The importance of grasslands in South America

el_charlatan.jpg(Author: Miguel Parrilla, Photo: Brian E. Small, 6 march 2017)

Towards a hemispheric alliance for sustainable use of natural grasslands.

In the Southern Cone of the American continent, there is an area of natural pastures unique in the world for its rich biodiversity and for the forage value of the species that compose it. In the past, these grasslands occupied an area of 100 million hectares, located in part of Rio Grande do Sul, Argentina, southern Paraguay and all of Uruguay. As other land uses were introduced, such as agriculture, forestation, routes and urbanization, the natural pastures were losing area, until today it reaches 50 million hectares.

Natural grasslands are home to 540 recorded wild bird species, 12 of which are threatened globally. Among them are species of migratory birds that make their crossing annually joining the North American prairies with the pampas of South America.

But natural pastures not only provide food and shelter for birds, livestock and wildlife in general, but well managed and in good condition provide a series of benefits to society, which begins to value them more and more. These benefits are known as “ecosystem services”, among which we highlight the following:

  • Capture and retain carbon, reducing the presence of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere, responsible for global climate change.
  • They filter rainwater and slowly recharge aquifers, making water available for human, animal or irrigation purposes.
  •  They provide space, shelter and food for species of fauna that can only live there.
  • They maintain populations of predators and pest controllers from agriculture, allowing savings in the use of polluting chemicals.
  • They maintain an ancestral landscape, associated with the culture and traditions of the region.
  • They shelter latent seeds of valuable species for the cattle fodder in critical times.
  • They provide resistance to extreme climatic events like droughts and floods, giving greater stability to livestock production.

As carbon sinks that to date are off the global agenda for the promotion of GHG emission reduction. In this context, the module helped to understand the ecosystem function of pasture in climate regulation and in which there is a complex interaction between herbivore, plant, solar energy and soil, highlighting the latter as the habitat of an extensive network of living organisms that regulate processes of decomposition of organic matter, mineralization of elements such as nitrogen and soil formation

The benefits of ecosystem services can be at a certain distance, even very far from the site where the natural grasslands are located, that is to say the rural establishment that preserves them.

The Pasture Alliance developed a formula to measure the degree of conservation of natural grasslands in the hands of rural producers who own or manage fractions of them. This is the ICP (Index of contribution to the conservation of natural grasslands), which is already being used by some governments in the region to provide benefits to producers who better conserve their natural grasslands, through tax cuts, emission and sale Of bonds for ecosystem services, access to preferential lines of credit, etc.

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