Chapter 9 – Introduction

Cadeia do Espinhaço


The extravagant landscape and diversity of biomes (Cerrado/Savanna and Caatinga) of the area surrounding Jacobina deserve a special mention in this presentation. These natural characteristics had an enduring impression on Mulford and Racine Foster when they visited it in 1939. The abundance of botanical species impacted the couple of American naturalists and still affects me the same way every time I see the hills of theTombador, in spite of the progressive degradation of the area since the 40´s. Sadly we have still not learned to respect and preserve this extraordinary heritage. As a matter of fact, what has been preserved is because it shows no immediate financial return, so we let it be. But this may soon change for there´s a new challenge on the horizon: the imminent installation of wind turbines. The rumor of possible wind farmsbeing installed in the region has increased the land prices and the quantity of new fences laid in a hurry. Thanks to the Internet, people are fast discovering the impacts and controversies involving this clean and renewable source of energy.

In 2013 a severe drought inflicted heavy economic losses to several states of Brazil´s northeast. Normally the driest part of the country, the population suffered the pain of the extreme temperatures, the lack of water for the very basic human necessities and the usual indifference of authorities. Late August of 2013 I shot pictures of dead cattle – victims of the drought – spread along great distances. Samples are included in this presentation.

The deforestation on massive scale of the Cerrado and Caatinga advances at an alarming rate, dehydrating the soil irreversibly. Monoculture, fire and other harmful factors are destroying these biomes forever. Undoubtedly, this will result in climate change and loss of species.¹ What was once the habitat of diversified forms of life is now at risk of becoming a desert. By the way, desertification – a silent process – is a reality and not a figure of speech in the Northeast of the country. A recent study, shows that over 230,000 km² of land (an area larger than Great Britain!) is seriously affected by the phenomenon.

This foolishness has a price: the dream of prosperity will sometime in the future be replaced by economic disaster, unemployment, drought, dust, disease and death. An entire generation of Americans knows the phenomenon. It is called Dust Bowl. In the US the lessons were learned and the soil recuperated. Is it reasonable, however, to expect the same to happen in Brazil when very basic infrastructure projects exist only on paper for decades? There are no resources for these developments that would benefit millions of citizens, but there are unlimited funds for the World Cup (2014) and Olympic Games (2016) to be held in Brazil!

Since we share the same planet and we are what we are, a look at the past is always educating. Recent history registers other environmental disasters such as the Great sparrow campaign: “The campaign against the ‘Four Pests’ was initiated in 1958 as a hygiene campaign by Mao Zedong, who identified the need to exterminate mosquitoes, flies, rats, and sparrows. Sparrows – mainly the Eurasian Tree Sparrow – were included on the list because they ate grain seeds, robbing the people of the fruits of their labour. The masses of China were mobilized to eradicate the birds, and citizens took to banging pots and pans or beating drums to scare the birds from landing, forcing them to fly until they fell from the sky in exhaustion. Sparrow nests were torn down, eggs were broken, and nestlings were killed. Sparrows and other birds were shot down from the sky, resulting in the near-extinction of the birds in China. Non-material rewards and recognition were offered to schools, work units and government agencies in accordance with the volume of pests they had killed.

By April 1960, Chinese leaders realized that sparrows ate a large amount of insects, as well as grains. Rather than being increased, rice yields after the campaign were substantially decreased. Mao ordered the end of the campaign against sparrows, replacing them with bed bugs in the ongoing campaign against the Four Pests. By this time, however, it was too late. With no sparrows to eat them, locust populations ballooned, swarming the country and compounding the ecological problems already caused by the Great Leap Forward, including widespread deforestation and misuse of poisons and pesticides. Ecological imbalance is credited with exacerbating the Great Chinese Famine, in which at least 20 million people died of starvation.” Wikipedia

Will Brazil change its economic priorities, favoring environmental and infrastructure policies and projects, in detriment of the agribusiness? Dr. Ricardo Machado, author of a recent Conservation International (CI) study on the Cerrado, told “The Cerrado was pretty much intact until the 60s, when most of the relevant economic activity was the cattle ranching. During the 70s, when new technologies and new varieties of plants (corn, soybean, rice, wheat, eucalyptus, and grasses for livestock) where introduced the Cerrado became an important region for the Brazilian agribusiness. More and more native areas were cleared to be converted for planted pastures (using African grasses) or croplands. The natural vegetation removed was converted to charcoal to be used by the steel industry.” Natural vegetation includes destroying Bromeliaceae, Orchidaceae, Cactaceae etcetera.

Lastly, two auspicious news items: 1) Last year, the Federal Attorney´s Office prosecuted the Brazilian government for being the largest deforester of the Amazon. 2) Small municipalities of the state of Maranhão, approved laws prohibiting the planting of eucalyptus and soybean! This will probably end the conflicts in the area covering deforestation of the Cerrado and the burning of native wood in oven batteries.

Not all is lost. Enjoy the presentation!

Happy New Year to all of you!

Oscar – Bromeliário Imperialis

This presentation is best viewed in 1480 x 1020 pixels. If your resolution is 1024 x 768 you may need to upgrade to view the entire photo.

I acknowledge the kind assistance of Michael and Karen Andreas, Derek Butcher, Howard Frank, Adroaldo Araujo, Marlon Machado, Domingos Cardoso, Leonardo Versieux, Rafaela C. Forzza, Nara C. Vasconcellos, Mariana N. Moura, Raquel F. Monteiro, Rafael Louzada, Andrea Costa, Bruno Paixão and my guide Pedro dos Santos.

More info:

Environmental Impacts of Wind Power

Environmental disasters Biofuels driving destruction of Brazilian Cerrado


Dust Bowl


Climate and Ecological Impacts of Climate Change–K0o

Severe weather Worst drought in 30 years 

Subchapter 9  – Jacobina and the Neighborhood, Part I


Subchapter 9  – São Miguel das Figuras


Subchapter 9  – Morro do Chapéu


Subchapter 9  – A moment frozen in time