Gran Chaco: Colonisation and Deforestation

The Gran Chaco (about 1’000’000 km2) is the largest forested area in the lowlands of South America after the Amazon basin. It has a subtropical climate and is a unique and fragile ecosystem of dry forests and savannas with an exceptional biodiversity. The Chaco is also the homeland of indigenous peoples (about 250’000 persons): of groups that have been colonized and resettled since the mid-20th century and of groups of the Ayoreode, who still live without permanent contact with the colonising society.

Both the life and homeland of indigenous peoples, as well as the biodiversity and climate of the Chaco, are currently acutely threatened by massive deforestation for extensive cattle ranching and soybean cultivation.

Paraguay is among the countries with the highest rate of deforestation in the world; in Latin America, it is the country with the highest deforestation in the last 25 years. In total, 142’000 km2 have been deforested in the Paraguayan Chaco to date. Currently, the Chaco in western Paraguay is losing 1’033 hectares of forest per day; 907 ha per day in northern Argentina and 119 ha per day in southeastern Bolivia.

The consequences of deforestation and this so-called "development" are already evident in the Chaco from an ecological point of view in the increase and prolongation of droughts, storms, the fall of the groundwater table, the threat and extinction of plant and animal species, the contamination of land, water and air by pesticides and agrochemicals.

From a social point of view, an increase in human rights violations, social conflicts and violence has been observed.

Starting from multiple processes of colonization, through which indigenous peoples were expropriated without compensation, an extremely unequal distribution of land has been established in the Chaco, forming the basis of growing social inequality. While settlers, immigrants, and national and international corporations have appropriated large tracts of land, not even half of indigenous communities currently own land, or only a fraction of the territories they occupied until the 1930s.

Despite the recognition of indigenous rights in the current Paraguayan constitution, in reality indigenous peoples such as the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode face unresolved land conflicts and violent encroachments. The state is simultaneously obligated by legislation both to restitute land to indigenous communities and to compensate the current landowners. However, since the government is in the hands of large landowners and wealthy entrepreneurs, the will to implement is lacking, i.e., the necessary funds for land restitution are not being made available and the processes in the corrupt judicial system are delayed for decades.

Because of the expropriation, impoverishment and discrimination, indigenous communities and organisations in the Chaco need a permanent and strong lobby and also financial support for the recognition and realization of their concerns and rights.

© Fernando Allen

Further projects and goals

Ayoreo-Totobiegosode Biosphere Reserve: Forest Protection

The forest that provides the livelihood for the Totobiegosode and shapes their way of life is currently threatened by massive deforestation for cattle ranching, illegitimate appropriation of land (land grabbing) by settlers and international corporations, and illegal invasions by loggers.

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© Gerald Henzinger

Land Restitution to the Nivacle-Manjui: Self-Sufficiency and Sustainable Use

Together with the community of Yacacvash we are looking for alternatives that strengthen self-sufficiency and ways to implement sustainable small-scale land use. We also advocate for an ecological and careful use of land, crops and animals.

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© Verena Dyck