Will European supermarkets act over Paraguay forest destruction?
NGO Earthsight reports charcoal from the Chaco region has been sold in Aldi, Lidl and Carrefour in Spain and Germany
No tropical forests anywhere in the world are being destroyed more rapidly than the Chaco stretching across Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay. Not the Amazon in Brazil, nor in Indonesia, Malaysia or the Democratic Republic of Congo.
At least, that is according to a University of Maryland-led study published in 2013. And the carnage continues today. In July British NGO Earthsight released a report stating that “the latest available analysis [by Paraguayan NGO Guyra], covering January 2017, suggests that the rate of deforestation has kept pace since the Maryland paper. The Paraguayan Chaco is on course to lose more than 200,000 hectares of forest this year: an area the size of Manhattan every fortnight.”
According to Earthsight’s report, Choice Cuts: How European and US BBQs are fuelled by a hidden deforestation crisis in South America, the biggest driver is cattle-ranching for beef - the majority of which is exported. Another big driver - and focus of the report - is charcoal, with the majority exported too.
“[Charcoal] provides a further, lucrative, incentive to destroy what remains of the Chaco and helps cover the up-front costs of clearing forest for cattle,” Earthsight states. “The dense, slow-growing hardwood trees of the Chaco provide high-quality charcoal which burns hot and slowly with little smoke. The most sought-after species is quebracho blanco, among the largest tree species in the region ... [and] important for indigenous groups like the Ayoreo, who collect honey from nests in its branches.”
According to Choice Cuts, Paraguay is one of the world’s top five charcoal exporters and the EU is “by far” its largest export destination, with Germany and the UK the most important markets. The report focuses on a company called Bricapar, Paraguay’s largest exporter and the source of 40% of the EU’s Paraguayan imports in 2017. Earthsight claims that Bricapar is sourcing charcoal from an area in the Chaco where forest is being cleared unsustainably, and that some of its products have been ending up in supermarkets in the EU and US, including Carrefour in Spain and both Lidl and Aldi in Spain and Germany.
Earthsight researchers, undercover, visited one Bricapar facility in the Chaco. “The manager of the site confirmed to investigators that it is owned by Bricapar and supplies charcoal for export to Europe and the US,” Choice Cuts states. “He said that it processes only quebracho blanco, because the species is preferred by European buyers.”
Earthsight also traces charcoal from the Paraguayan Chaco to the UK specifically. The report states that the chief executive of the company handling Bricapar’s marketing in Europe, Ibecosol, told Earthsight undercover that Chaco charcoal is being sold to “the restaurant and hotel sector in the UK”, while charcoal from another top Paraguayan exporter, Dolimex, appears to end up in “thousands of independent shops and through petrol station chains across the UK.”
Choice Cuts identifies the most important impacts of the deforestation, including biodiversity loss, increasing pressure on water reserves, starvation threats to large animals such as pumas and jaguars, and extinction threats to endemic species. In addition, the report points out that “nearly all of the Paraguayan Chaco is the ancestral territory of various indigenous groups”, most notably the Ayoreo. While Choice Cuts focuses on charcoal coming from a parcel of land just to the west of historic Ayoreo territory, it suggests that Bricapar may also have recently sourced some charcoal from a “huge new area” the other side of the Trans-Chaco Highway inside Ayoreo land.
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