Brazil: A Global Priority Area for Ecosystem Restoration

At over 8.5 million square kilometers, Brazil is one of the largest and most ecologically diverse countries in the world. Dense rainforests, arid savannahs, and vast grasslands create a mosaic of biomes throughout the land mass - each with their distinct ecosystems and wildlife.

Brazil is also home to one of the most important emerging economies, with its GDP is expected to be the fifth largest in the world by 2023. As a leading exporter of soybeans, coffee, meat, and sugar, its ecosystems face intense pressures from the agricultural sector. Widespread deforestation and land-clearing for monoculture plantations and cattle grazing have destroyed vast swaths of land and degraded ecosystems throughout Brazil. While the growth of agribusiness has contributed to transforming Brazil into an economic powerhouse, the manner in which these developments have occurred, coupled with the effects of global warming and climate change, poses a severe threat to the nation's environment.

In an article published in Nature, researchers analyzed terrestrial biomes using a special algorithm in order to determine which areas of the world would benefit the most from intensive restoration and conservation (1). By incorporating various criteria (from potential for climate mitigation all the way to extinction avoidance) into the analysis, they were able to effectively quantify the restoration potential of different biomes in an effort to form a cohesive global conservation agenda. As you can see below, almost all of Brazil’s land mass is implicated as a high priority area for ecosystem restoration, with the Cerrado and Atlantic Forest regions appearing as especially crucial locations.

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According to the UN, deforestation is responsible for over 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions, meaning that Brazil is one of the most important areas for climate mitigation. Trees act as a critical line of defense against global warming - they store carbon and moderate the climate. In fact, over 50% of a tree's biomass is carbon that stays sequestered as long as the tree is standing. Forests, in this manner, are both vital carbon sinks and biodiversity hotspots.

As such, the conversion of forests and grasslands into areas of industrial production systems is of the utmost concern. These activities degrade nature at an exponential rate, while simultaneously releasing carbon dioxide that has been stored for hundreds of years back into the atmosphere. Eucalyptus and soy monocultures in Brazil degrade soils and deplete the natural biodiversity of ecosystems. The expansion of cattle ranching in the Cerrado region has led to widespread land clearing and the loss of biodiversity due to unsustainable land management practices.

Farmers in Brazil are also highly vulnerable to climate change, as extreme temperatures and weather events threaten the viability and success of their crops. A hotter and drier climate will cause farmlands to be increasingly unsuitable for planting, reducing crop yields and income levels for millions of farmers.

Regenerative and sustainable agricultural practices must be prioritized alongside reforestation and afforestation techniques. Restoring these degraded lands and recovering biodiverse forest cover is our mission here at The Green Branch. Our current projects are located in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, a region in the southernmost tip of Brazil that has faced intense pressures from the agribusiness sector. By focusing on nature-based solutions to land degradation, we hope to revive ecosystems and nurture them back to their original state.

(1) Strassburg, B.B.N., Iribarrem, A., Beyer, H.L. et al. Global priority areas for ecosystem restoration. Nature 586, 724–729 (2020).