REDD+ Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation

Protection of the upside-down forest - monitoring and sustainable use of the Cerrado


When talking about deforestation in Brazil we often focus on the Amazon. But not everyone knows that just on the Amazonian border lies its often forgotten neighbour — the second largest biome in South America — the Cerrado. This overlooked giant represents more than 20% of Brazil's land area, more than 2 million square kilometers in total. Can't quite grasp its size yet? It is the size of Greenland.

From the point of view of biological diversity, the Brazilian Cerrado is recognized as the richest savannah in the world, sheltering more than 11 000 catalogued species of native plants (of which 45% are exclusive to the region) and more than 1 600 species of mammals, birds and reptiles. It is characterized by a mosaic landscape that includes scrubland, grasslands, and open- and closed canopy forests. Besides the biodiversity and other environmental values, the Cerrado has great social importance. Many people depend on its natural resources, including indigenous ethnic groups like Quilombolas, Geraizeiros, Ribeirinhos, Babaçueiras, Vazanteiros — communities that together hold a traditional knowledge of its biodiversity.

It is also an immense, hidden carbon sink. The Cerrado is often referred to as the "upside-down forest" as is it estimated that the majority of the carbon sequestered in the savanna (about 118 tons of carbon per acre) is underground, in its soil and root system that spreads many metres deep.

However, the Cerrado is disappearing faster than its famous neighbour. With only 20% of its original vegetation remaining intact, less than 3% of the area is currently protected by law. Consequently, wildlife habitat is fragmented and shrinking rapidly. If the destruction of the Cerrado continues at the same rate, the savanna can disappear almost entirely. But can this scenario be avoided?

Collecting logs and branches to weigh them

FAO is supporting the sustainable use of the Cerrado resources. The activities are supported by FAO’s REDD+ / National Forest Monitoring experts under a larger FAO-led project "Strengthening Policy and Knowledge Framework in Support of Sustainable Management of Brazil´s Forest Resources". Initiated in 2011, the project is co-funded by GEF, FAO and the Government of Brazil with FAO as the implementing agency and the Brazilian Forest Service (Serviço Florestal Brasileiro) as its primary executive partner. It aims at supporting decision making through the production of credible, timely and relevant information and policy analysis, including a comprehensive nation-wide Forest Monitoring System.

In 2017, FAO signed an agreement with FUNAPE - Fundação de Apoio à Pesquisa to assist the Federal University of Goiás (UFG) with the development of equations for estimating above- and below-ground biomass in the Cerrado biome. One of the areas where FAO and FUNAPE team collect data is a private 32 000-hectare sustainable development reserve Legado Verdes do Cerrado, belonging to Votorantim Enterprise. FAO REDD+ Forestry Officer, Anne Branthomme has recently visited the reserve to ensure the smooth implementation of the activities. Understanding forest resources and their changes is crucial to such biomes as the Cerrado as they help in creating sound national forest policies and promote sustainable development. For Anne the benefits are evident: "If well-managed, such activities strengthen countries' national forest monitoring capacities, increasing data transparency and long-term reliability ".

In addition to ensuring the preservation of the Cerrado biodiversity, the reserve produces Cerrado endemic plants seedlings in a spacious plant nursery, able to keep 60,000 seedlings, and promotes ecotourism activities and academic research. While Brazilian conservation policies aimed at reducing deforestation in the Amazon have been effective in the past, half of the Cerrado is already being used for agricultural purposes, with even more land threatened by conversion. Legado Verdes do Cerrado's economic model is just one of many options of how countries can manage their land sustainably. It agrees with REDD+ goals to halt deforestation and degradation as well as highlight multiple non-carbon benefits of REDD+: among them biodiversity conservation, job creation, poverty alleviation and promotion of an integrated green economy across sectors such as forestry, agriculture, energy, finance. “We must make sure to extend efforts made to protect the Cerrado, as this crucial ecosystem contributes not only to Brazil’s economic growth, but also to the livelihoods of local people”, adds Anne.

For more information, please contact: Ms Anne Branthomme, REDD+ Forestry Officer, FAO ([email protected]).

Photo gallery

Protecting the upside-down forest

Key facts:

  • The Brazilian Cerrado is recognized as the most biodiverse savannah in the world.
  • The Cerrado is a homeland to more than 11,000 catalogued species of native plants, of which 45% are exclusive to the Cerrado.
  • In the early 2000s, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon far exceeded the Cerrado. However, in recent years deforestation in the Cerrado has begun to outpace the Amazon.
  • More than half of the biome has been cleared of its native vegetation.
  • The need to be able to accurately monitor forest cover and quality is crucial to understanding the costs of deforestation.
  • FAO works with countries to strengthen their capacities in designing, collecting and analysing data from national forest inventories (NFIs).
  • The Brazilian National Forest inventory is implemented by the Brazilian Forest Service with the funds from several programmes, states and governments, including the Global Environment Facility (GEF)Forest investment Programme (FIP) and the Amazon Fund.

First published on the UN-REDD Workspace. Photo credit ©FAO/Anne Branthomme.

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