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Armadillos, the World Cup and a chicken dinner


The Mascot for the Brazilian World Cup is a three banded armadillo. It’s a smiling, football playing Brazilian emblem. I don’t normally pay much attention to football mascots, seeing them as nothing more than a merchandising opportunity. Yet with England failing to light up the tournament I kind of lost focus on the game. I took a step back and looked at the other elements of the competition. The mascot piqued my interest.

A planet on a plate © LiveWellA planet on a plate © LiveWell

I have discovered that the armadillo lives primarily in the Eastern part of Brazil, in the Cerrado and the Caatinga. Sadly it is vulnerable to extinction; its greatest threat used to be pumas and jaguars now the main threat comes from habitat destruction. Over half the shrub land habitat has been lost to agricultural expansion, mainly beef and soya.

I would hope by being chosen as the Mascot its fortunes would change. The money raised would be directed to save the three ringed armadillo. I am afraid I don’t think this will be case. It is a symbol aimed at selling merchandise, very much like the loss of shrub land is a result of a desire to provide food, at low cost and high profit. Neither connected to the wider impacts and opportunities.

This has occurred primarily as a result of the green revolution. The goal of which was to industrialise agriculture and provide more food for all. In doing this it has been hugely successful. Sadly it has not been green, as the Armadillo can attest to. Brazil has prospered from the revolution, and rightly so. It is a leading exporter of soya, beef, orange, sugar and chickens. There has been economic expansion, hunger has been reduced, education standards raised and on the world stage Brazil is a leading player.

However this transformation has occurred at a huge cost. From Amazon incursion to the destruction of the Cerrado and the Atlantic Forest. Biodiversity has been decimated, freshwater is being used at unsustainable rates, there is soil erosion and the overuse of fertilizers is impacting on rivers and the Atlantic ocean. The human impacts are also being felt, obesity is on the rise, there is growing inequality, indigenous rights are not being respected. This wealth has brought a thirst for energy with the Amazon and other areas being ear marked for many large and small dam projects. The opening up of the forest for agriculture has led to increased mining and hunting for rare minerals, with the associated increase in  deforestation and pollution from the chemicals used.

There are clear unaffordable costs alongside the benefits. Though the picture is bleak it is not irreversible. These problems are recent, they have happened in my life time and it is surely not too late to reverse the excesses. There is hope. The Brazilian government is looking at what to do after the Amazon moratorium expires. It might be replaced with something that goes beyond the Amazon, into other valuable ecosystems like the Cerrado. There is a growing understanding of the role of the environment and the need to protect it. The Brazilian health department has become the first government in the world to add sustainability to its healthy eating guidelines. Something we have been calling Western governments to do for many years.

Armadillo © db rolenrockArmadillo © db rolenrock

As this understanding grows about the impacts agriculture and people have on the planet, Brazil is a key player in the need for change. It can choose to ensure the future takes into account social and environmental benefits, alongside economic opportunities. We need food, we need agriculture but not at the expense of biodiversity. As Brazil moves ahead, it is looking to grow more food and export is model to Africa. The government and industry looks hungrily towards to great plains and savannahs of Mozambique. It could take stock and instead of repeating the mantra and costs of the first green revolution, It could start a new one, which can be truly green and respect people and the planet. Respect smallholders rights and those of the natural world.

In 2016 Brazil hosts the Olympics, perhaps by then it will have started the charge to a sustainable food system. When picking a Mascot it could do worse than the Brazilian Gold Frog. It’s not endangered and could be a symbol of a hoped for future of the three ringed armadillo.

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