16 Jul 2019

More than 10 years conserving natural grasslands

© Alianza Pastizal
By Emilia Ulloa

In the southern cone of South America lies a beautiful and unique stretch of lowlands, covered in rolling prairie grasses and rich in wildlife. These are the Pampas. Named for the Quechua word ‘pampa’ which loosely translates to ‘plains’ the pampas cover an area close to a million kilometers, extending across parts of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil

This region serves as a habitat to around 600 native birds, and is a stopover point for thousands more migratory birds which traverse the territory along journeys that can be up to 15 thousand kilometers long. The plant-life in the area provides crucial sustenance and refuge to these migrating birds, while also serving as vital breeding areas for endemic birds such as the Saffron-cowled blackbird (Xanthopsar flavus) and the Black-and-White Monjita (Xolmis dominicanus). In addition to supporting an incredible amount of wildlife, the pampas also provides sustenance to thousands of people who live in the region. 

Saffron-cowled blackbird (Xanthopsar flavus) © Fernando Farias

Despite this, the area is in danger of disappearing completely, along with all the unique wildlife it supports. The principle threats to the pampas are the intensifications of agriculture, ranching, and urban development. In fact, 95% of the pampas are private property, and are being used for the cultivation, primarily of soya, corn and wheat. These monocultures in turn leach the soil of its nutrients and leave it open to the risk of erosion.

Because of these threats, in 2004 BirdLife International in partnership with Aves Argentinas, Aves Uruguay, Guyra Paraguay and SAVE Brasil decided to create an ambitious project to protect the pampas, the culture of the region, and the hundreds of species of endemic and migratory birds that depend on this biome. 

Two years later, in 2006, the Grasslands Alliance was created. With the Grasslands Alliance, ranchers dedicated themselves to using sustainable practices to protect their pampas. This involved responsible grazing practices and limiting the application of agrochemicals.

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Landscape of the Pampas © Aves Argentinas

The Alliance also created a ‘bird-friendly’ beef certification scheme which guarantees that the ranches support the biodiversity of the region by conserving at least 50% of the natural grasslands. In the decade since, grasslands beef has been exported to Europe, and was even exhibited at a conference for chefs working at Hilton Hotels.

In addition, the alliance, along with regional governments, has created a system of incentives for the rural business people who count on the financial support of the Inter-American Development Bank creating the Index of Contribution Towards the Conservation of the Pampas, along with a practical manual of associated rural practices. As a result, since 2016, 312 rural establishments located on 363,900 hectares have begun managing their land with conservation practices in mind. Additionally, the alliance monitors birds on livestock ranches to understand how they respond to different ranching systems, and how they are being impacted by the different practices promoted by the alliance in the Southern Cone.

Throughout the past few years, the alliance has continued to grow. Despite this, there still remains much work to be done. Ideally, the alliance will become a model for other countries, passing its lessons learned on across the continent, in order to ensure the conservation of some of the most important and fragile biomes in the world, as well as the species that inhabit them.