Where once one type of landscape transitioned fluidly into the next – forest to wetland, grassland to forest – now there are breaks and separations resulting from human development. These areas, particularly in and around tropical forests, are among the most challenging areas for restoration, and yet their environmental importance can’t be emphasized enough, allowing biodiversity to thrive and animals to pass through freely. That was the message from forestry experts at the recent Green Business Forum in Asunción, Paraguay, organized by ITAIPU Binational, the world’s largest renewable clean energy provider, and the Environment Department of the World Bank.
Down the coast of Brazil and westward into Paraguay and Argentina, the wildlife corridor of the Atlantic Forest is a proposal from two countries to reverse this fragmentation and reconnect the archipelago of vegetation islands that now spans the region. In Paraguay, ITAIPU’s Paraguay Biodiversity project is leading the effort to restore more than 300,000 hectares of the Forest – of which, currently, only 6 percent remains – with the support of Paraguay’s ministries of environment and more than 50 local grassroots organizations.
The Project’s director and ITAIPU engineer Director of Alejandrino Diáz Rossi said that engaging people from a wide range of sectors (government agencies, agribusiness sector, rural farmers, indigenous communities, civil society, municipalities) has been key.
“We have been building capacity at all levels, including government agencies, grassroots groups and farmers,” he said. “The objective is to connect areas of biodiversity with forest corridors by working with 1,100 farming families and 55 indigenous communities.”
And the participation of indigenous communities, which hold some of the largest forest areas in the Atlantic region, as well as the National Indigenous Peoples Institute, has been essential to achieving concrete results. To improve their incomes, communities have had opportunities to be involved in bee-keeping and yerba mate production, take trainings in sustainable agriculture and plant fast-growing trees.
The portion of the corridor in Paraguay will be the country’s first and largest such area, and is the country’s best chance to reconnect remaining forest patches in protected areas, Itaipu and private reserves, riparian areas and agriculture landscapes, said Ruth Tiffer Sotomayor, organizer of the Forum and Senior Environment Specialist from the World Bank advising ITAIPU in the implementation of the project. These forests are home to many endemic and endangered species, such as the Vinaceous-breasted Parrot (Amazona vinacea) and the Black-fronted Piping-Guan (Pipile jacutinga).
“In this Forum, we are presenting examples how productive landscapes can contribute to restore habitats, protect biodiversity, generate income and create jobs,” said Sotomayor. She noted that doing so can be to the benefit of Paraguay’s economy as well. “We hope that Paraguay can see that greening its productive sector can have a tremendous positive impact on saving the country’s last Atlantic Forest areas as well as promote a new branding of its agribusiness commodities, which are feeding the world.”
In Brazil, more than 85 percent of the Atlantic Forest has been lost due to agriculture and urbanization, and about 90 percent comprises areas less than 30 hectares in size. This area is considered one of three biodiversity ‘hotspots’ most vulnerable to climate change by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, indicated Severino Ribeiro Pinto, national coordinator of the Atlantic Forest Restoration Pact (AFRP) in Brazil.
“In that context,” said Pinto, “any remaining piece of forest is important. We can’t disregard any potential piece of forest cover we have. If we work within a logic of landscape restoration, these small fragments can serve as ecological trampolines for species, and as nuclei for the structural connection of the fragments.”
The AFRP is a diverse coalition of 270 organizations, based in seven states, and with seven working groups that deal with matters ranging from fundraising to gender equality. For the past decade, the Pact has been working with a wide variety of stakeholders, from large firms like mining company Vale, to smallholder farmers, to municipal providers of drinking water.
To protect the Atlantic Forest in these two countries, speakers at the Forum repeatedly stressed the need for alliance among many different stakeholders across the public and private sectors.
Julia Bucknall, environment director of the World Bank, echoed Sotomayor’s economic stance in the opening of the Forum: “Companies are worried about the long-term availability of the natural materials they source, while consumers increasingly demand more sustainable products. We need partnerships between the public and private sectors that bring all of us together, since land and forest management is intricately linked in Paraguay to its economic growth and essential to reduce poverty and increase shared prosperity.”
“In our case,” said Pinto on Brazil, “I think we have done a good job of bringing people to the table and linking up the different sectors. If we don’t do that, it is very difficult to create an effective implementation agenda for restoration.