Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Life and death in the Chaco

6 October, 2010 - 12:18 -- John Burton

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

Bulldozers in the dry Chaco

An example of the bulldozers in the Chaco. © Guyra Paraguay

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

Palo Borracho - the Drunken Tree

Palo Borracho (Ceiba chodatii), also known as the 'Drunken Tree'. © Guyra Paraguay

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.

Further Information:

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.

Comments

Submitted by Dr. Albrecht Glatzle on

While I always appreciated the independent views of The Guardian on topics related to climate change and others, with respect to the above mentioned article I must clearly state that it does not represent an objective analysis of the realities in the Paraguayan Chaco.

There is no historical evidence whatsoever that Hitler could have hidden in the Chaco after WW II as you speculate in your introductory sentence, – obviously just to discredit the Mennonite settlers in the Chaco, many of whom had barely escaped Stalin’s terror in the former Soviet Union. In reality, this “Christian Sect” you refer to, has little in common with the Pennsylvanian Amish people. The 18,000 Mennonites who live in the Chaco Paraguayo are fairly open-minded, very successful farmers and ranchers, partly engaged in national politics, responsible for most of the well developed infrastructure of the region including a grid of roads of more than 5000 km. They contribute most of the 40% of the national beef and all of the 50% of the national dairy production which the Paraguayan Chaco accounts for. The Mennonites finance and manage the biggest aid program for the local Indians who increased in numbers from a few hundred in the 1930s to well over 30,000 today in the Central Chaco. This includes the only functioning health care and insurance system for Indians in Paraguay and is provided by the Mennonite cooperatives. Furthermore, they are the biggest employer in the region attracting into the Chaco thousands of laborers form other provinces of Paraguay.

As far as the “only uncontacted Indian tribe” outside the Amazon (the Ayoreo-Todobiegosode you refer to) is concerned, it has been quantified by anthropologist Dr. Volker von Bremen (who lived almost two years among the Ayoreos) in the early 1990s to about 30 individuals. Meanwhile 18 members of this group gave up their traditional life as hunters and gatherers voluntarily and joined their relatives in one of the Ayorean territories (this was in 2004, if I remember correctly). Nobody knows for sure, if uncontacted individuals still live in the bush, but one thing is sure: Reserving a territory of half the size of Britain for a handful of Indians under European pressure (or incentives given generously to Paraguayan political decision makers) would create a social conflict situation with tremendous explosive potential. These days there is no indigenous community in the Chaco whose hunting and gathering activities contribute more than 5% to a maximum of 10% to their living. Therefore Indian leaders of almost all communities are highly concerned on recent attempts to pass a zero-deforestation law for the Chaco in parliament which they consider as an attack on their livelihood.

On the basis of my professional experience in Natural Resources Management in the Chaco for 20 years, I cannot share David Attenborough´s view whom you cite in claiming growing ecological disaster and widespread desertification taking place in the Chaco. Mistakes in land management have been made in the past, assuredly. However, within more than 20 years of intense applied research we did make tremendous progress in defining a list of good land use practices which not only prevent soil degradation but allow the restoration of the original fertility of run down soils. These technologies are increasingly adopted by the land owners as it is also in their own interest. So far I have not seen irreversible land degradation in the Chaco. Soil degradation to any significant extent is and remains exceptional.

Your article speaks disparagingly of the land users claiming wide-spread law-breaking by them. However, Paraguay has pioneered some of the most forward thinking environmental regulations for land use on the continent, which other
countries like Argentina are only now beginning to introduce. While some individuals may have flouted the law, many more, including the Mennonites, are fully committed to respecting the environment, the indigenous peoples and the wildlife, and have reason to feel abused by Vidal’s article. According to the laws in effect, farmers have to leave half (50%) of their farms in pristine condition, and as such practically without economical use (25% as natural reserve and another 25% in form of ecological corridors, bush islands and wind breaks). Farms developed in that way do embrace a diversity of habitats and therefore more biological diversity than does the relatively monotone, closed bushland, as studies have shown. These important ecological services provided by the land owners are exclusively on their own account, of course. At this point I think it would be legitimate to mention that European farmers are generously compensated for legal land use restrictions with 400 Euro per hectare and year.

The present land use situation is as follows: About one third of the area of the Paraguayan Chaco is used as grazing land, 19% is natural rangeland, and just 15% has been sown to pastures on previously cleared bushland so far. Arable lands are marginal, covering just the insignificant portion of about 1‰ of the Paraguayan Chaco. Therefore, your claims that biofuels are grown in the Chaco to any appreciable extent are incorrect. Sixty-five percent of the Chaco is still covered by native bushland and dry forests. Almost exactly 10% of the Paraguayan Chaco has been declared as public and private nature reserves (at a world wide scale, only 2.6% of the land surface has been declared as such). According to the regional plan for the Chaco, completed in 2008 under the leadership of the Ministry of Environmental Affairs, a net surface of another 20% of the Chaco is still available for land clearing and pasture development. This means that even when totally developed, well over half of the Chaco will remain under pristine conditions or with minimal alterations. In that way the Paraguayan Chaco always compares very favorably with any other region of this planet, particularly with Europe (excluding the Russian Federation) where 99.7% of its native forests have been cleared.

Submitted by John Burton on

Dr Glatzle’s comment is not directly related to my blog, but I would like make a few comments on, and corrections to Dr Glatzle’s response to John Vidal’s article in the Guardian, since I have been to the Chaco many times, and I was there when John Vidal visited.

I have seen the Indian communities to which Dr Glatzle refers to and while I do not dispute that there has been an aid programme and that Indian numbers have increased (largely through immigration), I would also point out that some (but not all) of the Mennonites, still treat the Indians as second class citizens, selling them alcohol, using them for prostitution, as well as cheap labour. Visit some of the Indian villages, as I have done, and you will see a much darker side to Dr Glatzle’s rose-tinted description.

Dr Glatzle states that nobody knows for sure if there are any remaining uncontacted Indians in the Chaco, but there are extremely well substantiated observations of camp-sites, footprints and other indications, including some on a nature reserve funded by the WLT and owned by Guyra Paraguay (Campo Iris, near Teniente Enciso National Park). These observations have all been within the past two years and are extremely well substantiated

Less than a month ago, I flew at low altitude over the Chaco and the Mennonite farms. If Dr Glatzle does not think desertification is taking place, I suggest he does the same thing and he will see for himself the erosion. And two years ago I spent a short sabbatical in Paraguay, and was based for part of the time in Filadelfia, where I believe Dr Glatzle lives, and even though I was there in June, in the middle of winter, I saw frequent dust storms, blowing across the fragile soils being farmed, reminiscent of the mid west of the USA in the 1930s. But the real issue is not the current desertification but the future. After 80 years of battling against the elements, the Mennonite farmers have had limited success, using huge resources, but extending these activities further north, where the climate is even more extreme, and where there are already huge areas of sand dune, and ‘real’ desert, is bound to be more damaging.

Glatzle implies that the claims of law breaking in the Chaco were unfounded – certainly not my experience. While I am sure he is right about the Mennonites, being generally law abiding, that is certainly not true of many other settlers in the Chaco. But it should also be remembered, that it is only very recently that the Mennonites have effectively ‘become part of Paraguay’. For most of history, the Mennonites of Paraguay have been a semi-autonomous colony within Paraguay.

Dr Glatzle states that on the basis of his 20 years experience he does not share the view of an impending disaster. He bases this on the fact that there is extensive research into defining good land use practices. However, my visit demonstrated that while there may have been research, and this may have been implemented in some areas in the Mennonite colonies, it is certainly not the case everywhere. I have observed many cases of deforestation exceeding the licence limits as well as failure to leave windbreaks, and in fact I accompanied the Paraguayan authorities into the Chaco, in order to investigate such infractions. I wonder if Dr Glatzle has seen the Chaco War archaeological sites, which, dating from the 1930s, have still failed to regenerate to their former state, despite the intervening 80 years? The reality is that few people, even those living in the Chaco have ever been into the northern Chaco. It is one of the most inhospitable regions in the world, with exceptionally poor roads. But it is opening up, and that is why I, and many other conservationists, are so concerned. Not all the ‘invaders’ are concerned about sustainability as Dr Glatzle implies. Many of them are simply speculators, moving their capital from Brazil where it is increasingly difficult to clear forest, to a place where then law is very poorly enforced. By bulldozing the forests, they can make a quick profit, even if in 10 years time the land will be fit for nothing.

Reading Dr Glatzle’s comment, it would appear that everything is very rosy in the Chaco, but what he does not point out is that he shares similar religious beliefs to the Mennonites (presumably including man’s right of dominion over nature) and he is in denial over climate change. Since the impact of climate change on the Chaco is likely to be extremely severe, this is a very important point. He recently wrote in a response to an article in the Economist on climate change:
Unfortunately The Economist seems to stick to the idea of so called green house gases being a problem for the planet and for humanity. CO2 is the most essential nutrient for all forms of life and there is no proof whatsoever of dangerous man made warming by CO2-emissions….” Dr. Albrecht Glatzle Paraguay

He should also make it clear that, as an expert on pastures, and in particular the use of exotic xerophytic grasses (another bane of conservationists), he has a vested interest in the expansion of farming in the region.

To deny that there is an impending crisis in the Chaco, is similar to denying there is any environmental crisis anywhere in the world. The escalation of deforestation in the Chaco, is unprecedented, and on a scale that is so rapid, that it is almost impossible to monitor, and almost impossible to regulate effectively. It is essential that it is slowed down, to a rate where it can be effectively monitored and regulated.

I should also make it clear, that there are many ranchers in Paraguay who are not only very concerned about the conservation of the Chaco, but also play an important part in its conservation. Most conservationists in Paraguay are not against development, but the rapid and destructive expansion of deforestation is causing very serious concern indeed.

Submitted by Dave on

Why such vitriol against the Mennonites? It’s both unfair and misdirected.

Fundacion para el Desarrollo Sustenable del Chaco is a 15-year-old sustainable development organization, formed and staffed by Paraguayan Mennonites, that has done at least as much to protect and care for the Chaco as has World Land Trust. They partner with The Nature Conservancy and support the protection of existing national parks and reserves, including having started (with TNC) the project that WLT is involved with re: hiring more park rangers.

Besides, most, if not all, of the illegal logging is not even being done by Mennonites.
http://www.birdlife.org/news/news/2009/12/chaco.html
“Much of the pressure is believed to be coming from Brazilian agribusinesses…”; “According to Survival International, land occupied by the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode, the only uncontacted indigenous tribe in South America outside the Amazon, has been bulldozed by employees of a company owned by Brazilian ranchers…”

http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_round_up/366365/clamping_down_on_logging_in_brazil_moves_it_to_paraguay.html

As Dr. Glatzle notes, Mennonite farmers are only allowed, by law, to clear half of their land for pasture. Is this true? Would European or American farmers accept these restrictions?

Are you saying that landowners should be forced to not use any of the land that they’ve paid for? Are you opposed to the legal use of land, according to Paraguayan law?

Can you speak to Dr. Glatzle’s specifics about Chaco land cover types and percentages of unprotected land, rather than simply attacking him as not complying with your ideology?

Submitted by John Burton on

A few comments in response to Dave:

I am not aware that I have directed any ‘vitriol’ at the Mennonites. But I have made it clear that not all the ‘development’ in the Chaco is quite as benign as some make out. And it is wrong to talk about Mennonites as if they were one sect. They are in fact a group of sects, and they appear to have differing attitudes. But the do all appear to share a common attitude that the land is there to be made ‘productive’. In their migrations across the world, they have been very successful at deforestation. I have always believed that the majority of Mennonites are law abiding, and are not directly involved in illegal deforestation. However, I have seen that they are involved in hiring out machinery for deforestation to others moving in to the Chaco. I have also been explicit in saying that much of the illegal deforestation appears to be on land owned by Brazilians, Uruguayans and Europeans.

The issue of land owners, being forced not to use land they (may) have paid for is a much more complex issue than may appear at first sight. To start with, one needs to understand the history of those land titles, and how they were acquired in the first place. Second, we need to be clear on how and when the licences for deforestation were acquired. They may well be ‘legal’, but…

I am not going to go into a detailed argument over the statistics of Dr Glatzle, as statistics are all too easy to manipulate and distort. Suffice to say, that to claim that because Europe was deforested, it is OK to deforest the Chaco, is saying we have never learned by our mistakes. And even more important, the Chaco habitat is unique, and fragile, and unlikely to ever recover once destroyed, and probably far more valuable in the long term as a carbon sink.

I believe that Guyra Paraguay are taking the right view when they state they are not against some development, they recognise that some deforestation will take place. But it is the alarming acceleration, that is too fast to be controlled and monitored that needs to cease. I believe that John Vidal was right to bring these issues to the fore. Paraguayan newspapers have been full of stories about the destruction of the Chaco, but little has been done about it. It is only by raising the international profile that we can hope that the issue will be taken seriously. The Chaco is a transnational habitat, of global significance, and part of the world heritage. Unfortunately the majority of Paraguayans still regard it as an inhospitable, uninhabitable scrubland.

Submitted by Dr. Albrecht Glatzle on

Well, the response (by John Burton?) to my comment reveals the typical attitude and agitation strategy of modern environmentalist activists, such as:
hiding behind anonymity,
ad hominem attacks or insinuations,
pretending expertize on the basis of a few short visits to the Chaco region characterized by a fairly restricted and selective perception of the realities in order to find old prejudices confirmed,
generalization of exceptions: Yes there are criminal Mennonites and there are criminal Paraguayans and (imagine!) there are even criminal Indians. (But I assume in Britain there are no lawbreakers whatsoever)!
In conclusion: creating a climate of alert, exaggerating and dramatizing normalities and discrediting great achievements and opportunities, provides a good “climate” for fund raising which is the obvious intention of another article in The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/oct/20/chaco-forest-funding-conservation (whose author is the same John?).
Just a few more specific comments / testimonies:
1) I do not deny climate change (which is an eternal reality of earth´s history). However, there is no scientific basis whatsoever to assume climate change in the Chaco beyond the natural climatic variability, within the past 100 years or so. Moreover I am convinced that in a not very distant future the world will discover the global warming alert as the biggest scam in history of science. Declaring the most essential nutrient for all life, CO2, as a contaminant (EPA) has the potential to provoke an even bigger scandal than the case Galileo Galilei. Almost every day more evidence shows up that the IPCC has dramatically overstated the warming potential of CO2 by overestimating the positive and underestimating the negative feedbacks.
2) Yes I am one of those people who claim man’s right of dominion over nature (which includes both, cultivation and preservation) and I am highly skeptical on those who do deny this basic human right and whom I consider potentially extremely dangerous for mankind.
3) Australian scientist (and those from other semi arid regions of this planet) visiting the Chaco tell us we live in a high potential area (which might not be exaggerated looking to the liveweight gains per hectare observed year by year in grazing animals in the Chaco – comparable to those obtained for example in Australian feedlots causing far more negative environmental impacts). But John seems to be tremendously concerned on the “dust storms” he has seen in the Chaco “even in June” (in the middle of the dry season!), which are normal to any semi arid region of this planet. Once again: Not everything is o,k, in the Chaco. But land use practices have improved a lot, run down land has been restored, and wind erosion has been reduced tremendously during the past 20 years. This could be achieved using a wider range of better adapted grasses and legumes (both exotic and native, herbaceous and shrubby and even trees) what we do not consider as a crime, even if it breaks so called conservationists’ taboos.
4) John simply tells us banalities when he found out that a forest in the Chaco does not fully recover within 80 years after disturbance. The succession of forest communities cannot be completed in such a short period. However, even the most degraded land in the Chaco will be totally covered with primary bush and tree species within 20 years, without further human intervention to keep the area open. Therefore the term desertification dramatizes inappropriately the chacoan reality.
5) It cannot be excluded that there are still a few individual uncontacted Indians in the bush. However it is unclear to what extent the traces found derive really from uncontacted Indian tribes rather than from those Ayoreos who are invited regularly by activist groups for “hunting excursions” to the north of the Chaco (as my personal friends among the Ayorean leaders told me) where they create inevitably many “signals” in the bush which later on might be interpreted as “infallible signs” of an uncontacted community. These days there is no settled indigenous community in the Chaco whose hunting and gathering activities contribute more than 5% to a maximum of 10% to their living. Therefore Indian leaders of almost all communities are highly concerned on recent attempts to pass a zero-deforestation law for the Chaco in parliament which they consider as an attack on their livelihood. Another fact that John might not want to hear: The indigenous groups assisted by the Mennonites do enjoy clearly a higher standard of living than the unassisted ones.

John, you have the last word! Whatever you say, I will not spend more of my precious time for this blog.

Albrecht Glatzle

Submitted by John Burton on

An interesting start to Dr Glatzle’s response, to accuse me, personally of hiding behind anonymity. I am hardly anonymous.
I have never pretended expertise, based on a few short visits, although I have in fact made several visits, and flown over large parts of it on several occasions, at low altitudes. All I have done is highlighted a few of my personal experiences and observations. Most of Dr Glatzle’s response speaks for itself, and I do not feel any need to respond (despite the inaccuracies). Although it would appear that he is unaware to the spreading dunes in some of the northern Chaco; not all as a result of deforestation, but would certainly be exacerbated if increased deforestation occurred.

Dr Glatzle’s attitude and responses demonstrate the problem that the Chaco is facing. Despite his claims, his attitudes appear to be based more on dogma than science(he writes “Yes I am one of those people who claim man’s right of dominion over nature…” )which does not actually leave a lot of room for constructive discussion.

Submitted by Dr. Albrecht Glatzle on

Just one more clarification: Nobody wants to touch the (fixed) sand dunes in the extreme North-West of the Paraguayan Chaco, and I would be among the first ones to try to stop it. The only moving sand dunes I am aware of in the Chaco are within the Indian settlement Pykasu.

And finally I should like to fully support your statement that my “attitude and responses demonstrate the problem the Chaco is facing” – with people like you and organizations like yours.

Kind regards AG

Submitted by John Burton on

As has been pointed out on other websites, Dr Glatzle seems to be adept at taking quotations out of context. In this instance igmoring the sentences which followed what he quoted. But much more importantly how does he know that no one wants to touch the fixed dunes? Some of the estancias where they exist are certainly being bought and sold, and I don’t think they are being purchased to create nature reserves. The worry is that unsubstantiated statements like this do not help get to the truth of what is happening inthe Chaco.

Submitted by Dominic Belfield on

I want to know who Dr Glatzle is – what his interest is here with Paraguay, and what qualifies him to comment. I don’t doubt his credentials, I’d just like to have them displayed up front.

And ‘Dave’? Are these people academics, Public Relations advisors, scientists? What are their professional positions?

Me? I’m a WLT supporter and science writer, and if we all introduced ourselves the exchange would be that much more productive.

Submitted by Dave on

John, vitriol might have been an overstatement, but I think that both your piece and John Vidal’s piece(s) are placing most of the blame for the Chaco’s problems on the Mennonites. How else would one read your opening paragraph above?

“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.”

You are clearly saying that the Chaco is about to be destroyed and that the Mennonites will ensure that. No?

If that isn’t vitriol, can you tell me what it is? Hyperbole? Exaggeration? Misplaced attacks?

I find it odd that you didn’t respond at all to my mention of Fundacion DeSdel Chaco, a Mennonite-founded organization. If you truly believe that “most Mennonites are law-abiding” and that they aren’t the main threat to the Chaco, then why do you and Vidal single them out for criticism?

I spent a few days in the Chaco in July 2009, and I visited the Mennonite colonies and Yalve Sanga, the indigenous Mennonite settlement. I am quite aware that there are multiple Mennonite groups, including Germanic, Latino, Enhlet, and Nivacle Mennonite churches. I personally met a few Enhlet and Germanic Mennonite church leaders. Your representation of the indigenous settlements as “concentration camps” is wildly, even irresponsibly, incorrect, at least as it pertains to Yalve Sanga. Maybe you are referring to other settlements that you have visited, perhaps?

My main point is that while you are painting the Germanic Mennonites in Paraguay as the archetypal European exploiter, this is unfair and inaccurate in this situation. The Mennonites in Paraguay live there. It is their home. They are not robber barons trying to make a quick buck by exploiting the land and then leaving a wasted landscape. They have been trying to make a living there for 80-plus years, much of which has been a very challenging experience. Now that they are finally becoming successful in their efforts, which benefit Paraguay by providing its people with meat and dairy products, people from far away — like you and Vidal — are attacking them for trying to make a living.

“In their migrations across the world, they have been very successful at deforestation.” Really? Did the Mennonites cause the deforestation of the Ukrainian steppe? Or the Great Plains of Kansas and Manitoba? Where exactly have they been cutting down trees? Do you even know, or did you just pull that little factoid out of thin air? I can show you a counter-argument (a journal article I read back when I wrote my thesis 10+ years ago) that pointed out how Germanic settlers in Pennsylvania treated the land better than the Scotch-Irish, who used it up and moved on. In contrast, the Germanic settlers stayed and took care of the land.

As a U.S. Mennonite myself, and an environmentalist and biologist, I have a great many critiques of my fellow Mennonites, both theological and environmental. But having been in Paraguay and knowing a little something about forests, agriculture, and wildlife, I think your critiques are overdone and misdirected. You would likely be much more successful in your overall goals if you worked *with* a group like Fundacion DeSdel Chaco, rather than attacking a community that has a history of being attacked and displaced through its history. Support the conservation plan shown on this map. http://www.desdelchaco.org.py/uploads/images/ordenamiento.jpg It looks like it will leave large portions of the Gran Chaco protected and undeveloped, if implemented.

And actually, I support the efforts of your organization, in general. I do think that the wealthy North needs to pay to protect lands in the South, rather than simply tell them what to do. So by all means, buy as much land as you can and make it off-limits to human economic activity. I can respect that.

Submitted by John Burton on

A few brief responses to Dave. I don’t want to appear rude, but I am rather busy for next couple of days, and if I get time I promise I will try and respond in greater detail, as what you have written deserves consideration.
The Mennonites do have a large degree of responsibility for the destruction of the Dry Chaco, since for over half a century they were de facto the only settlers in most of it, and they have developed the technology for farming it (and deforesting). Before I go any further, I will also make clear that this is not a bad thing in itself. The problem is that a) the Mennonites continue to expand (they have an exceptionally high birth rate), and b) they are often assisting the land speculators from abroad in the destruction by leasing the heavy equipment needed. I don’t regard pointing out such facts as vitriol.
In referring to the concentration camps, yes, I am referring to other settlements that I have visited.
As far as Mennonite deforestation is concerned, apart from what I have read, I have extensive first hand experience of their activities in Belize, where they have deforested several hundred thousand acres, mostly within the past 30-40 years.
But as Dave recognises, the problem is that I have referred to Mennonites as if they were a single sect, whereas they are a multiplicity of sects, with a huge range of attitudes to both the land, its wildlife, indigenous peoples, and concepts of sustainable development. I don’t know how to overcome that issue. It’s the same when I criticise the British for what they have done to the forests of the world – I know that not all the English, or British, are the same, but one has to use large groupings.
It’s a complex issue, and there are very positive things going on. Unfortunately, a journalist like John Vidal has to find a way of highlighting what is happening, and what he saw in the Chaco. It is indisputable that the rate of deforestation has accelerated in the past few years, and it is also indisputable that the only really successful colonists until recently were the Mennonites. If the Mennonite community were to speak out against the destruction of the Chaco, and were not using their machinery to assist its destruction, that would be a really positive step.
As I have written, I regard the rate of destruction that I have witnessed in the six years I have been visiting Paraguay as one of the biggest environmental issues I have seen; I know many Paraguayans also agree. Perhaps we should not argue too much about the past, but all work together to ensure that a significant part of the Chaco (not just the 25% required by law) is saved for the future, and the land that is deforested is at least owned by Paraguayans, and not foreign business interests from Brazil and Europe who have little or no regard for the sustainability of the region.

Submitted by John Burton on

I think Dominic has a good point. WLT has always prided itself on trying to be very open and Transparent. Dr Glatzle isn’t trying to hide as far as I am aware,in other correspondence he has made it clear what his role is. As far as I know, Dr Glatzle is an agronomist specialising in grasslands. And very knowledgeable (and widely published) within his field. He has been accused of being a climate change denyer, which he refutes; he is a Christian, though not a Mennonite, I believe, based in Filadelfia presumably working mostly for the Mennonites.
Other correspondence from him I believe appears on the Guardian website.

I think Dominic’s suggestion a good one and will ask our web team if there is a way of introduing this into our comments.

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