The Importance of the Cerrado – Part 1

Hey everyone! Today we’re going to talk about the importance of the Cerrado, and by extent, baru trees.

Some folks approach us during demos ignoring this huge savanna we have in Brazil, and sometimes even suspicious of baru trees! People presume baru is either a GMO, since nobody’s ever heard of it in North America, or its processing demands a lot of water, like almonds do. That’s perfectly fine since there is not a lot of material in English out there about it, but it’s time we should shed some light on the important relation of baru, water and the Cerrado.

cerrado2Let’s start with the basics. The Cerrado is this massive South American biome, second only to the Amazon in size, and the most biodiverse savanna in the world. That’s right, more diverse than the African savanna. It originally spread for over 2 million square km, mainly in Brazil, with small parts in Bolivia and Paraguay – roughly half the size of Europe overall.

This savanna is a mesh of four different vegetations: forest savanna, wooded savanna, park savanna and gramineous-woody savanna. Baru trees and other deep-rooted wild species grow in all of these, which feed and harbor the fauna, protect the soil against erosion and allow for rain to enter the soil.

The Cerrado is an important receiver, keeper, and disperser of water to very important watersheds in the continent, namely the Amazon, Prata and São Francisco Basins. It acts like a sponge through an “inverted forest” of deep roots. This allows the savanna to stay alive by slowly releasing water until the rain is back, as it gets extremely dry on the surface during the southern hemisphere winter.

You can see the extent of the Cerrado in Brazil (in brighter color) and its water on the map below:

hidrografia2

The underground storage by the “inverted forest” feeds watersheds and important aquifers such as the Guarani, the second largest in the world, with a 1,200,000 km² territory. 

However, for the last 25 years, around 40% of the overall vegetation has been deforested for industrial crops, mainly soybeans. Another 40% were deforested by the cattle and charcoal industry.

deforestationcerradoOnly circa 20% of its original vegetation remains intact, baru trees included, resulting on a thinning of the water tables, worsened by industrial irrigation. The impact of this deforestation is mostly ignored by official authorities, although widely published internationally.

Remember the 90s? Did you ever wonder how come nobody talks about saving the Amazon as much anymore? The deforesting of an exuberant biome such as the Amazon brought a lot of international bad rap to Brazil. This caused the inevitable trickling of such a large industry the neighbouring, more discrete Cerrado.

soja-no-cerrado

Once Cerrado, now soy crops

The Cerrado deforestation is the direct result of decades of Brazilian government policies. Since the 1990’s, this deforestation has been intimately associated with the industrial agriculture lobby machine. Over time every sort of incentive was provided to “develop” what now is the country’s main grain belt for export commodities.

Ironically, the exporting of baru seeds is only possible nowadays due to a direct result of those incentives. The recent development of Midwestern Brazil’s roads enabled baru to become a “thing” only now.

The current interest in baru has stimulated local communities to shift attention from commodities. The revenue from the fruits and seeds is an important and renewable incentive to preserve the trees. It concentrates local efforts on reforesting the Cerrado with baru and other native species. However, most of the damage is still caused by large trading companies.

The next post in this series will address the people living in the Cerrado, and their vulnerability to the hostile Brazilian agribusiness environment. See you then!

REFERENCES

Herrero, T. “Teríamos evitado o desmatamento da Amazônia se tivéssemos olhado para o Cerrado”. Revista Época, July 30, 2015. São Paulo, SP, Brazil.

Manzione RL, Knotters M, Heuvelink GBM, Asmuth JRV & Camara G. Transfer function-noise modeling and spatial interpolation to evaluate the risk of extreme (shallow) water-table levels in the Brazilian Cerrados. Hydrogeology Journal 18 (2010)8. – ISSN 1431-2174 – p. 1927 – 1937.

McClain ME, Victoria RL, Richey JE. The Biogeochemistry of the Amazon Basin. Oxford University Press, 2001.

Reis SM, Lenza E, Marimon BS, Gomes L, Forsthofer M, Morandi PS et al. Post-fire dynamics of the woody vegetation of a savanna forest (Cerradão) in the Cerrado-Amazon transition zone. Acta Bot. Bras.  2015 Sep 29( 3 ): 408-416.

Sano SM. Almeida SP. Cerrado: ambiente e flora. Editora Embrapa, Planaltina, 556p,  1998.

Tabuchi H, Rigby C & White J. Amazon Deforestation, Once Tamed, Comes Roaring Back. The New York Times, February 24, 2017.