The Gran Chaco, which covers over half of Paraguay and extends into neighbouring Argentina and Bolivia, is about to be destroyed. Forever. Bits of it will survive, but its integrity, upon which such a habitat depends, will be destroyed, unless action is taken within the next year or so. The Mennonites and other colonists will ensure that.
One of the last great wildernesses, until fifty years ago (when Sir David Attenborough explored the edges of it), it was inhabited by indigenous tribes and a small colony of Mennonite farmers. The latter had been struggling for survival since the 1930s -- fighting back the wilderness in an attempt to create a European-style farming community.
Deforestation in the Chaco
In the 1960s, aided and abetted by the Dictatorship of Stroessner and by the Mennonite farmers, evangelist Christian Missionaries started to move into the Chaco, rounding up the Indigenous communities, and forcing them into settlements (better described as concentration camps), and now, no more than a couple of hundred Indigenous live as they always did, as hunter gatherers in the Chaco.
But in the past five years, using the knowledge gained by the Mennonites in the past fifty years, it has been increasingly easy to tear down the forest and replace it with (arid) pastures and even some crops. The Mennonites are not the only ones doing it, though with their large families and constant demands for more and more land, they are certainly a driving force.
The others invading the Paraguayan Chaco include Brazilians and Uruguayans -- though these seem to be, like the Mennonites, often German speaking, as well as Europeans from various nations. But the Mennonites still make money from these groups, as they own much of the heavy machinery used to destroy the forests (I am preparing a short video showing the destruction we saw). This machinery includes massive bulldozers fitted with bars for pushing over trees.
The Government of Paraguay does have the powers to enforce much better controls, but it simply doesn't have the resources. Pretty well all government functions are underfunded, and the Ministry of the Environment has incredibly limited resources.
This is where the WLT can help
We have signed a Tri-Partite Agreement with our local NGO partner (Guyra Paraguay) and the Ministry of Environment (SEAM) and our role is to assist them with fundraising, and raising the international profile of conservation in Paraguay. They need more rangers, fuel for vehicles, so they can get out into the Chaco. By northern hemisphere standards all relatively cheap. £5000 a year will get a ranger out into the Chaco -- at present only five rangers are covering an area the size of East Anglia (over a million hectares).
The Tri-Partite Agreement covers three National Parks, but the areas outside the National parks also need protection. There are plenty of institutions (and even private individuals) that could easily afford a million dollars a year for the next five years, and a figure like that would make a huge impact, it might not stop the bomb of destruction, but it will certainly slow it down, and perhaps give us enough time to defuse it.
Guardian Article by John Vidal - 6th October 2010. Chaco deforestation by Christian sect puts Paraguayan land under threat
World Land Trust's Defending the Chaco Appeal.