The Mbaracayú Forest Nature Reserve in Paraguay, one of the last remaining protected areas in the Atlantic Forest “eco-region” shared by Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina, turned 30 this past Sunday. The reserve has been successful in maintaining a high level of biodiversity within its 64,405 hectares, but remains vulnerable to deforestation and illegal cannabis planting, and the region as a whole has suffered massive losses.
The Mbaracayú Reserve was born in 1991 thanks to a public-private agreement between the Paraguayan government and the Moisés Bertoni Foundation which maintains it, according to reporting by La Nacion.
It’s one of the most biodiverse places in the country – Raul Gauto, the president of the Moisés Bertoni Foundation told La Nación that at least 90% of mammals indigenous to Paraguay can be found in Mbaracayú.
But beyond its borders the deforested landscape of the Department of Canindeyú where the Mbaracayú Reserve is located tells a different story. According to data from Global Forest Watch the department lost at least 260,735 hectares of tree coverage between 2001 and 2020, the majority of it thanks to the planting of soy and cannabis.
A School in the Middle of the Forest
The Moisés Bertoni Foundation, which also manages the Tapytá Nature Reserve, seeks to combat deforestation and habitat destruction through a variety of initiatives including education. In 2009 the foundation established the Mbaracayú Education Center, with the goal of teaching the next generation about environmental sustainability.
The center’s all-girls school is located within the Mbaracayú reserve and has 152 students who live there during the year, the majority of them being the children of locals and farm workers in the area.
#Mbaracayú30Años ¿Un colegio en pleno bosque y exclusivo para mujeres? ¡Es el Centro Educativo Mbaracayú!?????
La Reserva Natural del Bosque Mbaracayú constituye uno de los últimos grandes remanentes de bosque subtropical denso y húmedo del Paraguay. pic.twitter.com/KPgaoCqm3G
— Fundación Moisés Bertoni (@MBertoni) June 12, 2021
Sonnia Sanabria, the director of the education center, told La Nacion that she believes it’s “fundamental for learning to change the way we behave. And that’s achieved through the opportunity that they [the students] have to live in a protected area,” so that they will protect and defend the environment in the future.
The Department of Canindeyú where the reserve is located is one of the poorest in Paraguay, with a poverty rate of 33.24% according to a survey conducted in 2015. The Foundation hopes to reduce poverty over time through its education initiatives.
Protecting the Atlantic Forest
The World Wildlife Foundation considers the Atlantic Forest Region to be one of the most important eco-regions on the planet, given that “seven percent of the world’s plant species and 5% of the world’s vertebrate animal species are found there.” Within Paraguay, approximately 92% of originally forested areas have been wiped out.
Last week the Moisés Bertoni Foundation along with other organizations including the Autonomous Indigenous Federation of Paraguay (FAPI) sent a letter to Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benitez calling on the government to guarantee the protection of San Rafael National Park/Proposed National Reserve, the largest nature reserve in the country, which is also part of the Atlantic Forest region.
The park is threatened by development and farming after it suffered destruction from forest fires in 2020 that destroyed at least 45% of the protected area. The letter alleges the fires were started intentionally. It also recognized the reserve as the ancestral land (Tekoha Guasu) of the Mbya Guaraní people.
As is the case across Latin America, protecting the environment in Paraguay can be life-threatening. In 2018 hunters who had entered the park illegally shot to death two park rangers in the Mbaracayú Reserve.
Hoy, 18 de agosto, se cumplen dos años del ataque en el que asesinaron a nuestros compañeros #guardaparques, Rumildo Toledo y Artemio Villalba.
El caso sigue sin ser resuelto.#DosAñosSinRumildo#DosAñosSinArtemio#SoyGuardaparque pic.twitter.com/m7ZkWaFLuQ
— Fundación Moisés Bertoni (@MBertoni) August 18, 2020
Despite all of the challenges it faces, the Mbaracayú Forest Nature Reserve remains a model and beacon of hope throughout the Atlantic Forest region on its 30 year anniversary.
Dashiell is a graduate of Reed College where he studied Latin American and Peninsular Spanish literature. At Latina Republic, Dashiell elevates the voices of activists and organizers that work to promote human rights and immigrant rights throughout Mexico. His work contributes to the organization’s mission of breaking stereotypes and bringing attention to underreported stories throughout Latin America.