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Tackling uncontrolled deforestation in Paraguay by improving landscape planning

The dry forest in Bahia Negra, Paraguay, is under threat from massive forest clearance for cattle ranching. By bringing together various stakeholders, we sparked the development of a future-proof management plan for the region, that allows space for species to thrive and for nature to fulfill its important role as climate buffer.

Problem

Bahia Negra, the size of the Netherlands, is one of the largest districts of Paraguay. In the east, the Pantanal wetlands along the Paraguay River form an important habitat for many bird species. Towards the west, the landscape becomes dryer; here we find the Chaco, one of the largest dry forests of South America, home to unique species such as the jaguar, large anteaters and giant armadillos.

Until 2012, this fragile ecosystem remained virtually untouched, but cattle ranching has increased exponentially in recent years. Large nature areas are converted to farmlands, quickly changing the landscape into a checkerboard. By law, agricultural license holders in the Paraguayan Chaco are obliged to maintain at least 25% of the forest on their lands, in addition to the obligation to maintain riparian forests to protect riverbeds. However, the Ministry of Environment has insufficient capacity to ensure control and enforcement of these environmental laws. Knowing they are likely to get away with it, numerous cattle rangers do not obey by the rules. Meanwhile, forest is lost at an incredible pace: between 2012 and 2017, The Paraguayan Chaco lost native vegetation at an average rate of more than 540 hectares per day or more than 200.000 hectares per year. The Paraguayan Chaco region is in the top five of highest rates of deforestation in the world. The Forest Authority recently published a study indicating 20% of deforestation in the Paraguayan Chaco is unlawful.

As a result, several vulnerable species suffer from the loss of habitat or habitat fragmentation. But it also affects the livelihoods of local communities. Indigenous people, who depend on the forest for their food and fresh water, are struggling to maintain their traditional way of life. Erosion and deforestation are scourging the landscape. In the wet season, fertile soil gets washed away and flooding causes salinization. Due to deforestation and increasing climate change, the local (indigenous) population of the Chaco-ecoregion will increasingly suffer from extreme droughts and floods and it will become more difficult to grow food.

Approach

To change the tide, IDEA, Guyra and WWF Paraguay (in strategic partnership with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, IUCN NL and WWF Netherlands) have brought together various stakeholders: representatives from the indigenous communities, local authorities, farmers and landowners. They also engage the financial institutions that enable expansion of the cattle sector. In this multi-stakeholder dialogue, all relevant parties are working together on sustainable development of the area according to a landscape approach.

Together, we develop strategies to prevent the agricultural expansion from going at the expense of the forest and its inhabitants. For example, we determine which areas need to remain forested to ensure that species can move safely from one forest area to another. In order to draft such a land use plan, information about the landscape is crucial. That is why we call on the authorities to disclose license data and we use satellite images. Combining these data, our partners can detect illegal activities and fight against uncontrolled deforestation.

Results

The landscape approach has helped to better map and monitor what is happening in the Bahia Negra. Local authorities and other stakeholders are jointly working on wise land use planning that takes into account the needs of local communities and provides habitat for vulnerable species.

Ultimately, the improved landscape management will aid to maintain the natural vegetation, resulting in better chances of survival for endangered species. Functioning as a buffer against the effects of climate change, local communities can benefit from the forest retaining water during the wet season and releasing it in the dry season.

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