||Excerpted From: Swarts, Frederick, "The
Pantanal in the 21st Century: For the Planet's Largest Wetland, an Uncertain
Future" in The Pantanal of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay
(Hudson MacArthur 2000). Copyright 2000 by Waterland Research Institute.
Initiatives for the future
of the Pantanal
There are several avenues being pursued of potential
importance for the future of the Pantanal.
Ecotourism is often presented as the best, long-term hope for the Pantanal,
bringing in tourist dollars to the local communities and thus creating
an economic incentive for these communities to preserve the environment.
Generally, ecotourism is considered tourism to relatively intact natural
areas, which has low impact on the environment, promotes conservation and
provides a beneficial socioeconomic return to the local populations. With
tourism being one of the world's largest businesses, ecotourism indeed
would seem to offer a profitable, long-range financial medium which could
be more lucrative than other, more environmentally deleterious economic
For these reasons, the governments of Brazil,
Bolivia and Paraguay are seeking to stimulate interest in ecotourism in
the Pantanal, and organizations such as Conservation International and
the WorldWide Fund for Nature (WWF), formerly the World Wildlife Fund,
are likewise developing initiatives.
However, several obstacles remain to ecotourism's
viability. In the Pantanal, there is a serious lack of infrastructure,
such as accommodations and transportation. There is a lack of tourist information
and trained guides are few. Furthermore, the region remains poorly-known
in many nations, including the United States.
As a result of these and other factors, there
is relatively little ecotourism in the Pantanal region. In particular,
the Bolivian Pantanal is practically inaccessible and ecotourism is undeveloped,
due to lack of tourist facilities and a transport infrastructure (Herrera
1995). The Brazilian portion of the Pantanal is somewhat better situated
and is visited by hundreds of biologists and thousands of tourists a year.
However, much of the Brazilian tourism is centered on fishing. There is
also some nature tourism and what might also be called "ecolite" tourism,
involving tourists from Brazil and from countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Japan.
But genuine ecotourism, where money is pumped back into the local community
or environmental activities, is limited. These pseudo-ecotourism packages,
rather than aiding the Pantanal, can actually have an adverse effect by
disturbing the natural areas, increasing illegal activities, and heightening
demand for facilities, infrastructure and luxury items.
One of the chief economic activities in the Pantanal is cattle ranching.
This enterprise is perhaps unique in that it is a widespread economic activity
which impacts the landscape, yet many authorities do not see raising
cattle as a big environmental problem. Instead, it is generally presented
as a long-term activity which developed in harmony with the environment
or which at least poses minimal negative impacts.
One reason offered for such a view is that the
Pantanal has many, natural grassland areas that do not require the type
of deforestation one might find in the Amazon, and also because cattle
are often allowed free to graze on unaltered land. Furthermore, extensive
flooding during the wet season can limit the amount of cattle raised on
a piece of land to the pasturage available when much of the land is submerged.
For these reasons, cattle raising is often promoted as a viable economic
activity for the future of the Pantanal.
Nevertheless, cattle ranching is not without its
problems and detractors who see it as a problem. One can observe burning
of wild landscapes in order to clear land for cattle or to bring up fresh
shoots. Native plant life may be selected against, and the moving of cattle
to new pastures can result in widespread loss of native vegetation. There
are concerns regarding the effect of cattle grazing on soil erosion and
sedimentation and the loss of wildlife refuge for native populations. The
impact of cattle grazing on the Pantanal is hotly debated and needs further
Among the three key national stakeholders in the Pantanal, Brazil and Bolivia
have been particularly active in advancing initiatives directed at management
of the Pantanal.
Bolivia has been the most active nation in terms
of creating national reserves, having established the extensive Pantanal
National Park of Otuquis, the adjacent Otuquis Natural Area of Integrated
Management and the San Matías Natural Area of Integrated Management.
In Brazil, there is a hopeful development as far
as management of the Pantanal is concerned with the formation of the Upper
Paraguay-Pantanal River Basin Committee — Comitê de Integração
da Bacia Hidrográfica do Alto Paraguai Pantanal (CIBHAPP). This
committee includes representatives of federal and state governmental bodies,
the private sector and NGOs. It was constituted to handle inquires relative
to the basin, coordinate technical and scientific studies, serve as a forum
for debate and discussion and assist in the coordination of various programs
underway in the Pantanal region. CIBHAPP is supported and implemented by
the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment and the governments of the states
of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul. Thus, the Brazilian side has created
an institutional mechanism to begin to manage the Upper Paraguay River
Another Brazilian coordinating mechanism for the
Pantanal has been what is called the Pantanal Project-National Environmental
Program — Projeto Pantanal-Programa Nacional do Meio Ambiente (PNMA). The
first National Environment Program began in 1990. In 1994, it was
reorganized and at the end of 1998 it completed operations. A second National
Environment Program is now under preparation. One component of these NEP
programs deals with the Pantanal in Brazil, which had been specifically
mentioned as a National Patrimony in the Federal Constitution. The purpose
of the NEP Pantanal Project has been the management of several million
dollars to protect the Pantanal ecosystem; coordinate state environmental
agencies in the implementation of sub-projects such as faunal and flora
studies and control of mining operations; rehabilitation of impacted areas;
and elaboration of the Upper Paraguay Basin Conservation Plan, involving
professionals from several institutions and universities, governmental
organizations, and so forth. The Upper Paraguay River Basin Conservation
Plan (Plano de Conservação da Bacia do Alto Paraguai or PCBAP)
provided a comprehensive analysis of the Pantanal and Upper Paraguay River
Basin and indirectly led to the aforementioned creation of CIBHAPP.
Numerous international organizations are becoming
increasingly involved in the Pantanal. These include organizations such
as Conservation International, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP),
the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Global Environment Facility
(GEF), the Ramsar Convention, the WorldWide Fund for Nature (WWF), Nature
Conservancy, and so forth. Their involvement, often with substantial resources
and manpower, offers decisive hope for the future of the Pantanal. A number
of these organizations, and their activities in the Pantanal, are explored
in The Pantanal of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay (Hudson MacArthur
Three of the intergovernmental organizations particularly
active are the Organization of American States (OAS), the World Bank and
the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The OAS has been involved in
the Pantanal since the 1960s. They are currently working on a number of
initiatives, including an agreement between the three governments of Brazil,
Paraguay and Bolivia on a project to implement an information system for
the Pantanal area. Another initiative is the GEF/UNEP/OAS project involving
an integrated watershed management program for the Pantanal in the Upper
Paraguay River Basin. Recently, the World Bank has become involved in environmental
projects in the Pantanal. One such project was helping to support the National
Environment Program in Brazil and thus sustainable development in the Brazilian
Pantanal. It is also active in the Bolivian Pantanal. The IDB has invested
in a number of environmental impact assessment studies of the Hidrovia
project, and together with the World Bank is co-financing a major environmental
impact assessment study of the GASBOL project. The IDB is considering investments
of up to $400 million for the Upper Paraguay River Basin that would
include dealing with urban water pollution problems and sewage treatment,
particularly in Cuiabá. The Ramsar Bureau of the Convention on Wetlands
of International Importance is likewise showing interest in brokering an
intergovernmental agreement among the principal nations regarding management
of the Pantanal.