29 Feb 2012

Alarm in Paraguay at settlement plans for Ñacunday National Park

By BirdLife Americas

Paraguayan environmental organizations including Guyra Paraguay (BirdLife in Paraguay) are alarmed at the recent decision of the national government to actively promote the settlement of small-scale farmers ('campesinos') within the Ñacunday National Park. The decision to promote a solution which flouts both national legislation and international conventions, sets a worrying precedent for other protected areas in the country.

The 2,000 ha Ñacunday National Park was legally established in 1973, and protects one of the last remnants Atlantic Forest within the Paraná river basin in Paraguay. The area also forms part of the ancestral territory of the southern Aché indigenous group, and the national park is one of the few forest patches left where they can continue their traditional hunter-gatherer culture. Paraguayan environmental organisations recognise the right of all Paraguayans to own land (a right enshrined in the constitution).

There has been a long-standing social conflict in eastern Paraguay which has seen campesinos occupying agricultural areas (soy plantations) in a demand for land. Yet there are reports that substantial areas of unoccupied state-owned land are located in the immediate vicinity of Ñacunday. These are held by the National Institute for Rural Development specifically for small-scale farmer holdings, but it was Ñacunday National Park that has been chosen as a solution to the conflict.

Ñacunday National Park is a key part of plans to safeguard the future of the Atlantic Forest and the important natural resources it provides. The Paraguayan government recently received a donation from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to re-establish connectivity between the park and other protected areas through an innovative “exchangeable rights” reforestation and forest protection scheme. Ñacunday National Park forms the core of the “Atlantic Forest lowlands” Endemic Bird Area in Paraguay (EBA075). Once home to species such as the Critically Endangered Brazilian Merganser Mergus octosetaceus and Glaucous Macaw Anodorhynchus glaucus, virtually none of this forest type now remains in Paraguay.

In addition to its importance for biodiversity conservation, the National Park includes the Ñacunday falls, and protects the lower reaches of the river of the same name. The falls and the surrounding park are recognised as an important “tourism resource” in the Master Plan for the Development of the Tourism Sector in Paraguay.

The establishment of a campesino community in Ñacunday National Park will undoubtedly lead to the loss of the park’s forests and the wildlife and human communities that depend on them. Furthermore, it represents the loss of one of the last opportunities to connect San Rafael (an IBA and one of the most important forest blocks remaining in the country) with the more extensive Atlantic Forest in Misiones Province, Argentina.