Conservation news

New platform gathers data on Brazil’s disappearing Cerrado biome

  • An online and collaborative tool created by Brazil’s Federal University of Goiás brings together the largest and oldest collection of data available on the Cerrado biome.
  • The Cerrado Knowledge Platform will be constantly updated as a national reference on the biome, consolidating information to be used by researchers working for its preservation and management.
  • The bilingual platform includes figures on deforestation, land use, biodiversity and socioeconomics; users can also contribute by uploading data, maps and geospatial information.
  • Its creators say they hope the website will provide solid knowledge to support researchers in making public policies or designing programs for the conservation of a biome that has already lost more than 50% of its native vegetation.

Monitoring the ongoing deforestation of the Cerrado, the vast savanna scrubland that abuts the Amazon in Brazil, has become increasingly essential in recent decades. This biome, the most biodiverse savanna on the planet, has already lost 55% of its native vegetation, and its degradation poses water and food security issues for Brazil. Surprisingly, it is better known as the “granary of the world” than for its invaluable socio-environmental contribution.

The clearing of the Cerrado is driven primarily by cattle pasture and soybean plantations. In an effort to provide accurate data, shed light on the situation and help in decision-making about the biome’s management, researchers at the Image Processing and Geoprocessing Laboratory of the Federal University of Goiás (Lapig/UFG) launched the Cerrado Knowledge Platform at the end of last year.

By crossing data that include aerial images, the online, bilingual and collaborative tool helps to chronologically identify the biome’s land use and socioeconomic status, associating physical factors, social data and biodiversity data.

Snapshot of the Cerrado Knowledge Platform.

“The Cerrado needs to be urgently known; only then we might be able to save it,” says Ivanilton Oliveira, a professor and director of UFG’s Institute of Socioenvironmental Studies, which includes Lapig. “Its devastation is the result of public actions and policies, which have been transforming the savanna’s landscape for the benefit of agribusiness since 1970. We have to change people’s views about the region as a ‘granary.’”

From a hydrological point of view, the Cerrado is home to three aquifers that supply water to Brazil: the Guarani, Urucuia and Bambuí aquifers. The ecology of the Pantanal, the world’s largest floodplain, depends on water flowing from the Cerrado, and most of the southern tributaries of the Amazon River also originate in this ecosystem. The biome also provides water for human consumption and agriculture through surface runoff, underground recharge and flows in the atmosphere. That is how rain is formed in several regions of the country, benefiting from the central location of the Cerrado.

The Cerrado Knowledge Platform was funded by foreign institutions through the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund (CEPF) and took about six months to be designed. The collaborative effort involved UFG and several partners, including NGOs, Brazil’s Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovations (MCTIC/Inpe), the Public Prosecution Service in the state of Goiás, and Mapbiomas.

The website is divided into three subplatforms: socioenvironmental, aerial images, and deforestation. It also provides statistical data from 1985 to 2019, geoprocessing tutorials, a photo collection, and a digital library with books and scientific articles related to the biome. All contributions come from public, private, academic and environmental organizations.

In this virtual library, it is possible to identify, for example, land and water conflicts that the Catholic Church-affiliated Pastoral Land Commission has denounced on Indigenous territories, conservation units, rural properties and quilombola (slave-descendant community) territories. The tool provides results by state, municipality or geographic location, according to user interests.

Users can also view a clear cartographic division in the biome’s current landscape: Brazil’s center-south region has already been greatly transformed by cattle ranching and the expansion of the agricultural frontier (broken down by the main types of crops), which is advancing to the north of the country, especially in the states of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia (a region known collectively as Matopiba).

Soybean plantation in western Bahia state. Image by Fernanda Ligabue/Greenpeace.

‘Swiss Army knife’

Paulo Cícero Lopes, a master’s student in geography at Unimontes in Minas Gerais state, who attended one of the training courses on how to use the Cerrado Knowledge Platform, calls it a very solid, intuitive and clear tool for anyone looking for accurate data.

“Having everything in one environment enables analyses not only by environmental organizations, but also by the government, since the data can improve planning for the territory,” he says. “I would say it is a Swiss Army knife: it provides a general view of the Cerrado and will help us to implement the good management we need for the natural resources of that hotspot.”

Manuel Ferreira, a professor at UFG and general coordinator of the initiative, says Global Forest Watch was their source of inspiration: “Of course, there are several platforms providing information about the Cerrado; however, having this enormous knowledge on a single platform makes it easier for Brazilian and foreign researchers to find and compare these data.”

He says the platform is unprecedented in Brazil and reiterates the need for agencies and institutions to disseminate it and help in constantly updating it.

“In the ‘Contribute to the Platform’ section, there is a form to be filled out and an area for uploading files. After our technical team evaluates the material, it can be published, with due credits and context,” Ferreira says.

“We intend to become a national reference for those researching the Cerrado. In three months, we already have a lot of content, but we count on the contribution of the academic community, public agencies and civil society for the preservation of the biome.”

The creators of the platform have already carried out four online training courses on its use, which can be found here.

Banner image of the dunes of Jalapão State Park in Brazil’s Tocantins state, by vanessaobrzut via Pixabay.

This story was first reported by Mongabay’s Brazil team and published here on our Brazil site on Feb. 18, 2021.