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The Caatinga biome is exclusive to the Northeast of Brazil. It is the largest dry forest in South America and is rich in biological diversity. It is also the least known biome of Brazil. With over 40 percent of the area not yet sampled (Perez-Guerrero 2006). The Caatinga occupies approximately 11 percent of the country and 60 percent of the Northeast, covering an area estimated from 800,000 km² to 100,000,000 km². It extends through the states of Piaui, Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraiba, Pernambuco, Alagoas, Sergipe, Bahia, and Minas Gerais. About 90 percent of the state of Ceará, including 150 of its 184 municipios and 70 percent of its population, is located in the Caatinga ( The climate is semi-arid with an average percipitation rate around 750 mm, and an average temperature varying from 25-29 degrees Celsius (77-84 Fahrenheit). Rainfall patterns are irregular, varying in time and space, and periods of drought affect the population immensely. Rivers are intermittent being largely insufficient for irrigation. Soil is situated over crystalline rocks, making drainage a significant problem.

The charecteristic plant types vary from tall scrub forests to savannas according to rainfall and soil. Most plants are deciduous, losing their leaves at the beginning of the dry season. Cacti, bromeliads, and succulents are also present. There are 932 reported plant species, 380 that are endemic. 5,344 species of flora have also been registered (IFAD 2004). Useful plants include legumes, grasses, fruit, timber, medical plants, and the extractions from babaçú, carnaúba, tucúm, and macaúba nuts. In addition to vegetation, 148 species of mammals have been indentified with 10 being endemic; while 348 species of birds have been indentified with 15 being endemic. Around 30 species, including mammals and birds, have been considered endangered. The Caatinga is also home to 185 types of fish with 57.3 percent being endemic and 154 species of reptiles and amphibians.

Due to persistant droughts, food production is problematic for the 15 million people living in the Caatinga. The poverty-stricken populations survive through "short-cycle types of subsistence farming, animal breeding in extensive systems, extractive activities (wood and non-timber products), temporary farm employment, and seasonal migration to urban areas" (GEF 2007). In addition, 19 percent of cattle, 50 percent of sheep, and 90 percent of goat herds in Brazil are raised in the Caatinga, which adds to problems of overgrazing. Less than one percent of the region is protected in form of parks, biological reserves, and ecological stations. An additional eight percent of Caatinga is protected, although not strictly. This is less than the national goal of 10 percent according to the 1997 Convention on Biological Diversity that Brazil is a signatory to.

It is estimated that 653,000 hectares are degraded every year through forms of human interference, such as deforestation overgrazing, and inappropriate agricultural practices. In addition, desertification is threatening about 15 percent of the biome and has advanced quickly in the last two decades. According to the Projeto Sertão, the "currently predominant degrading practices are the result of complex social and production constraints, including poverty, limited income-generating opportunities, risk aversion, investment constraints, fragile environmental conditions, and limited information on technical inovations and market opportunities." (IFAD 2004)

Additional Resources: 

The additional information below does not represent the entirety of information available on the Caatinga, but rather a starting point for those interested in further research. Numerous scientific articles may be accessed online.

  • Associação Caatinga: Non-profit, non-governmental organization aimed at conserving the biodiversity of the Caatinga. Includes news, campaigns, information, and links to other informative websites.




  • Semiá Portal monitoring information and education about the Brazilian semi-arid environment. Includes publications on each state that is considered semi-arid in Brazil.



  • 1st International Seminar on Biosphere Reserves of Arid, Semi-arid Regions, and Friends of the Caatinga Biosphere Institution: Includes a description of the Caatinga biome and identifies main strategies previously employed, current obstacles, and proposals for change in the Caatinga Biosphere Reserve (p. 22-26)





  • Sustainable Land Management in the Semi-arid Sertão Project: Focus on improving life in communities affected by land degradation in the Northeast of Brazil. Includes information on the Caatinga, details on land degradation and information on smallholder agriculture.


Associação Caatinga. (2011) The Caatinga Biome. Accessed October 4, 2011.

GEF. (2007) Caatinga Conservation and Managment Project-Mata Branca. Report 38663-BR, CEO Endorsement Template- V-2. World Bank: Washington D.C.

International Fund fo Agricultural Devlopment (IFAD). (2004) Sustainable Land Managment in the Semi-Arid Sertão. Project Breif Report, 2373. Brazil: Ministry of Agrarian Development.

Lemos, Maria Carmen. Finan, Timothy J. Fox, Rodger W. Nelson, Donald R. and Tucker, Joanna. (2002) "The Use of Season Climate Forecating in Policymaking: Lessons from Northeast Brazil." Climatic Change 55:479-501.

Lleras, Eduardo. N.d. Caatinga of Northeast Brazil. Accessed October 4, 2011.

Ministry of Enviornment (MMA). N.d. Caatinga Presentation. strutura=203 Accessed October 4, 2011.

Perez-Guerrero Trust Fund for Economic and Technical Cooperation Among Developing Countries. (2006) First International Seminar on Biosphere Reserves of Arid, Semi-Arid Regions. Technical Report. Petrolina, Brazil.

Semiá N.d. Ceará. Accessed October 4, 2011.