Twelve landowners in the municipalities of Afonso Cláudio and Brejetuba, located in the Brazilian state of Espírito Santo, are taking part in a restoration project to plant 301,000 trees. The effort, a joint venture between The Nature Conservancy and the Guandu Consortium, a local conservation organization, is made possible by funding from the Alcoa Foundation.
The work in the two municipalities is part of a larger and ambitious undertaking focused on Brazil´s Atlantic Forest: the Plant a Billion Trees campaign, whose goal, as the name makes clear, is to have one billion trees covering the forest by 2020. Started by The Nature Conservancy in 2008, the campaign has planted more than 10 million trees with the help of its many partners, including local governments, landowners, non-governmental organizations, cooperatives and others.
The Atlantic Forest is known for its extraordinary array of biodiversity and for being one the most endangered tropical forests in the world. Coastal development, urban expansion, agriculture, ranching and illegal logging have all contributed to the degradation of 78% of this once vast landscape, an area that was originally bigger than the U.S. eastern seaboard from Maine to South Carolina. The Atlantic Forest benefits people worldwide through climate regulation and provides clean water for over 122 million people in Brazil.
The Espírito Santo government launched the Reflorestar program (meaning “reforest”) to promote increased coverage of the Atlantic Forest in the state. The initiative is expected to restore more than 74,131 acres of forest by the end of 2015. The first 301 acres have been identified by the Conservancy and the Consortium, proving the feasibility of putting into practice such an important public conservation strategy.
In the second semester of 2013, the Reflorestar program will begin distributing the seedlings and other resources producers will need to start field work. Participants will then qualify for payments from the state, earmarked for landowners that restore forests and provide public benefits – like cleaner water for cities downstream. The project will generate environmental benefits for the municipalities involved, such as connecting forest remnants, biodiversity and soil conservation, and preserving the quality of water. The economic benefits include financial and technical resources, and Payment for Environmental Services (PES) for those who participate in the reforestation program. The payments range from $30 to $44 per acre per year.
Rubens Benini, an Environmental Restoration Specialist with The Nature Conservancy, says that “working in relatively small towns and getting to know the reality of small farmers is a unique opportunity to make a difference and generate actual models of sustainable development. This effort is very important to the success of the restoration of the Atlantic Forest; it enables the work in the field and provides a real opportunity to demonstrate that restoration can be attractive to farmers, who see the value of reconciling economic production with environmental conservation.”