- Having restored 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) of forest on Brazil’s coast, the Atlantic Forest Restoration Pact plans to double this by 2025, with the ultimate goal of restoring 15 million hectares (37 million acres) by 2050.
- The Pact focuses on areas with high potential for natural regeneration, in order to reduce restoration costs; reforestation through active tree planting, however, remains an option for creating jobs on large rural properties.
- One of the members of the Pact, the Copaíba Environmental Association, has planted 700,000 seedlings on 600 hectares (1,500 acres) and produced more than 3 million seedlings in its nursery.
- Members of the Pact see gender equity as an aspect to be monitored in restoration projects, with a high degree of women’s participation in their work.
When she was 6 years old, Ludmila Pugliese de Siqueira moved with her family to the state of Amazonas in northeastern Brazil. Her father was a geologist and worked on the construction of the Balbina Dam in the 1980s. Here, in the heart of the Amazon, the little girl entered a stream and swam in the forest for the first time.
Today, Siqueira is the national coordinator of the Atlantic Forest Restoration Pact and restoration manager at Conservation International Brazil (CI-Brasil). She says she wants to restore what her father helped to leave underwater.
The Atlantic Forest Restoration Pact has a goal of reforesting 15 million hectares (37 million acres) of rainforest on Brazil’s coast by 2050. The figure is the result of an analysis of areas with potential for forest restoration published in 2011. It identified priority zones in the Atlantic Forest — a biome that’s even more threatened than the Amazon Rainforest — including permanent preservation areas (APP), legal reserves, areas close to conservation units, regions with endemic or threatened species, and land not suitable for farming.
A 2019 study, co-authored by Siqueira, used satellite images to show that, between 2011 and 2015, around 740,000 hectares (1.8 million acres) of Atlantic Forest were restored in Brazil. By 2020, the Pact aimed for, and achieved, 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) of restored forest, meeting the target set under the Bonn Challenge launched in 2011 by the German government and the IUCN, the global conservation authority. By 2025, the halfway point of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, the Pact plans to double the figure for Atlantic Forest restoration to 2 million hectares (5 million acres).
“We know there is still a long way to go to reach 15 million hectares, but we believe that this will be an exponential curve,” Siqueira says. “Our projection is based on the idea that the more reforested an environment is, the easier natural regeneration will be. In other words, the larger the forest matrix, the higher its regeneration potential.”
The Atlantic Forest Restoration Pact was created in 2009 and today counts 300 members, ranging from NGOs, research institutes, entrepreneurs, government agencies, to landowners. The movement supports forest restoration in the 17 Brazilian states where remnants of the Atlantic Forest still stand. It conceives ideas for restoration, identifies strategic areas, and helps monitor the environmental, social and economic aspects of restoration.
Focusing on areas with high capacity for natural regeneration, in order to reduce restoration costs, is one of the Pact’s bets. That path had already been pointed out as effective for tropical forests in a December 2021 study whose authors included Pedro Brancalion, the movement’s deputy coordinator.
“The Pact has been focusing strongly on these areas with high potential for natural regeneration because labor costs, seeds and imported inputs are bottlenecks in restoration,” Siqueira says. “So, when we manage to identify these areas, they usually become priorities for action and cost reduction.”
Given that 70% of Brazil’s population and most of its economic activity is concentrated along its coast, the Atlantic Forest has historically been the most devastated biome in the country. According to NGO SOS Mata Atlântica, only 12.4% of the original forest remains.
“On the one hand, natural regeneration is harder because of the level of degradation,” Siqueira says. “On the other hand, the restoration chain in the Atlantic Forest is more developed because that’s where restoration started in Brazil. Historically, [Rio de Janeiro’s] Tijuca Forest was the first place where restoration took place.”
According to the Pact, natural regeneration is a good strategy for conservation units and smaller rural properties. For larger farms, active tree planting focused on increasing the vegetation cover quickly may be the better option to boost jobs in restoration.
The movement also has an online monitoring system, developed with mapping cooperative MapBiomas, to view forest remnants and areas under recovery.
Healing the river
To advance its restoration goals, some members of the Pact carry out local reforestation projects. This is the case for the Copaíba Environmental Association, named after a tree, Copaifera langsdorffii, whose oil has anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and healing properties.
“We named the institution that would carry out this work of restoring the river after a tree from the local riparian forest,” says Flávia Balderi, co-founder and executive secretary of the Copaíba Environmental Association. “We founded the Copaíba Association to start planting on the banks of the Peixe River in order to change the environmental situation in Socorro municipality [in São Paulo state]. Then our dream grew and expanded to the Camanducaia Basin.”
The Copaíba Environmental Association was established in September 1999 by four teenagers who were vexed by the muddy color of the Peixe River. Today, the association is both a member of the Pact and part of the Mantiqueira Conservation Project, and operates in 19 municipalities to restore the riparian forest and Atlantic rainforest of the Camanducaia River Basin and the Peixe River Basin. The work covers 281,000 hectares (694,000 acres) between the states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais.
Working with 300 landowners, the Copaíba Environmental Association has planted around 700,000 seedlings on 600 hectares (1,500 acres) of land that’s in the process of being restored. “Our nursery has already produced more than 3 million seedlings, not only for our projects. We also sell them, which helps to maintain the institution’s work,” Balderi says.
The 130 tree species grown in the nursery for restoration include copaíba itself. The tree attracts bees, thus contributing to local beekeeping projects in a region that has historically been subjected to economic cycles based on agriculture and livestock, and has only 17% of its native vegetation left.
Women in restoration
From nursery management to executive secretary, most of Copaíba’s members are women. “The fact that my sister Ana and I are founders of the cooperative and are at the forefront of institutional work has enabled other women to join the work and take the lead,” Balderi says. “The Copaíba association is different because women don’t work only in production; they also lead the work of restoration, nursery, communication and finance.”
Women’s participation has grown in rural land management in general. “We can see the increase in the number of female landowners who are making the decision for their properties, who want to carry out the restoration,” Balderi says.
Siqueira, who authored a 2021 study that calls for gender equity to be one of the aspects monitored in restoration projects, says that “men are focused on the productivity of their properties while women are interested in the perpetuity of environmental conditions, in having a property that is healthy, in building quantity and quality of water as well as food security.”
She adds that “inclusion and diversity are crucial. Heterogeneity is part of nature’s process, and all institutions should benefit from it. It’s also important that restoration follows these natural models.”
At the Copaíba Environmental Association, the desire to heal the riparian forests persists. “The work of recovering the 600 hectares of forest we have completed so far is very small compared to the magnitude of the degradation we find in the whole Atlantic Forest and in this area as well,” Balderi says. “We still dream of changing the color of the Peixe River.”
Crouzeilles, R., Santiami, E., Rosa, M., Siqueira, L. P., Brancalion, P. H., Rodrigues, R. R., … Pinto, S. (2019). There is hope for achieving ambitious Atlantic Forest restoration commitments. Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation, 17(2), 80-83. doi:10.1016/j.pecon.2019.04.003
Poorter, L., Craven, D., Jakovac, C. C., van der Sande, M. T., Amissah, L., Bongers, F., … Hérault, B. (2021). Multidimensional tropical forest recovery. Science, 374(6573), 1370-1376. doi:10.1126/science.abh3629
Siqueira, L. P., Tedesco, A. M., Meli, P., Diederichsen, A., & Brancalion, P. H. (2021). Gender inclusion in ecological restoration. Restoration Ecology, 29(7), e13497. doi:10.1111/rec.13497
Banner image: Seedlings being planted in a nursery of the Atlantic Forest Restoration Pact. Image courtesy of WWF.
This story was reported by Mongabay’s Brazil team and first published here on our Brazil site on June 27, 2022.