BAHIA STATE, Brazil—Grande Sertão Veredas National Park got its name from João Guimarães Rosa’s sprawling poetic novel about the bandit gangs and cattle ranchers who lived in the lawless sertão, or outback, in the early 20th century. Today the park preserves a piece of this myth-infused region, a savanna that once covered more than a quarter of Brazil’s territory and harbors 5 percent of the world’s species. The tracks of tapirs, jaguars, maned wolves, giant anteaters, and wild horses can be found in the dirt roads here.
But the park is now an island of wilderness in a sea of monocrop farms. Much of the land outside Grande Sertão Veredas has been razed for cattle pasture or converted for farming soy, coffee, and eucalyptus, which is burned for charcoal. Less than half of the dry forests, brush, and grasslands in this savanna, known as the Cerrado (pronounced “sey-HA-do”), remains intact.
Help has arrived in the unlikely form of a dairy farmer from New Zealand named Simon Wallace. Using a technique imported from his homeland, Wallace aims to reverse the process of deforestation and high-carbon cattle rearing that’s prevalent in Brazil and develop island farms amid a sea of wilderness. The technique leverages increased efficiency so that more dairy can be produced from significantly less pasture, reducing pressure to clear wilderness and allowing more native habitat to stand.