CELEBRATING THE CERRADO
Brazil's Cerrado, located in the interior plain, has long been recognized by scientists as the source of most of its fresh ground water and as one of world's most bio-diverse grasslands. But popularly, it was seen as a vast arid wasteland of stunted vegetation and suffered in comparison much better known lush Amazon basin.
It was thought worthless for agriculture until researchers at Brazil’s agricultural and livestock research agency, Embrapa, discovered that it could be made fertile by appropriate additions of phosphorus and lime. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Norman Borlaug saw the Cerrado as one of Earth's last remaining arable frontiers for the expansion of agriculture, which is was indeed.
Former Brazilian Minister of Agriculture Alysson Paolinelli, soil scientist Edson Lobato (also of Brazil), and American soil scientist A. Colin McClung were awarded the 2006 World Food Prize for their leadership in opening the Cerrado to agricultural and food production.
The agricultural revolution arrived at an enormous ecological cost. Over 50% of the cerrado was converted in less than three decades and today, with only 7.5% protected, it is threatened by single-crop monoculture plantations (particularly soybeans), the expansion of agriculture in general, and the burning of the vegetation for charcoal.
However, that may soon change. Recent studies show that damage to the Cerrado results in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those produced by destruction of the Amazon rainforest, said Brazil's Environment Minister Carlos Minc and he has announced a new government initiative to increase monitoring, create new protected areas, and launch sustainable development projects in the region.