by Adriana Meola Riemke
March 4th 2019
The efforts to restore and preserve the Amazon have no national borders. The cooperation of experts from three countries and two continents made it possible, using the example of this project, to reforest destroyed rainforests, to return part of the original edible plants to the forest and to enable smallholders in the state of Acre, in the Brazilian Amazon, to achieve sustainable economic viability.
The collaboration between TodaVida (Berlin), the University of Leuven (Belgium) and the Cooperativa Central de Comercialização Extrativista do Acre (Acre, Brazil) is based on the impulse of the Brazilian sustainability researcher Bruna Todeschini Quadros, namely on Bruna’s master thesis on tropical agroforestry systems with a focus on PANCs (non-conventional food plants).
As part of the “Erasmus Mundus” program, Quadros came to TodaVida in the practical and final stage of her studies. This partnership between March and December 2017 led to the development of a replanting project focusing on endemic species of the Amazon region. The Cooperative Cooperacre, in turn, ensured that the theory of the work could manifest itself in tangible facts by implementing the proposals of the thesis in the communities of the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve, in Acre, since 2018.
Agroforestry systems (SAFs) are techniques for replanting fallow land combining tree species with more short-lived agricultural crops to create both ecological and economic benefits. In other words, trees can make use of their natural growing season, while other plant species develop in their shade, enabling small farmers to produce agricultural yields even in the short term.
The thesis of Bruna Quadros is unique in that it highlights the advantage of using endemic species in agroforestry systems for forest restoration and conservation. They are Amazonian edible plants of extreme economic, ecological and social importance that are undervalued or ignored by local residents and markets. These include species that could fit well into modern “super foods” and have great chances of conquering new markets, such as the Ariá root, the Cubuiu Indian tomato or the Jacaratiá fruit.
Rescuing genetic resources from the Brazilian flora is also an important additional benefit.
A particular challenge in this project was to find the right sequence (“arrangements”) for the Agroforst system presented in the paper. The “Arrangements” define the spatial and temporal sequence of the planting of each of the species, taking into account harmonizing plants and their ideal planting times (see box…).
Arrangement of Bruna's Thesis - click to enlarge
The SAF, developed by Bruna Quadros and TodaVida, was adopted by Cooperacre and implemented in 10 communities of the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve in the state of Acre in the extreme northwest of Brazil. These areas were assessed as financially viable for the creation of agroforestry systems. Many of them are located in the “Deforestation Belt”, a border on the Amazon known for its high rates of deforestation, mainly associated with agricultural activities.
“You are only as big as your dreams”
The forest restoration project in Acre using SAFs is the work of many hands: Cooperacre has invested in profitable sustainability; the thesis of Quadros and TodaVida with scientific knowledge; and several environmental associations of the government and civil society supported it with their resources, such as the WWF-Brazil, the project “Bem Diverso”, the Brazilian Institute Embrapa (Agricultural Research Corporation), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF).
However, the key people for the success of the SAFs are the tribes of the forest and the people who live in the Chico Mendes Reserve. These people live from subsistence agriculture and small animal husbandry and use the reserve for their traditional extractivist activities. The reserve guarantees the sustainable use of natural resources, i.e. the forest is preserved in its entirety, thus promoting the protection of the livelihoods and culture of these peoples.
The implementation of agroforestry systems that prioritise native edible species shows that scientific knowledge on environmental issues in conjunction with the interests of the business community can not only generate better business opportunities, but above all promote the conservation of the forest through its sustainable profitability.