Fernando Veiga: Restoring the Atlantic Forest

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Fernando Veiga, an environmental services manager, is leading the Conservancy’s campaign to restore one billion trees to Brazil’s endangered Atlantic Forest. He has been working for the The Nature Conservancy in Brazil since January of 2004 and is in charge of innovative projects including the Conservancy’s Plant a Billion Trees campaign, as well as carbon projects and unique initiatives that financially compensate farmers and ranchers in key watersheds who protect key waterways on their lands. He holds a Ph.D. in Rural Development from Rio de Janeiro's Federal University and a Bachelor’s degree in Agronomy from Sao Paulo State University. spoke with Fernando about the progress of the Plant a Billion Trees campaign to restore his beloved Atlantic Forest.

"The Atlantic Forest is home to two hundred species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. One of every twenty vertebrate species on Earth lives here. You can find more than 20,000 species of plants in the Atlantic Forest--more than 500 of which you’ll find nowhere else on Earth."

Overall, how’s the Plant a Billion Trees campaign going?

Fernando Veiga:

The campaign is going very well. We are lucky to have the continuous support of many individual donors through the website who contribute both small and large amounts of money. Besides the online campaign, generous support from companies like Disney and Avon has really boosted our fundraising success for this important initiative.

These fundraising successes have enabled us to achieve so much on the ground. We’ve been able to restore large tracts of Atlantic Forest, engage many other partners in our campaign, and encourage several Brazilian states and associations to take on this cause as well.

We can say that through this campaign we have made important strides in bringing the Atlantic Forest back from the brink and learned lessons that will help guide restoration in Brazil and other severely degraded ecosystems for years to come.

How did the Conservancy and partners come up with this campaign? How did the people react at first when the number of 1 billion trees campaign was mentioned?

Fernando Veiga:

This campaign was born from the idea that if we really wanted to save the Atlantic Forest— one of the world’s most diverse and endangered ecosystems—an extremely ambitious initiative was the only way we could succeed. Through this campaign, we’ve really sought to highlight the importance of the strategy and science of forest restoration. We want the forest back—not just a billion trees. We use our best science to choose which areas should be restored, and then we choose the best forest restoration techniques for each restoration parcel to ensure the forest can regenerate.

Some people think one billion trees is an impossible goal. But what they don’t understand is that we’re not just restoring forest—we’re teaching other communities, organizations, and individuals to restore the Atlantic Forest with us. Each project site of ours doesn’t just restore several hectares—each project site becomes part of bigger initiatives that can be replicated across regions and even entire states.

Who’s planting the trees?

Fernando Veiga:

The planting is done through partnerships with local NGOs, private companies, local communities, state agencies and landowners. The activities on the ground are done both by the farmers themselves and by field workers hired according to the partnership arrangements, which vary from location to location.

What obstacles still need to be overcome?

Fernando Veiga:

There are many big challenges still to be overcome when we are talking about such a large-scale process like this one. One of them is the great need to improve capacity along the forest restoration chain. It is impressive to see the effect of capacity building in this case. So far, we have trained more than 100 farmers and 40 state officials and local NGO’s technical staff and we can say that it is really worth it. But we know that there is much more to be done to get the scale that we need in terms of capacity building, and we are confident that we’ll get it especially through the Atlantic Forest Restoration Pact coalition of members

What is the campaign’s biggest success so far?

Fernando Veiga:

To me, our most important accomplishment so far is the great number of partnerships that we have built, both with donors and with partners in the field. Thanks to the campaign, the restoration work is providing living laboratories in restoration ecology and economics throughout the Atlantic Forest region, allowing the Conservancy and partners to test and perfect long-term strategies that will enable us to restore and conserve the Atlantic Forest on a large scale in the long-term.

How can the donation of $1 from one person benefit animals, plants and human beings as well?

Fernando Veiga:

The Atlantic Forest is home to two hundred species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. One of every twenty vertebrate species on Earth lives here. You can find more than 20,000 species of plants in the Atlantic Forest--more than 500 of which you’ll find nowhere else on Earth. Like other forests, the Atlantic Forest removes carbon from the atmosphere and produces oxygen, supporting all of us on Earth. And the Atlantic Forest also protects important sources of water for most of Brazil’s population.


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