The Cerrado – Part 1

Hey everyone!

Today we’re going to talk about the Cerrado. Some folks come to us during demos not knowing anything about this huge savanna we have in Brazil, and sometimes even suspicious of baru trees! This is because they 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 what is the Cerrado, and why baru is so important to its environment and people.

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.

The Cerrado is an important receiver, keeper, and disperser of water to very important water reservoirs in the continent (Amazon Basin, Prata Basin, and São Francisco Basin), even though it can be an extremely dry savanna on the surface during the southern hemisphere winter. You can see the extent of the Cerrado in Brazil (in brighter color) and its hydric importance on the map below:

hidrografia2

This savanna is a mesh of four different vegetations: forest savanna, wooded savanna, park savanna and gramineous-woody savanna. Baru trees are a wild species and grow in all of these, which feed and harbor the fauna, protect the soil against erosion and allow for rain to enter the soil, which is stored underground feeding water tables 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 growing soy, sorghum, maize and other industrial crops, and another 40% deforested by the cattle and charcoal industry.

deforestationcerradoOnly circa 20% of its original vegetation remains intact, baru trees included, and there are only a few studies analyzing the impact of this deforestation along with the industrial irrigation and resulting thinning of the water table.

Remember the 90s? Did you ever wonder how come nobody talks about saving the Amazon as much anymore? The Cerrado is the answer. Considering that the deforesting of an exuberant biome such as the Amazon brought a lot of international bad rap to Brazil, the change of direction by the industry for a lesser known, more discrete biome was only natural.

soja-no-cerrado

Once Cerrado, now soy crops

It is also the direct result of decades of Brazilian government policies intimately associated with the industrial agriculture lobby machine, providing every sort of incentive to what now is the country’s main grain belt.

Ironically, the exporting of baru seeds is only possible nowadays due to the recent development of Midwestern Brazil’s infrastructure, a direct result of those incentives. This infrastructure used to be precarious, and also the main bottleneck that stopped baru from ever becoming a “thing” until now.

The current interest in baru has allowed local communities to shift attention from commodities and concentrate efforts on keeping the existing baru trees, reforesting the Cerrado with them and other native species, and stop deforesting – the income from the fruits and seeds is a major incentive, and a renewable one.

The next post in this series will address the people living in the Cerrado, and their role in the extracting of baru and preservation of the 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.