- Members of the Yarang Women’s Movement in Brazil have collected 3.2 tons of seeds over the past decade.
- The native seeds are sold to rural landowners and organizations to help replenish forests that have been degraded.
- The Yarang Women’s Movement is part of a seed network collective responsible for replanting nearly 6,000 hectares (14,800 acres) of land in Brazil’s Xingu River Basin.
- Unpredictable changes in weather patterns have made the seed-collecting process more challenging in recent years.
On any given morning, women from Brazil’s Moygu and Arayó villages can be found gathering baskets, bags and machetes. They pack water and beiju, a bread made from manioc flour, then gather the children and begin their walk into the forest for another day of collecting local seeds. Deep in the woods, their fingers graze the land, brushing fallen leaves to the side to reveal murici-da-mata, jatobá, leiteiro, carvoeiro, cafezinho do pasto, mamoninha, lobeira and other local seed species, which they collect while enjoying each other’s company beneath the thick canopy above.
When their baskets and bags are full, the group makes their way to the Yarang Women’s Movement Seed House, located between the Moygu and Arayó villages and home to the Ikpeng people of Mato Grosso state. The women finish processing the seeds using a sieve, then lay them out to dry before storing them until an order comes in. Six hours after leaving their villages for the daily seed-gathering walk, the women return home.
For more than 10 years, the 65 members of the Yarang Women’s Movement have steadfastly and meticulously combed the dense forest surrounding their villages for native seeds. The group’s name, yarang, means leafcutter ant in the local language and was chosen by Airé Ikpeng, a leader in the community. “We work like the leafcutter ants who work together, relish seeds, go into the forest, do the collecting. They work with seeds, always as a group,” said Kore Ikpeng, one of the seed collectors, in an August 2019 video produced by Instituto Socioambiental.
The women sell the collected seeds to nurseries, rural landowners, and other people and organizations for reforesting degraded land at the headwaters of the Xingu River. Some of these people also seek advice from the indigenous people about which seeds to use and how to plant them. “The white people who have caused the deforestation no longer have anywhere to gather seeds. So, they use our seeds to make their forests grow again,” Kore said.
The Yarang Women’s Movement has collected 3.2 tons of seeds as part of the Xingu Seed Network Association, a community development network established in 2007. The network manages and markets the seeds collected by 568 collectors in 15 groups. About a million trees (approximately 300 hectares, or 740 acres) have been replanted as a direct result of the seeds collected by the Yarang Women’s Movement. Across all of the groups, the Xingu Seed Network as a whole has collected more than 220 tons of seeds from 220 native species, resulting in the replanting of nearly 6,000 hectares (14,800 acres).
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Xingu Seed Network has paused its field activities so the indigenous people can stay in their villages and avoid contact with people in surrounding cities. However, the women are still collecting seeds to sell in the future.
Collecting and selling the seeds has netted women in the Yarang Women’s Movement about $20,000 in direct income over the past decade, but the women don’t do this simply for the money. Though the Xingu River Basin is located outside the Xingu Indigenous Territory, the river runs through the villages where the women live, and deforestation has a direct impact on their lives.
“The purpose of the Yarang Movement is to reforest the riparian forests of the Xingu River Basin and recover forest resources important to them by improving water and soil quality, protecting the river from silting, bringing more fruit to fish and animals, and fighting against climate change,” said Dannyel Sá, the socio-environmental adviser of the Xingu Seed Network.
While the Xingu Seed Network has helped local reforestation efforts immensely, the challenge is daunting: Approximately 150 million hectares (370 million acres) of riverside — an area the size of Alaska —, and a million hectares (2.5 million acres) of land have been deforested in the Xingu River Basin in the past decade.
Different seeds fall from the trees during different seasons, so collecting is a year-round process.
“They go out every day because every day you have different seeds available, except during the rainy season,” said Renata Marques, who has spent time with the Yarang Women’s Movement on two occasions. However, climate change has also proved challenging for the seed collectors. The amount of rainfall — and the resultant flowering season — has changed in the Xingu Indigenous Territory in recent years, so the types and amounts of seeds available at various times of year have become increasingly unpredictable. This challenge hasn’t deterred the women. “They have found creative ways to survive and adapt to climate change. The Yarang Women’s Movement is an example of resilience,” Marques said.
When they aren’t collecting seeds, the women plant, care for, and harvest local crops, grate and wash cassava, make beiju, roast fish, and care for their families. “They are singers, shamans, midwives, and guardians of the community’s agrobiodiversity and native language,” Sá said. But they’re also ambassadors for the land they live on — a role the Yarang Women’s Movement takes seriously, despite the challenges they face.
“We need to teach the value of seeds, the value of forests. We need to ensure that my grandsons and granddaughters will have a future,” said Magaró Ikpeng of the Yarang Women’s Movement. “You will only value the forest if you look at it as something good. If it doesn’t make sense, it won’t be worth anything.”
Banner image: Members of the collective in the rainforest. Image courtesy Carol Quintanilha/Instituto Socioambiental.