Blog Editorial

The Gran Chaco: Calling deforestation S.O.S.

While deforestation in Latin America has typically been focused on the rapid destruction of the Amazon, the second largest forest in South America, the Gran Chaco, stretched between Paraguay, Argentina and Bolivia, ranks as the number one deforestation hotspot on earth. Climate change and its effects is greatly linked to the loss of biodiversity and the rapid destruction of these forests.

The international demand for Paraguayan beef and leather has only escalated the degradation and deforestation of areas like the Paraguayan Gran Chaco. According to a report by the London-based NGO Earthsight, between 1987 and 2012, Paraguay destroyed around 4.4 million hectares of its national protected forest, with the whole purpose to expand cattle ranches for mass consumption. What is also rather concerning is that Paraguayan national laws mostly do not protect their protected forests, but instead allow for its trees to be cut down for mass exploitation of the land, threatening its biodiversity.

An analysis done by NASA determined that the deforestation of the Gran Chaco reached an alarming rate when between 1985 and 2016, roughly a fifth of its forest land was deforested, reaching 14.2 million hectares. Paraguay was the country that suffered most the deforestation of the Gran Chaco, losing in these decades an area larger than Switzerland.

The speed at which the deforestation at the Gran Chaco has been going hasn’t slowed down. Data collected from WRI’s Global Forest Watch showed how the acceleration of the deforestation of the Gran Chaco increased by 78% in 2019, with a football pitch of forest being destroyed every two minutes in the Paraguayan Chaco. The fight against climate change cannot be successfully done without the fight to preserve these forests and the fight against deforestation in areas like the Gran Chaco.

The main drivers of deforestation

Forest loss in the Gran Chaco can be attributed to the growing demand for fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) across the world. With the demand for these FMCGs, comes the soaring production of beef, charcoal, and even soy. Agribusiness in the Paraguayan Chaco, together with the blurred laws regarding protected land, farmers used these forest lands to exploit the soil for its economic gain. The importation of soy, beef, leather, and charcoal into the EU or other parts of the world could be to blame for the environmental destruction of forests in Latin America. Denmark for instance has recently recorded an 83% of soy imports used for livestock feed comes from South America, mainly in areas where there were previously forests cut down for soy plantation and exportation. Most first-world countries are to blame for the over-consumption of products that come from previously-protected land that has been deforested for the purpose of economic gain.

World Land Trust has determined that the Gran Chaco and its biodiversity suffer a loss of 63 hectares per hour, or 1.05 hectares per minute. As a consequence of the rapid degradation of the Gran Chaco, its biodiversity is disappearing, leaving endangered species on the verge of extinction and threatening the natural ecosystem. 

Loss of biodiversity

As previously mentioned in one of our former articles regarding the importance of the biodiversity of the Gran Chaco, there is a large list of species that have been placed on the IUCN red list. These endemic and endangered species are the main victims of the rapid deforestation and degradation of the Gran Chaco. For instance, in the Paraguayan Chaco alone, the most common species that are in danger of extinction due to the loss of their habitat include Jaguars, Chacoan Peccary, Giant Armadillos, the Crowned Solitary Eagle, the Amazonian Lowland Tapir, and the Giant Anteater, amongst many others. 

There are many reasons as to which the Gran Chaco is rapidly disappearing and losing its forests and biodiversity. Recent articles have shown that the cultivation of soy in the Paraguayan Chaco has been a driving force for deforestation, as its demand has reached record prices internationally and there are loose regulations in these protected areas that allow for this grave deforestation to occur. Undoubtedly, the most important reason as to which the Gran Chaco is being deforested can be attributed to Paraguay ranking amongst the top 10 countries worldwide that are heavily dependent on cattle, with major exportations of leather coming from the Chaco used in car companies in the EU. 

The effects of deforestation

There are hazardous effects to this kind of deforestation, both for us humans and for nature. If the Gran Chaco keeps being exploited for its forestland, the soil will soon be too saturated to use, without giving the chance to restore and reforest the area. Some of the environmental problems that come with this rapid deforestation will lead to aridity, erosion, and inevitably, the loss of biodiversity caused by habitat damage. Climate change and its link to deforestation and the loss of biodiversity of these areas, together with the detrimental effects it has on indigenous communities cannot be disregarded. Reports by the UN have also outlined the detrimental effects that deforestation has had on indigenous peoples, as there is a big majority that live in rural areas and are heavily dependant on these protected forests. Deforestation and the privatisation of the land has greatly limited the mobility of indigenous peoples, as the degradation of the biodiversity that surrounds them greatly depends on their living.

The Argentine Wildlife Foundation has determined that if the deforestation of the Gran Chaco continues at the current rate, it can be expected for another 4 million hectares of the forest to be lost in the next decade, which will be detrimental for not only the environment and climate mitigation, but will have long-lasting effects in the economy.

Alternatives and solutions

There are however alternatives to cattle ranching. REDD+ projects can serve as an economically viable solution to the deforestation problem of the Gran Chaco. As the UN-REDD Programme outlines, the encouragement of the involvement of developing countries in climate change mitigation, assisting in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide through REDD+ projects not only helps with their forests’ and biodiversity conservation, but it will also help their communities and the economy as a whole.

Quadriz develops and manages large-scale REDD+ projects in the Paraguayan Chaco, serving to halt deforestation of the hundreds of thousands of hectares that are at risk, protecting the biodiversity of the area and helping the local economy whilst reducing greenhouse gas emissions in a sustainable manner to tackle climate change. Furthermore, the ability to nest private standalone REDD+ projects in national baselines, help developing countries meet the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC’s) with the targets of the Paris Agreement. By having companies like Quadriz engaging with developing countries through REDD+ projects it also helps propel the range of Sustainable Development Goals that can be achieved.

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