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Using public information to protect the vital forest areas in Paraguay

28 June 2018

Illegal deforestation is a serious problem in the Paraguayan Chaco. To be able to distinguish illegal deforestation from regulated forest clearance, our partner organizations Guyra, IDEA and WWF Paraguay secured access to regularly updated geo-referenced datasets from government institutions on licences and properties. By linking these data to monthly satellite data on deforestation, they can identify which deforestation does not appear to have a licence.

The dry forest in the Chaco ecoregion, covering parts of Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay, is increasingly under threat for cattle ranching and soy production. Although a significant proportion of deforestation in the region is strictly regulated, an additional portion of illegal deforestation destroys the vegetation that is vital to protect fragile soils and water sources for local communities. 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 in the period 2012-2017.

Telling illegal deforestation apart from regulated activities

To protect the vital areas in the Chaco, civil society organizations in Paraguay, in strategic partnership with IUCN NL, WWF and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called on the relevant authorities to disclose information related to the cadaster and land use licenses. Combined with recent satellite images showing deforestation in the area, this allows them to detect and report ongoing activities that might not meet the legal requirements.

Although these data are public according to the Law on Access to Public information, it took a lot of research, cunning and courage to get the information online.

Environmental investigations

The release process started last year, when the national press published ten environmental investigations exclusively focusing on the problem of lack of environmental governance in the Paraguayan Chaco. This initiative, promoted by IDEA, exerted pressure on public institutions to facilitate access to public information. IDEA, Guyra Paraguay and WWF Paraguay ignited a request for Access to Public Information on forest cadastres and environmental licenses from the Environment Secretariat and the National Forestry Institute. This spring, the datasets on environmental licences and properties were released.

Ezequiel Santagada, director of IDEA (Institute of Law and Environmental Economics), explains: "This is vital information to distinguish between situations of possible illegal deforestation and legal deforestation. It gives us insight in which activities meet the legal requirements and to detect those who –on the other hand- seem to not have a license. Comparing this public information of environmental licenses of the Environment Secretariat with property data from the cadastre and with monthly satellite images, will allow for reasonably accurate real-time indications of possible illegal deforestation.”

The National Cadastre Service plans to further facilitate transparency by enabling electronic management of the files, making the documents provided by the private sector almost instantaneously available for public scrutiny.

Joining forces with the cattle sector

Moreover, IDEA, Guyra Paraguay and WWF Paraguay intend to share this data with other stakeholders in the cattle sector, such as cattle rancher associations, banks and slaughter houses. “We hope to work with the sector to clearly differentiate legal from illegal deforestation. A joint analysis of this information to identify potential illegal activities would be the best approach” Santagada states. “If we join forces with the large number of compliant private sector players to jointly take a stand against the illegal practices, this would lead to an improvement of the sector’s reputation. And what’s more: together we can protect the vital forest areas that protect fragile soils and water sources.”

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More articles by: Sander van Andel