- In early June, a meeting of Redário — a group of seed networks from all over Brazil — brought together members of traditional peoples, NGOs and government agencies in the Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park.
- Seed networks are community organizations that have multiplied in the last decade in different Brazilian biomes to collect, trade and plant native seeds in degraded areas.
- They promote more inclusive ecological restoration as they generate income for traditional peoples and family farmers who preserve their territories.
- Brazil has signed international commitments planning to restore 30 million acres by 2030.
In the Chapada dos Veadeiros area, in Goiás state — 230 kilometers (143 miles) from Brasília — members of seed networks from several parts of Brazil met for almost a week in early June.
Together with environmental organizations, researchers and government officials, they participated in discussions to boost Redário, a new group seeking to strengthen these networks and meet the demands of the country’s ecological restoration sector.
“This meeting gathered members of Indigenous peoples, family farmers, urban dwellers, technicians, partners, everyone together. It creates a beautiful mosaic and there’s a feeling that what we are doing will work and will grow,” says Milene Alves, a member of the steering committee of the Xingu Seed Network and Redário’s technical staff.
In 2022, 64 metric tons of native seeds were sold for this purpose by the more than 20 member networks. Redário directly supported the sales of around 16 metric tons of more than 200 species sown across 1,200 acres. Similar figures are expected for 2023.
Collection of native seeds by traditional populations in preserved areas of different Brazilian biomes has contributed to effective and more inclusive restoration of degraded areas. The effort is necessary for Brazil to fulfill its pledge under international agreements to recover 30 million acres of vegetation by 2030.
Seed collection for restoring these areas used to be done only by companies. Now, these networks, which have multiplied in the last decade and are organized as cooperatives, associations or even companies, enable people in the territories to benefit from the activity.
Eduardo Malta, a restoration expert from the Socio-Environmental Institute and one of Redário’s leaders, advocates for community participation in trading and planting seeds. “These are the people who went to all the trouble to secure the territories and who are there now, preserving them. They have the greatest genetic diversity of species and hold all the knowledge about the ecosystem,” he says.
One of the groups that make up Redário is the Geraizeiros Collectors’ Network, a cooperative in northern Minas Gerais that was created in 2021 and now gathers 30 collectors from eight communities in five municipalities: Montezuma, Vargem Grande, Rio Pardo de Minas, Taiobeiras and Berizal.
The Geraizeiros, a local traditional population from the area known as Gerais, collect and plant seeds to recover the vegetation of the Gerais Springs Sustainable Development Reserve. The reserve was created in 2014 to stop the devastation that is causing water scarcity as a result of eucalyptus monocultures planted by large corporations, which have been taking over the Cerrado landscape for decades now.
“The region used to be very rich in water and it is now supplied by water trucks or wells,” says Fabrícia Santarém Costa, a collector and vice president of the Geraizeiros Collectors’ Network. “Today we see that these activities only harm us, because the [eucalyptus] company left, and we are there suffering the consequences.”
Costa was there in 2018, when a project carried out by Embrapa and financed by the Global Environmental Facility fostered the creation of a small group of seed collectors in her homeland. It was the embryo of the cooperative. She was 18 years old, and she says that working with the seeds changed her life and her view of the biome in which she was born.
“I didn’t really know the Cerrado. We only knew pequi [Caryocar brasiliense] and araticum [Annona montana]; I had no idea about the importance of the other species, about the Cerrado’s role in preserving water. It’s because of seed collection that I work for the community now, recovering areas, organizing people,” she says.
She describes restoring the sustainable development reserve as “ant work” — that is, a painstaking, collective, ongoing task — but it has already improved the water situation in the communities. In addition, seed sales complement geraizeiros’ income, enabling them to remain in their territories.
This work has also gained strength in Indigenous territories. In southern Bahia’s Barra Velha Indigenous Land, the Forestation and Reforestation Cooperative (Cooplanjé) was created in 2012 in the Pataxó village of Boca da Mata. It performs all stages, from collection to planting, operating in the territory and providing services to third parties.
Like the geraizeiros, the Pataxó started by restoring their own areas and then began selling the seeds. According to Alfredo Santana, leader of the Barra Velha Indigenous Land, they have already restored 670 acres of Atlantic Forest within the Indigenous land and the Monte Pascoal National Historic Park.
“We have a restored area there that is 4 years old, an agroforest, where we are already harvesting from the very seeds we sowed. You reap what you sow,” Santana says.
As the work has been successful, the Indigenous people of Barra Velha have taken the practice of collecting and restoring to nearby communities and territories such as the Comexatiba (Cahy-Pequi) Indigenous Land.
In Aracruz, Espíritu Santo, where the territory has also endured decades of impacts of eucalyptus planted by a pulp company (Fibria), Tupiniquim and Guarani Indigenous people who are members of the Tupyguá Network now collect seeds for trading and reforesting.
“It is very rewarding to know that you can earn an income by collecting seeds. But what’s important for us is to contribute to reforestation. We want to show society that the forest is life,” says Ana Paula Moraes, a member of the Tupiniquim Indigenous people from the Córrego do Ouro village and a seed collector in the Tupyguá Network.
A “nursery” for networks
Milene Alves, from Nova Xavantina, in the state of Mato Grosso, is yet another young “offspring” of seed networks. Recently awarded a master’s degree in ecology and conservation from the State University of Mato Grosso, since her adolescence she has played increasingly important roles in the Xingu Seed Network — a pioneering effort and the largest seed network in Brazil.
After 11 years dedicated to the Xingu Network, which has already restored 20,000 acres in plantations with partners, Milene works at Redário supporting the growth of new networks. She has recently been to Alta Floresta, Mato Grosso, to monitor the work of the Portal da Amazônia Seed Network.
“I saw that they have a lot of potential and will get stronger; they’ll grow more when they start training leaders within the [collection] groups. I was able to take much of what I’ve learned to them,” she says.
While Alves considers that each network has its “personality,” she sees many similarities between the challenges posed by this effort and those faced by the Xingu Seed Network in the past. “I like to say that Redário is a nursery. Many networks join us when they are still small and then they grow to become strong and walk on their own legs,” she says.
One of the factors that led to the creation of Redário was the similar development stages of seed networks throughout Brazil.
“We’ve seen several networks come and go over these 17 years,” says Eduardo Malta, who participated in the creation of the Xingu Seed Network in the early 2000s. “We started collecting stories and learnings both from those experiences that succeeded and those that didn’t. Exchanges between networks help the process a lot because they will avoid making several mistakes.”
A recurring challenge for the networks is to have customers all year-round because most of them are set up to supply a specific reforestation project, which always ends when it reaches its goal. One of Redário’s missions is to seek more buyers to stabilize demand, allowing member networks to organize and evolve from there.
This has been one of the main challenges faced by the Geraizeiros Collectors’ Network. “Sometimes we can’t sell all the seeds we collect. Redário came to help us who work at the grassroots, because we often don’t have anyone to count on, we don’t have technical staff or support. Everyone helps everyone,” says vice president Fabrícia Costa.
Muvuca: direct sowing for the climate
The Redário initiative also intends to influence public policies and regulations in the restoration sector to disseminate muvuca, the name given by the networks to the technique of sowing seeds directly into the soil rather than growing seedlings in nurseries.
Network experiences and technical studies show that this technique covers the area faster and with more trees per acre, which is closer to the original ecosystem. As a result, it requires less maintenance and lowers costs. Through the networks, the system also distributes income to the local population and encourages community organizations.
“The muvuca system has great potential [for restoration], depending on what you want to achieve and local characteristics. It has to be in our range of options for meeting the targets, for achieving them at scale,” says Ministry of the Environment analyst Isis Freitas. She is currently a member of the Forest Department’s division for the recovery of degraded areas, under the National Secretariat of Biodiversity, Forests and Animal Rights.
In 2017, Brazil formalized the National Plan for the Recovery of Native Vegetation (Planaveg) aimed at implementing international commitments signed at the end of the previous year.
Having joined the Paris Agreement, the Bonn Challenge and the Initiative 20×20, the country declared its intention to restore 30 million acres by the end of the decade, implement 12 million acres of integrated agricultural systems (crops, livestock and forestry), and recover 12 million acres of degraded pastures. Together, the area is almost equivalent to the state of São Paulo.
In addition to creating social and economic benefits, preserving water resources, recovering soil and biodiversity, restoration is also important to sequester carbon from the atmosphere and mitigate climate change. Deforestation has been the main driver of increasing emissions in the country.
The restoration target was confirmed this year by Minister of the Environment Marina Silva and, according to Freitas, she wants to put the Executive Commission for the Control of Illegal Deforestation and Recovery of Native Vegetation (Conaveg) up and running again in the second half of 2023. The termination of participatory councils by the administration of former President Jair Bolsonaro in 2019 disorganized the commission and the execution of Planaveg.
The Socio-Envioronmental Institute’s executive secretary, Rodrigo Junqueira, is hopeful that the Redário strategy will leverage organizations that have had a positive impact on restoration and foster it in the country. “We don’t have much time left. If we don’t make any progress in this decade, I don’t know what will happen.”
Banner image: Chief Alfredo Ferreira, from the Pataxó Indigenous people, helps recover the Atlantic Forest in southern Bahia through a local cooperative. Image courtesy of Rodrigo Carvalho Gonçalves/Redário/ISA.