ISA team plants more than 350 hectares of forests in Mato Grosso in 2022 and creates islands of green in territory deforested by agribusiness
“Deforesting is easy, what's difficult is making the forest grow again”, says Artemizia Moita. The biologist defines herself as predestined - due to the plant name, so to speak. At the end of November, she led the Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) team and partners around the world of forest restoration at Fazenda Santa Cândida, owned by Agropecuária Fazenda Brasil, in Barra do Garças (MT). Moita has already restored hundreds of hectares of forests on farms throughout Mato Grosso dominated by soy and other monocultures, in addition to livestock.
Planting forests will be one of the essential tasks for Brazil to meet its goals of reducing 50% of emissions by 2030 and zeroing them in by 2050, according to the commitment established at the UN Climate Conference in 2021 (COP-26). In her inauguration speech, the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Marina Silva, highlighted forest restoration as a sustainable and powerful economic alternative. “Brazil has the goal of recovering 12 million hectares of degraded areas, with the potential to generate 260 thousand jobs”, she said.
Making a forest grow where there used to be pasture or monoculture, however, is not a simple task, contrary to what common sense might suggest. There are several possible techniques and each of them requires meticulous improvement. Moita has been working with this for 23 years and, after testing many of them, he decided on direct sowing, or seed muvuca, a technique that ISA helped to improve, execute and for which it provides technical assistance for plantations in the Xingu region and Araguaia, in Mato Grosso.
We are in one of the barns at Fazenda Santa Cândida and Moita climbs onto a ride attached to the back of a tractor. The cargo: more than two thousand kilos of forest seeds and green manure from 87 different species. Three farm workers assigned to the mission are with her. guided by herEveryone starts opening the bags and pouring the contents onto the floor of the truck bed. “I recommend that everyone take off their boots and keep their socks on, otherwise seeds will get everywhere,” she recalls.
Winged seeds, such as ipês and carobas, should only be dumped shortly before planting so they don't fly out along the way. After throwing all the contents of the bags, Moita takes a shovel and starts to mix the seeds, followed by his assistants, who use their hands.
The various species must all be well mixed. Each of them has a different function, and a right moment to emerge. First, there are the seeds of the green manure: the jack bean, the crotalaria, the pigeonpea. From these seeds, low bushes will grow, which shade the area. It is the best way to kill brachiaria, a species of grass, and other grasses, as well as nitrogenate the soil naturally, making room for pioneer species - such as castor bean, charcoal and lobeira.
After six years, the pioneers will give way to the first native species, or climax species, such as jatobá, ipês or copaíba, which form the consolidated forest.
Therefore, the amount of seeds of each species involves an accurate calculation, which has been improved in recent years. The amount of total seeds, green and native manure, for example, decreased over the years, from 150 kg to 70 kg of seeds per hectare.
“The mixture is good when the beans appear, the white one”, Moita advises. When the mixture is good, they all sit on the thick layer of seeds. The tractor where the ride is attached begins to move towards the planting area.
Moita works in the sustainability sector of the Agropecuária Fazenda Brasil (AFB) group. When a new farm is purchased, she and her team identify areas that, because of legislation or because they are not productive, can be restored and become forest again. “Bought it, it solves the environmental problem it has in it”, she says. One of the most common cases is the recovery of springs. A degraded soil, without forest, can end up with a spring. When you plant a forest, little by little, this source starts to mine water again and fulfill its ecological function.
The Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) provides assistance for over 30 plantations in Mato Grosso, Pará and São Paulo, including farms, settlements, indigenous lands and conservation units. In all, 4 hectares have already been converted into forest. Since 2006, when this work began, there have been many lessons learned. Each rural owner takes his time to understand ecological restoration and its benefits, which go beyond compliance with environmental legislation. The more engaged restoration actors, the better the results achieved.
“What is a mature forest? It is difficult to say the exact time that we can consider it mature, whether it is 10 years, 100 years, 1000 years. It is important for it to establish itself and start fulfilling its ecological role”, explains Guilherme Pompiano, from ISA's forest restoration team. At Santa Cândida Farm itself, after a year, jaguar, capybara, alligator and anteater have already started to appear. It's when the forest starts to come back that the animals come back together.
The tractor dragging the seed cart arrives at the planting area. There are 32 hectares that used to serve as a pasture area. The soil was prepared with several harrowings to inhibit pasture growth for one month. It is time for green manure to emerge and prevent grasses from invading again. The group split into two: one part of the expedition will do the planting on foot, the other on a tractor.
Os who go to work on foot stand in a line, with bags full of seeds. At each step, they distribute a handful of different seeds, simulating a planter. Moita's group goes to the other side on the hitchhiker. Two on each side and one at the back, they go out throwing handfuls of seeds on the ground while the tractor walks from one side to the other. The idea is to distribute this entire load of seeds over 32 hectares, taking care that no area has much more seeds than the other.
At the end of the working day, the seeds were scattered. Now, let nature act: planting is always done during the rainy season (October-December), to guarantee the establishment of the future forest. thicket will follow the growth and development of that area but, for the most part, nature does its work alone. “In my career, I've done a lot of planting with seedlings. But today I completely abandoned seedlings and only work with direct sowing, with muvuca. For planting on a scale, it is the best cost-benefit”, he says.
Four (left) and twelve (right) year old forests at Fazenda Santa Cândida, in Barra das Garças (MT) 📷Manuela Meyer/ISA
After planting, Moita shows us areas in different stages of development. After one year, the green manure is already well established. Among the bushes, it is already possible to see pioneer species and even small native seedlings that stayed hundreds of years in the place. In the area that is about four years old, the pioneers are already growing. There's still grass, but the growth of the pioneers will soon shade enough to get rid of it. In more serious cases, where the grass is very resistant, Moita releases some oxen in the area - at this stage, it can be a technique to get rid of the grass.
From the age of 6, the soil already consolidates like that of a forest: without grass, covered with leaves and organic material. Among the pioneers, the secondary and climax natives are already growing, like the buriti tree in the photo below. Moita then leads us to a consolidated forest: the pioneers are dying with the growth of the native ones, and the climax species are already in equilibrium, rescuing the natural landscapes of this transition region between the Cerrado and the Amazon. The natural flow of seed dispersal and forest enrichment already takes place, as well as environmental services linked to the forest, such as evaporation/transpiration, soil enrichment and habitat for native species.
Where does so much seed come from?
Plantations like Moita's and so many others that take place in Mato Grosso are only possible thanks to Xingu Seed Network Association. The Network provided more than 2 tons of seeds used in planting at Fazenda Santa Cândida and does the same for all other plantings supported by ISA. One thing doesn't work without the other. In order to have a forest, the work of more than 600 seed collectors throughout Mato Grosso is indispensable, who, over the 16 years of the network, have already collected 325 tons of seeds.
Seed collection, in addition to being the basis for thousands of hectares of forests, is an alternative source of income for dozens of urban and rural families. This is the case of Vera Alves da Silva Oliveira, 52 years old. After many years working as a maid, Vera changed her profession and, with the earnings obtained at work collecting and selling seeds, she was able to have her own house, a car and a motorcycle.
His daughter, Milene Alves, 24, followed in his footsteps as a collector. And, with the interest aroused by the Network, she decided to study biology at the undergraduate and master's level. Watch here the video about the celebration of the 15th anniversary of the Xingu Seed Network:
“Each one has its rhythm, its way of harvesting seed”, says Bruna Dayanna, director of the Network. Collector Vanderlei Augusto, for example, climbs a tree, places a tarp on the ground and shakes the branches. Thus, dozens of charcoal seeds fall there, providing large amounts of this species. And while some, like Vera Oliveira, prefer to process the seeds by removing them from the casing with a manual brushcutter, the Yarang, a group of indigenous collectors of the Ikpeng people, prefer to process them one by one with scissors.
Another interesting point is the meaning that each one gives to the Network. The Yarang, for example, understand that the work of collecting seeds is a bridge to restoring the surrounding forests and, therefore, demand that their seeds be used only for forest restoration, and not for other purposes, such as handicrafts or research. The seeds collected by ARSX have already recovered 8 thousand hectares in plantations with partners - 27 million trees.
The headquarters of ARSX is located in the center of Nova Xavantina. There, in addition to the administrative part and the rooms where the fixed team works, there is also the Casa de Semente. Like this one, there are 10 other Seed Houses spread across the state. About 30 tons of seeds pass through them per year.
Today, the demand for seed is contracted in advance, that is: the collectors only collect species and quantity of seeds that have a certain purpose. This allows for greater sustainability of the Network.