — Photo: Inpe

Deforestation has also grown: last month, the biome had the largest area under deforestation alert since 2018, according to Inpe.

“When you see an increase in alert, it is a very negative sign, because we should be controlling deforestation in the Cerrado”, adds Bustamante, who is also a member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences.

The growth of deforestation in the biome has to do with the expansion of the new Brazilian agricultural frontier – in the region called “Matopiba”, as it covers part of the states of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia.

“The advance of deforestation in the Cerrado, especially in recent years, is a worrying reality. The planting of agricultural commodities in these regions has been causing a great impact on nature and on the traditional peoples and communities that inhabit there”, says scientist Terena Castro, technical advisor of the Society, Population and Nature Institute (ISPN), also in Brasília.

In the evaluation of Bustamante, from UnB, what happens in the Cerrado is the repetition of degradation that happened in the southern region of the biome – and that, today, it is advancing to the north, in the region of border between the states mentioned above.

“People often open up the area, use it inadequately, productivity drops, you open up new areas and deforestation increases, leaving degraded land behind,” he explains.

From 1970 to 2018, the loss of biome in the Cerrado was 50% – more than double that of the Amazon, which lost 20%, according to a survey carried out by the NGO WWF.

THE speed of expansion, intensity of land use and extension of areas occupied by agriculture in the biome are currently worrying, says the scientist at UnB.

“Today you have a huge amount of deforested land in the Cerrado that could be used again for production. We should be changing the course of this history and directing conservation actions,” he says.

Recovering the biome, says the researcher, costs more money than simply clearing new land to plant. But, in the short and long term, environmental destruction is costly: Brazil runs the risk of no longer being a power in the production and export of food.

For Terena de Castro, the drop in environmental inspection in recent years contributes to the precarious situation.

“The weakening of Organs environmental agencies responsible for inspection, as well as the weakening of public policies for the environment in recent years, contribute to this scenario that is becoming increasingly catastrophic”, says the expert.

Thirsty, armadillo seeks water on dry land in the Pantanal — Photo: Desse Godoi/ Sesc Pantanal

As it is responsible for the water supply of 8 of the 12 hydrographic regions in Brazil, what happens in the Cerrado is not just there: it influences the rest of the country. (Better understand here).

If the biome’s vegetation is removed, the soil loses its ability to retain moisture – which means less water going into river basins: drought comes. At the same time, it increases the evaporation of water and the temperature in the region. To top it off, the more vegetation is destroyed, the less it rains.

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“We run the risk of leaving the country in a situation of greater water vulnerability than it already is. You have the convergence of global climate change with local changes, which are those of land use. This combination effectively accentuates these effects of degradation and it reduces the system’s capacity to store carbon, to store water,” warns Bustamante.

The drought that the Paraná River passes through, for example – the biggest since 1944 – is the chronicle of an announced death. The Cerrado, which feeds the basin, has had less rain in recent years, recalls the scientist.

“In a habitable country, we will need to have water, at a controlled temperature. It’s breaking a record of burned area in the Cerrado and we feel the impact of that on the air quality in Belo Horizonte. Here in Brasília it’s horrible – I open the window, soot comes in. We start to see pollution in São Paulo with fires and people start to realize, ‘what is burning?’ It’s basically the Cerrado”, reports Bustamante.

Now, it remains to wait for the rainy season, in November, for the situation to improve.

“I would like to have a Cerrado Day in which we celebrate the decrease in deforestation and the increase in restoration. Let’s see if we will have a Cerrado day that has this good news to share,” he says.

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