Paraguay’s Chaco Region


Bricapar charcoal facility at Teniente Ochoa ©Earthsight

The picture above, and the picture below, will suffice if you do not have the half hour required to read the details. Earthsight is a non-profit organization that uses in-depth investigations to expose environmental and social crime, injustice and the links to global consumption. One such investigation provides these images, and it is worth a read, especially if you are in Europe and you use charcoal for barbecue. Thanks to the folks in the Guardian’s Environment team for bringing the report and its consequences to our attention.


Figure 1: Jaguar photographed in the Gran Chaco forest ©Hugo Santa Cruz & Fundación Yaguareté

Choice Cuts

How European & US BBQs are fuelled by a hidden deforestation crisis in South America


On a vast, hot plateau in Paraguay, in the centre of South America, lies a little-known environmental crisis, and a dirty secret that can be traced to the supermarkets of Europe.

The dry tropical forests of the Chaco are being destroyed faster than any other forests on earth. The trees felled as a result of the advance of industrial agriculture into pristine wilderness are being turned into charcoal to feed demand in Europe.

Described by David Attenborough as “one of the last great wilderness areas in the world”,[1] the Chaco is home to a plethora of precious wildlife and one of the world’s last tribes living in voluntary isolation, the Ayoreo.

This is all now threatened by the advance of deforestation. The Paraguayan Chaco is being cleared by large, private companies to produce charcoal and rear cattle for beef, with the majority of production of both destined for export.

The largest exporter of Paraguayan charcoal is a company called Bricapar. Earthsight investigators found a large Bricapar production facility hidden deep in the heart of the Chaco, and witnessed slow-growing, dense hardwood trees being fed into ovens. Satellite images show ten football pitches of forest per day being cleared in the surrounding area.

Bricapar is part-owned by a scandal-ridden government Minister. The company obtains raw materials from an area of land belonging to the state social security fund, but which was allegedly leased to an intermediary company at an eighth of its market value. Signs of the presence of uncontacted Ayoreo have been found just 40 kilometres away.

Earthsight has traced charcoal from Bricapar’s forest destruction in the Paraguayan Chaco to supermarkets in the EU and US, including major chains Lidl, Aldi and Carrefour. Our analysis shows that the EU is the largest export destination for Paraguayan charcoal, and that the equivalent of up to 30 football pitches of Paraguayan Chaco forest are being cleared every day to supply Europe with charcoal.

Bricapar’s EU distributor is peddling false and misleading claims regarding the sustainability of the products flooding European supermarket shelves, masking its role in this environmental crisis.

The Chaco, Charcoal, & Uncontacted Tribes

The Chaco

Located in the heart of South America, Paraguay’s landscape is divided decisively in two. To the east stretches a rain-soaked land once covered in subtropical forest, now submerged beneath a sea of soya plantations. To the west lies the Gran Chaco, a vast plain where tropical dry forests shelter indigenous people living in voluntary isolation.

For centuries, its forbidding landscape deterred colonisers and, in recent decades, the agricultural companies that expanded aggressively into the east of Paraguay.

The Gran Chaco encompasses parts of Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil as well as Paraguay, composing a vast biome less famous than the iconic rainforests of the Amazon some 1,000 kilometres to the north. It has several endemic species and high levels of biodiversity, including 3,400 plant species, 500 birds, 150 mammals and 220 reptiles and amphibians. Its position at the heart of the continent makes it an important refuge for migrating birds. Jaguars prowl its forests, hunting tapir, peccary, giant armadillo, capybara and giant anteaters.[2]

Read the whole article here.

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