Have you heard of the Cerrado? It’s not nearly as recognised as its neighbour the Amazon but is just as important. The Brazilian Cerrado is one of the most biodiverse places on earth. Covering more than 2 million square kilometres it is a diverse and beautiful ecosystem with a huge amount of biodiversity but over half of it has already been lost to make way for agriculture. This week, in the company of Prince Charles, business and NGO leaders and global government ministers, 23 of the largest global food companies made a pledge to protect it. Read on to learn more.
More about the Cerrado
The Cerrado (pronounced ‘Ce-hado’) is Brazil’s tropical savannah, an incredibly diverse, rich and unique landscape of twisted and gnarled trees, bushes and shrubs and beautiful naturally occurring waterfalls. And it’s huge. At over 2 million square km it is an area equivalent to the size of England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain combined. Pretty darn big. It’s a global biodiversity hotspot, home to around 5% of the world’s biodiversity including over 800 bird species and 11,000 plant species, nearly half of which are found nowhere else on Earth. It is also home to some unique species like the giant anteater, giant armadillo, maned wolf and the jaguar.
With vast expanses of rich soils and vegetation the Cerrado is an important store of carbon, so much so that recent studies suggest that if we lost a third of the remaining Cerrado this would equate to more than two and a half times all the emissions reductions achieved in the Amazon between 2005 and 2013 (at around ~8.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide). A loss we cannot afford to make as the impacts of climate change become ever more real. Not only an important carbon store, the Cerrado is also essential for water and rainfall across Brazil and therefore plays an important role in ensuring the productivity of already existing agricultural production regions, so playing an important role in the economy too.
The Cerrado Manifesto
Between 2013 and 2015 we lost an area of nearly 19,000 square kilometres of the Cerrado. That is an area the size of Greater London disappearing every two months in this two year period. Deforestation rates in this region have been greater than that of the Amazon for the last decade i.e. we’re losing it rapidly. So why is this happening? The main driver of conversion in the Cerrado is the expansion of agriculture, mostly for beef cattle grazing and for soy production. More than 70% of the soy produced globally is fed to animals to produce the chicken, pork, milk, cheese and eggs that we consume and our appetites for these products globally are growing. In Europe we each consume around 61kg of soy per year, mostly as soy ‘hidden’ in these animal products. New research shows that in the UK we import 3.3 million tonnes of soy per year, meaning we need about 1.68 million hectares of land to produce it, much of which comes from deforestation-risk regions like the Cerrado.
So it is beef and soy together that are the leading drivers of the conversion of native vegetation in the Cerrado, but more destruction is not necessary. There are around 40 million hectares of already cleared or degraded land in Brazil that is suitable for producing soy. By using this already cleared land and increasing cattle productivity from current production of around one cow per hectare, production of beef and soy could double or triple without clearing any more native vegetation.
This is why, in September of this year, over 50 Brazilian based and global NGOs released the ‘Cerrado Manifesto’. This was a call to companies and investors to take urgent action to ensure that their soy and beef supply chains do not contribute to deforestation and the conversion of natural vegetation in this landscape. Signed by WWF, Greenpeace, The Nature Conservancy and Mighty Earth among others, this sent a strong and loud voice the market that further loss of the Cerrado has to be stopped.
And the response?
At a high-level meeting co-hosted by Prince Charles and the CEO of Unilever in London this week (Oct 2017) 23 global companies pledged to support the goals of the Cerrado Manifesto and commit to working with local and international stakeholders to halt deforestation and native vegetation loss in Brazil’s Cerrado. Companies including Unilever, M&S, Tesco, Nando’s, McDonald’s and Walmart have signed the statement of support and Prince Charles urged for more to join the pack.
This is a fantastic step forward for this vulnerable and threatened ecosystem. Together, with their huge buying power, these companies are sending a strong message to the whole industry that the Cerrado must be protected. This can only be done through collaboration across all actors and this letter of support is a great start towards that.
Tweet your support for more companies to join the response to the #CerradoManifesto and let’s get the 23 signatories (actually now 24 as Danone have just pledged their support) up to 50+ by the end of the year and increase the effort to protect this valuable ecosystem. The hard work is yet to come!