Pantanal Conservation Area (Brazil)


Ecosystems and beneficiaries

The Pantanal Conservation Complex consists of a cluster of four protected areas, with a total area of 187,818 ha (UNESCO, 2014), and is located in western central Brazil. The site represents 1.3% of Brazil's Pantanal region, which is one of the world's largest freshwater wetland ecosystems. Two major rivers flow from these headwaters. There is a high species abundance and diversity, including plants and birds, the latter attracting many tourists. Beneficiaries of the ecosystem therefore include these tourists (two-thirds of whom are from outside Brazil (Araújo & Bicalho, 2009)), as well as local cattle farmers and fishermen.

The local economy

The Pantanal is remote from the main centres of economic activity in Brazil; the nearest airport is located in the city of Cuiabá (around 100km away), which is the gateway to the region. Development in the Pantanal has been hindered by the cyclical hydrological regime: the Pantanal is an immense alluvial plain which becomes extensively flooded during the rainy season, temporarily storing a large volume of water (Swarts, 2000). Whilst cattle grazing is conducted in the Pantanal, it is sparsely populated, and in recent years many ranches have switched to tourist lodges due to the declining profitability of ranching and the growing tourism sector (Araújo & Bicalho, 2009). Sustainable economic activities based on use of the ecosystem have been identified (Dolabella, 2000) as:

- cattle ranching, which has been conducted largely in natural pastures for 200 years with minimal negative impact on the environment, and the Brazilian Association of Organic Producers now has a number of members in the area raising organic cattle;

- tourism, mainly nature-based or eco-tourism, is another important (over 250,000 tourists a year in the southern Pantanal (Araújo & Bicalho, 2009)), and growing, economic activity, though ideally further growth would be aligned with a strategic plan to minimize negative impacts;

- sustainable fishing, though this requires not focussing on a limited number of species.

Type of economic analysis undertaken

The main economic analysis relating to the Pantanal was published in 2000 (Seidl & Moraes, 2000) and is based on the values contained in Costanza et al.'s much-cited Nature paper (Costanza et al, 1997). The study focuses on Nhecolândia, which is the second largest of the eleven Pantanal sub-regions, comprising some 19.5% of the region (Silva et al., 1998), though with a very small population (less than 2,000 inhabitants). The different biomes in the area were identified using satellite data and field plots were used to typify the general biophysical features of the categories. These were then assigned to one of four broad biome categories identified by Costanza et al (1997). The values of ecosystem services (simply transferring the per hectare/year values from the Costanza et al. study) were then weighted to appropriately reflect the amount of time and area spent providing services of a particular biome. For example, low-lying, flat grazing-lands were considered grasslands for two-thirds of the year and wetlands for one-third of the year. Note that these proportions, whilst considered typical for Nhecolândia, may not necessarily apply to other Pantanal sub-regions.

Main findings from the study

Table 5 shows the estimated annual value of a wide range of provisioning, regulating and cultural ecosystem services and benefits in Pantanal da Nhecolândia. The first column of values list those reported in the original study, the second are up-rated (by Consumer Prices Index inflation measure).


Ecosystem service            US$ (1994) per hectare        US$ (2013) per hectare
   categories                        per year                     per year
Water supply                1,977.11                    3,108.41
Disturbance regulation        1,747.19                    2,746.93
Waste treatment                505.05                        794.04
Cultural                    25.13                        668.39
Water regulation            378.81                        595.56
Nutrient cycling            185.06                        290.95
Recreation/tourism            157.37                        247.42
Habitat/refugia                105.88                        166.46
Raw materials                75.05                        117.99
Gas regulation                67.35                        105.89
Erosion control                63.41                        99.69
Food production                53.4                        83.96
Climate regulation            44.76                        70.37
Soil formation                22.37                        35.17
Pollination                    12.27                        19.29
Biological control            11.29                        17.75
Genetic resources            8.23                        12.94

Total annual                 5,839.72                    9,181.21
regional value


Together, water supply and disturbance regulation (flood control) contribute close to two-thirds of the total calculated value. This makes sense due to the hydrological importance of this site. Some values were not included in the above (e.g. non-use and educational). However, evidence suggests that these are also significant. For example, multilateral donors provide grants for conservation activity and a former ranch of almost 8,000 ha of protected area was purchased for scientific research.

Cross-checking results with other studies of the area can be useful. For example, Shrestha et al, (2002) examined the recreational fishing value of the Pantanal using the travel cost method (see Section 4.3.2). It estimated that total social welfare ranged from US$35 million to US$56 million (1994 values). Recreational fishing was estimated to account for 80% of recreation at that time (Araújo & Bicalho, 2009). So, adjusting for this, results in an upper recreation value estimate of US$67 million (1994) for the whole of the Pantanal, which compares with around US$157 million in the above study (Table 5) just for Nhecolândia.

General conclusions from the case study

The approach (benefits transfer) is relatively simple but relies on the accuracy of the values being transferred to the new site. Some of the underlying studies used by Costanza et al (1997) were relatively deficient. However, valuation databases of values for benefit transfer now exist containing a larger number of more recent studies and these could be utilised to derive more accurate valuations for a site (they could be further improved following the approaches outlined in the methodology section 4.3.2). However, this approach offers an option as a first approximation of (a somewhat hypothetical) total value for awareness-raising purposes. Applying the average total regional value per hectare from this study to the area of the Pantanal Conservation Area gives a 2013 total ecosystem service value of US$1,700 million per year. To put this figure into local context, it is greater than the value of Brazil's exports of fish (FAO, 2010) and fresh fruit (IBRAF, 2011) combined, whilst the entire Brazilian Ministry of Environment annual budget for the years 2010-2012 was US$ 1,718 million (INESC, 2014).