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Gran Chaco

Facts

  • Continent
    South America
an armadillo walking

Southern three-banded armadillo (tolypeutes matacus), also known as quirguincho bolatatú bola or mataco bola.

More than twice as big as the state of California, the Gran Chaco contains South America’s second-largest forest, behind only the Amazon rainforest.

It is one of the continent’s last frontiers, and it’s threatened by agricultural development, largely to produce beef and soy.

From dry thorn forests and cactus stands to palm savannas that flood in the wet season, the Gran Chaco has diverse landscapes and wildlife to match, including:

  • 3,400 species of plants
  • 500 species of bird
  • 150 species of mammals
  • 220 species of reptiles and amphibians

The Chaco woodlands have been gradually replaced with cropland and ranches over the past several decades, but it’s disappearing even faster in recent years. From 2010 to 2012, for example, Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia—the three countries that share most of the Chaco—lost native vegetation at an average rate of more than an acre per minute. By 2030, the Gran Chaco is projected to lose millions of additional acres of native vegetation.

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Species

Amazon jaguar

Jaguars, armadillos, and giant anteaters are among the hundreds of animal species living in the Gran Chaco.

People & Communities

People in class

Some of the last remaining hunter-gatherer tribes still call the Gran Chaco home. Hundreds more indigenous communities live in and around the Gran Chaco, relying on the forests and surrounding areas for sustenance and livelihoods.

Threats

land conversion in the Chaco

Climate Change

By releasing carbon stored in the soil and in trees, and diminishing the land’s ability to re-absorb it, deforestation drives climate change globally. Locally, the loss of forests and grasslands also has negative impacts on climate, leading to less and more volatile precipitation, more soil erosion, and greater water pollution. Driven by global and local factors, climate change is forecast to decrease agricultural productivity up to 43% in Paraguay and 11% in Argentina.

trees in the Chaco

Extensive Agricultural Expansion

Agricultural expansion, driven by cattle and soy production, is the biggest threat to the natural ecosystems of the Gran Chaco in Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia. Growing market demand, coupled with innovations in genetics and management, have made cultivation in drier and less productive areas more viable.

Before 2004, Paraguay had the second-highest deforestation rate in the world, but since the government enacted the 2004 Forest Conversion Moratorium to protect the Atlantic Forest in Paraguay, soy has increasingly been grown in the Chaco on land previously used to raise cattle. As the law pertains only to the protection of forest and not to other landscapes such as savannas, an unexpected result has been that cattle ranching has expanded massively in the Gran Chaco. Some soy is also now being cultivated directly in the Chaco, with infrastructure in the region developing rapidly.

Illegal Logging

While land is most often cleared for agricultural production, the felled trees are often used for firewood and charcoal production. Logging, sometimes done illegally, is a threat across the various landscapes, while pulpwood plantations continue to be linked to conversion in the west Argentinean Chaco.

What WWF Is Doing

ranger in the Chaco

WWF works with a range of stakeholders—soy and beef producers; traders, consumer brands, and retailers; financial institutions; governments; and civil society—to eliminate deforestation of the Gran Chaco.

Improving Production

In Paraguay and Argentina, WWF and its affiliates work with soy farmers and cattle ranchers to reduce the impacts of production on the Chaco and to eliminate the need for deforestation by increasing efficiency and productivity on land already in use.

Leveraging Markets

Companies that buy soy and beef—from traders to consumer brands to supermarket chains—have the influence to drive better production. WWF is working with these companies to develop and implement sourcing policies that eliminate habitat conversion from their supply chains originating in the Chaco.

Through beef and soy roundtables, WWF is working across commodity supply chains to develop third-party-verified principles and criteria that improve the sustainability of production and minimize impact on key habitats like the Chaco.

Creating Financial Incentives

WWF is working with public financial institutions and private lenders and investors to use the power of capital to drive environmentally sustainable production and sourcing practices. By using financing tools or basing interest rates on sustainability criteria, financial institutions can shield themselves from risk while also protecting the Chaco.

Experts