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. 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 activities. 

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. 

Cattle Raising. 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 research. 

National Initiatives. 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 Basin. 

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. 

International organizations' involvement

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 2000).

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.

Introduction Description Diversity
Value and threats Protected areas Initiatives
References Links Pantanal book