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Undermining Cerrado monitoring threatens biodiversity and agricultural production in Brazil

The Brazilian Coalition on Climate, Forests and Agriculture, a multi-sectoral movement composed of more than 300 companies, civil society organizations, financial sector and the academia, views with concern the announcement of the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) regarding the discontinuation of Cerrado monitoring. The biome, which covers approximately 24% of the country’s territory, accounts for the sources of most of the hydrographic basins that are crucial to Brazil’s water and energy supply. It is, also, the hub of the agricultural production, sheltering the cultivation of commodities such as soy, corn, and cotton.

In addition to its economic relevance, it is worth noting that the Cerrado is recognized as the world’s richest savanna in biodiversity and is undergoing a forthright process of degradation. Last December 31, INPE released that the biome lost 8,531.4 km² of native vegetation in one year, between August 2020 and July 2021. This is a 7.9% increase over the index for the previous 12 months.

It is, therefore, time to invest in monitoring and research, and not to dismiss teams and resources. The possibility of a “data blackout” on deforestation in the Cerrado reflects INPE’s shortage, whose budget in 2021 was R$75.8 million, an 85% reduction from what it received in 2010 (R$487.6 million).

There is funding for maintenance of Cerrado monitoring only until April. The country, therefore, is beginning a countdown to ensure the survival of INPE’s work, whose data is necessary for the continuity of environmental monitoring, agribusiness, and scientific studies.

It is worth pointing out that the expense of sustaining the threatened project is minimal. Cerrado monitoring costs only R$ 2.5 million per year. In order to have an idea, the fine for illegal deforestation of 1 hectare is worth R$ 1,500. Thus, the infractions related to the devastation of 1,700 hectares already pay for the entire system.

By signing a forestry agreement during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) exactly 70 days ago, alongside 140 countries, Brazil committed itself before its citizens and the international community to protect critical ecosystems such as the Cerrado. Several countries, such as the United States, as well as the European Union, have already indicated that socio-environmental care is a focal issue for the diplomatic agenda and business transactions. Brazil, by not fulfilling its duties, chooses isolationism and backwardness. Nor will you be able to control the narrative. Other initiatives, involving governments and civil society, can take over biome monitoring on their own.

Actions will always be stronger than words. Hence, once again the country’s reputation is at stake, as it demonstrates incoherence and misalignment between the commitments it has taken on – both for tackling the climate crisis and the loss of biodiversity – and the actions it implements – regardless of whether they are linked to research, monitoring, and intelligence, which should promote good public policies.

The Brazilian Coalition calls on the federal government to ensure the necessary resources for the continuity of the monitoring program for the Cerrado and all of Brazil’s biomes. It’s a matter of lawfulness, transparency, and credibility.

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