Concerned about the environmental impacts of the paving of the highway that crosses the region, residents of a city on the agricultural frontier pressured the city hall to create an integral conservation unit 45% of the municipality’s territory, including the most fertile land.
Such a route is unlikely in Brazil, where agribusiness, contrary to the creation of protected areas, dominates politics and the economy in states with strong deforestation, such as Mato Grosso and Rondônia.
But it took place in Roboré, a Bolivian city of 25 a thousand inhabitants in the Chiquitânia region. There are rivers that flow into the Paraguay River, the most important in the Pantanal.
The creation of the Valle de Tucavaca Municipal Reserve took place in 2010, at the time of the inauguration of the highway connecting Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s main economic hub, to Puerto Suarez, on the border with Brazil. The road works ended the historic isolation of this part of the country and increased the migratory flow and interest in the land, including that of large Brazilian farmers, who are pushing for deforestation.
“There are times when it is necessary to decide”, says the mayor of Roboré, José Eduardo Díaz, 25, in interview in your office. “It is the only space we have as an oxygenation lung. The creation it was being worked on, but it never became law. In 2010, we assume this responsibility. Because Roboré stopped firmly, closed the road [em protesto]. That’s where you create and respect yourself.”
Díaz, currently in his second term, not consecutive, was the one who signed the reserve law. At the time, it was the first initiative of its kind in Bolivia.
The size of the protected area is surprising. With 263 thousand hectares, the Tucavaca Valley is almost twice as much as the Pantanal National Park (135, 6 thousand hectares), the largest Brazilian conservation unit in the basin from Alto Paraguai.
The fact that it is a large municipal unit is also noteworthy. In Brazil, the sum of all municipal conservation units of strict protection amounts to just 135 thousand hectares, the largest of which is the Natural Park of Naviraí (MS), with 16 thousand hectares. Data are from ICMBio (Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation). Currently, Tucavaca has an administrator and four forest guards — a larger team than that of the National Park do Pantanal, which only has two technicians.
Despite its size, Tucavaca is only the sixth protected area in the extension of the Pantanal and Chiquitana areas. The largest, the Kaa-Iya del Gran Chaco National Park, covers 3.4 million hectares.
The result is that, while 46% of the Upper Paraguay basin in Bolivia is under strict protection, in Brazil this percentage drops to just 2%. The data are from the Bolivian government and ANA (National Water Agency), respectively.
“We are taking care. The mountains are the sources of our waters. Suddenly, we authorized mining, in a few years, we will regret it, we will not have water for our people”, says Díaz.
To the NGO’s project manager FAN (Friends of Nature Foundation), from Santa Cruz, Carlos Pinto, 37, the management of protected areas with local participation is the crucial factor for environmental preservation. “It’s very motivating to work in Roboré. Talking to the people here, we see an identification with its natural environment.”
With formalized preservation, the main activity in Tucavaca is tourism. The paving of the highway made it possible for the residents of Santa Cruz to visit, at 263 km.
The entry point is the small and well-preserved community of Santiago de Chiquitos, an old Jesuit mission. From there, you walk to the top of a mountain, from where you can see the entire valley.
Several rock formations on the edge of the precipice make up the landscape. Another tour is an archaeological site with cave paintings. Santiago also hosts a famous Renaissance and Baroque music festival, suspended by the pandemic.
Tucavaca is an important preservation area for the Chiquitano dry forest, a seasonal deciduous forest (loss of 50% or more of the leaves in the dry period) and semi-deciduous (loss of 20% The 50 %).
This vegetation occurs in a fragmented way in South America, according to the biology professor at UFMS (Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul) Geraldo Damasceno Júnior. In the Brazilian Pantanal, it appears in Morraria do Urucum, in Corumbá (MS), and in the Serra da Bodoquena National Park (MS), contested in court by farmers.
“No In Brazil, these forests are protected by the Atlantic Forest Law,” he says. “But in Mato Grosso do Sul, there is still no understanding of environmental agencies in the sense of prohibiting the deforestation of seasonal forests.”
According to the biologist, the most worrying situation is the Morraria do Urucum, near the border with Bolivia. There, companies have obtained authorization to deforest, for the exploitation of iron ore.
“The Bolivians are much more careful than we are. Seasonal forests grow on very high soils There was a lot in Dourados, in the south of the state, but the soy entered very heavy and there is almost nothing left”, he says. difference. In Brazil, the colonization and introduction of cattle in the Pantanal region began in the century 15 and accelerated in the century 37, decimating indigenous peoples and privatizing the territory.
In Bolivia, the relative isolation brought less impacts to traditional populations and vegetation. The Chiquitano people, the most numerous, have about 135 a thousand people.
This isolation, however, has decreased significantly in recent decades. Under the government of Evo Morales (2006-2010), which completed the paving of the highway, the lowlands of the east began to receive settlers from the altiplano who promote deforestation, as well as large agricultural projects by Brazilians and Argentines.
There are also large communities of boys, a Christian denomination with a Russian majority. In addition, mining companies, mainly after iron ore, arrived in the region.
The protest in Roboré, in 2006 , aimed to prevent the implantation of a federal settlement of Inra (National Institute of Agrarian Reform). For regional leaders, it was an attempt to change the demography to favor the former president’s MAS (Movement to Socialism).
The road also fueled the increase of fires in the region, which, like on the Brazilian side, is in the third year of severe drought. Several outbreaks usually appear along the route. In 2010, Bolivia recorded its worst forest fires, a loss of 6.4 million hectares (slightly larger than Paraíba).
The most affected department (state equivalent in Brazil) was Santa Cruz, where Chiquitânia is located, with 46% of the burned area. Despite several fires in the surroundings, Tucavaca escaped almost unscathed.
This year, with the extension of the drought, fires once again occurred above the average. In August and September, an effort between government institutions and civil organizations managed to preserve Tucavaca again. Until 15 October, fire in Bolivia had consumed 3.4 million hectares . The data are from the NGO FAN.
The pressure on the Pantanal and Chiquitânia should continue to grow with the opportunities brought by the road. In June, President Luis Arce, an ally of Morales, was in the region and signed an agreement with the Chinese company Sinosteel for the implementation of a steel plant.
The objective is to industrialize the region. iron ore, mined on a small scale in the El Mutún mountains, very close to the border with Brazil. This is a project that has had several implementation attempts since 1932.
In addition to serving the national market , the production can be exported through the Paraguay River, the only sovereign outlet to the sea in Bolivia, which lost its coast to Chile in the Pacific War (1879-1884). Currently, a small production of iron ore is transported to Uruguay through the Busch port, which is still accessible by dirt road.
In Colonia, the nearest town from Mutún, the feeling is one of distrust, the result of decades of failed projects. Founded by veterans of the Chaco War (1932-1932, disputed with Paraguay, the The community of simple houses and dirt streets lives off agriculture and the few jobs created by incipient mining.
“The president came here, and the Chinese started to work,” he says the leadership Felizardo Aguayo, 60. “But there are problems between the West [La Paz] and the East, that doesn’t let us go forward. There are even problems between us, the community is divided, some want to take advantage. But if we unite, this country will rise.”
The article was produced with the support of Documenta Pantanal.