Restoring forest and ecosystem services in the Brazilian Amazon

Research-based conservation and capacity building in Mato Grosso, Brazil

Purpose

The project aims to draw on new knowledge and local expertise to promote habitat restoration and long-term conservation of Amazonian forest biodiversity and ecosystem services by capacity building and training local communities to reintroduce appropriate native species to degraded areas and establish agroforestry systems in northern Mato Grosso, Brazil. This includes the development of infrastructure and technical capacity to establish restoration/ agroforestry trials for long-term monitoring of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Background

Smallholders planting agroforestry systemsThe project region, in northern Mato Grosso, lies on the ‘arc of deforestation’ in the southern Amazon and is recognized as a priority for conservation.  Trends indicate that cattle-ranching and agriculture will expand towards the central-northern states of the Brazilian Amazon. Rapid forest destruction is forecast, with the project area being deforested by 2050.

Forest restoration is a priority for the region, where large areas have been cleared by agriculture or logging.  Even within protected areas, there are substantial areas of degraded pasture land. Restoration of forests in this context requires engagement with local community needs and integration with the development of agroforestry systems.

Until recently there was little information on local vegetation, making science-based restoration challenging.  On completion of a recent project (Programa Flora Cristalino), however, we now have a detailed plant inventory for the region and data on the natural composition of major vegetation types.

This project draws on this new knowledge, on the technical expertise of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Project and on local expertise to develop and promote methodologies, initiatives, incentives and infrastructure for habitat restoration.

The principal Brazilian partner, Instituto Ouro Verde (IOV), is already engaged in the development of agroforestry/restoration programmes in the region, and is working with the Rede do Portal da Amazônia seed networks. This involves agricultural smallholders and indigenous people in the collection of native forest seeds for planting in their communities and for commercial sale, providing valuable additional family income. 

Experimental agroforestry/restoration trialFor example, the  Rede do Portal da Amazônia includes 222 registered cololectors, 7 municipalities and 10 ‘Seed Houses’. In 2010 it collected approximately 10 tonnes of forest seeds of 150 species. These were used for the restoration of over 700 hectares of degraded land in northern Mato Grosso.  The project will work two groups currently lacking infrastructural capacity: the Terena (Iriri Indigenous Area, Municipality of Matupá) and agriculturalists in the União do Norte district, Municipality of Peixoto de Azevedo. Broader technical capacity building among the seed networks will be conducted through a workshop with specialist input from Kew, specifically to address identified problems with collection, storage and management of key species.

IOV, through the Sementes do Portal project and with support from various social organisations in northern Mato Grosso, is installing agroforestry systems in areas of domestic-scale agriculture.  In 2010 approximately 350 hectares were installed using seeds collected by the Seed Networks.   Principal costs associated with these relate to seed collection, as the other costs (fencing, planting) are met by the landowner. 

The need for a systematic experimental approach, accompanied by standard monitoring procesures, has been identified.  The project will address this through the implementation of 1-hectare experimental units, which will serve not only as foci for ongoing research but also for dissemination of best practice.  The project will initiate this process with a stakeholder training workshop focused on species selection and monitoring growth, biodiversity and ecosystem services provision, following diagnostic visits to existing planted areas.

One of the greatest challenges in this work is the correct identification of species and collected seeds for planting.  The principal herbarium in the region, HERBAM (in UNEMAT) was recently established and has limited human resources available.  The project will assist seed collectors in the region through the provision of botanical support and training from HERBAM (drawing also on Kew’s experience and information on the flora of the region), and the provision of identification resources (reference collection).

Proposed site of research centreDirect seed planting has proved to be one of the most successful methods for installation of agroforestry systems among agricultural smallholders.  However, there are significant research lacunae to be addressed.  These include species selection, germination rates, planting strategies and management practices appropriate to the local/social context.  In order to address these issues a small research centre will be established for long-term experimental work, aiming to build capacity and provide information for a range of stakeholders (there are currently no other resources of this nature in the region).  Principal areas of research to be initiated within the project include:

  • Evaluation of planting techniques and species combinations for production of food, generation of income, soil recuperation and restoration of vegetatrion.
  • Evaluation of seeds collected by the Rede de Coletores do Portal da Amazônia (seed networks) through germination tests in the field.
Outputs
  • Strengthened seed networks: two groups fully equipped.
  • Strengthened seed networks: guidelines for collection and storage procedures (report).
  • Strengthened seed networks: resources and training for species identification.
  • Strengthened seed networks: capacity building and information exchange workshop.
  • Enhanced agroforestry/restoration systems: diagnosis of existing plantations (report).
  • Enhanced agroforestry/restoration systems: information resources for management of key species.
  • Enhanced agroforestry/restoration systems: 30 x 1ha experimental areas planted.
  • Enhanced agroforestry/restoration systems: training workshop for species selection and monitoring.
  • Enhanced agroforestry/restoration systems: establishment of research centre and research programme.
  • Dissemination of findings through IOV and Kew networks (newsletters and Internet).
Funding

This project is funded by Defra's International Sustainable Development Fund.