Cerrado biodiversity guarantees income to about 5,000 families

21 dezembro 2022

Projects supported by WWF-Brazil since 2018 have involved 38 cooperatives and associations and the production of more than 1,800 tons of fruits. Partnerships have also helped extractive communities put their products on the market
Written by WWF-Brazil  

The quilombola artisan Antonia 'Tonha' Ribeiro da Silva is an enthusiast of golden grass, a bright stem with a small white flower that belongs to the pipewort family and occurs in abundance in the humid fields near the Cerrado paths. In Jalapao, where Tonha lives, the plant is considered "the gold of Tocantins" because its carefully crafted stem is transformed into objects of various types, generating income for traditional communities, especially quilombolas – and is also an essential factor for the conservation of the local ecosystem.  

"All the good things we have here come from golden grass," says Tonha, pointing to the homes of his community in the Mumbuca quilombo. "We left poverty thanks to golden grass. Here people had no fridge and no bed. And today, we consider ourselves rich. I have a real financial return when I make my crafts and place them in a store." 

It is in the store of the Association of Artisans and Extractive Workers of the Mumbuca Community that Tonha and other quilombola women sell their production of hats, baskets, vases, mandalas, trays, bio-jewelry, bags, lampshades, and other objects made with golden grass. The work requires knowledge that is part of the tradition of the community. Harvesting requires precise handling and patience, as golden grass needs to be dry and cannot be removed before the proper time. Despite its name, the plant (Syngonanthus nitens) is not a type of grass; it does not belong to the grass family. 

"At harvest time, we know the secrets. We have to pluck the grass humbly in the path when it is deep golden", says another resident of the quilombo Mumbuca, Noeme 'Dotora' Ribeiro da Silva. "We take out the seeds and throw them in the soil so that it will be strengthened and return a beautiful golden grass to us the next year. Golden grass is a way for the quilombo to strengthen our land and association. We respect the Cerrado because it is life and happiness." 

The Mumbuca community association, as well as others from Jalapao, are part of a comprehensive network of cooperatives and organizations dedicated to strengthening the market for products derived from the socio-biodiversity of the Cerrado. WWF-Brazil, also part of this network, works in partnership with 38 community enterprises in the biome. The supported projects involve more than 5,000 families. In 2021, they produced and benefited 1,885 tons of native fruits such as baru, pequi, buriti (moriche palm), babassu, and golden grass. 

"The extractive worker needs each tree standing, and that is why this work brings a great contribution to the conservation of the biome," says Kolbe Soares, a conservation specialist at WWF-Brazil. "Most of these actions are carried out in Conservation Units for sustainable use, indigenous lands, quilombolas and other types of protected areas, in an important demonstration of the balanced use of natural resources." 

According to Ana Carolina Bauer, WWF-Brazil conservation analyst, valuing socio-biodiversity chains strengthens communities struggling to protect their lands from invasions and deforestation. "By fostering the economy of Cerrado products, we support income generation and the improvement of the quality of life of these people. It also makes the social organization of these communities more robust," she says. 

"The partnership with the Mumbuca and Prata quilombo associations and Mateiros producers in Jalapao is still in an early stage. We are focusing on two fronts of actions to help structure and strengthen the production of gold grass, as well as opening new markets and expanding commercialization," says Bauer.  

Since 2018, in addition to working with community-based organizations such as agro-extractivist cooperatives and associations, WWF-Brazil has intensified its work on socio-biodiversity in the Cerrado. It supports networks, especially the Central do Cerrado, which includes about 30 organizations from the biome and the Caatinga biome, and also Nucleo do Pequi, a network with 17 organizations from the North of Minas Gerais. 

Diverse production chains 

"We have partners that operate regionally, such as the Cooperative of Family Farmers and Agroextractivist Grande Sertao, a great success story in Montes Claros. It is present in more than ten municipalities in the North of Minas Gerais, involves 2,000 families, and acts strongly in the buriti chain", says food engineer José Fabio Soares, coordinator of the cooperative 

One of the results of this partnership was strengthening negotiations with a large cosmetics company. "We supplied 15 tons of certified buriti oil in the last harvest, corresponding to 375 tons of processed fruits. And the growth of this demand is accelerated," Soares adds.  

"In addition to buriti, we operate in different production chains of extractivism, such as pequi and coquinho-azedo [Butia capitata]," says the food engineer Soares. "In each of them, there is a solid socio-environmental work, which seeks to add value to the products, involving the families of the traditional communities, generating income, and sustainably moving the local economy, thus reconciling production with the conservation of the Cerrado." 

In addition to Cerrado products, the cooperative also works with umbu, a native fruit of the Caatinga. "We are always researching the development of new production chains. In all our operations, we are in constant technological innovation for our products and processes, from production to marketing, involving the people at the base of product processing, value aggregation, and marketing," says Soares. 

According to him, the projects with WWF-Brazil have been fundamental to the sustainability of this productive arrangement. "WWF-Brazil has been a great partner. Two years ago, we began to count on this support that involves the development of chains, technical advice,  field maintenance, acquisition of inputs, production of training materials, and logistical support."  

In the partnership between WWF-Brazil and Grande Sertao, commercial arrangements of the cooperative itself are also supported and strengthened. It is the case of a large company of natural and organic ingredients to supply pequi oil; a network of grocery stores in the Northern region of the country to provide frozen pequi; a manufacturer of natural extracts for the supply of fava d'anta [Dimorphandra mollis Benth]; in addition to a network of wholesale grocery stores for the supply of various products. In the region, the projects also supported the connection with a foreign plant biotechnology company to supply buriti oil and juazeiro bark.  

The demand for socio-biodiversity products from community-based organizations in fair trade arrangements is increasing. The support for strengthening these organizations, their production, and marketing strategies is crucial for them to be at the center of these commercial activities, ensuring the proper management and conservation of Cerrado areas in their territories.  

In the state of Maranhao, for example, the babassu chain predominates. "We support the Babacu Livre Consortium, which for now brings together 12 community organizations, state government, university, and two companies, seeking greater commitment from the actors involved with the sustainability of the chain and increase of production," says Soares. 

Eliminating intermediaries 

WWF-Brazil supported Central do Cerrado, second-level cooperative aggregating cooperatives and community associations from the Cerrado and Caatinga biomes in strengthening agro-extractive chains. It also supports a network of community organizations from Northern Minas linked to the pequi chain and other fruits (Nucleo do Pequi) and other cooperatives and community associations, such as Cooperuaçu, Copabase, and Ceppec, among others. 

"Concerning the economic sustainability of community organizations, we had specialized advisories and business development actions, such as the Impact Hub, which provided support to cooperatives, and the Conexoes Sustentaveis Institute (Conexsus)," says Soares.  

In the case of the partnership with Conexsus, they carried out advisory processes for access to credit, strengthening organizational management, and business modeling activities. It benefited 26 community enterprises linked to Central do Cerrado and Nucleo do Pequi. 

"One of the historical problems of extractivism is the question of intermediaries. Therefore, we work directly with the community enterprises and recommend affiliation to the extractors; to the companies, we ask them to pay a fairer price so that middle-men can have their role reduced", says Soares. 

Another significant result of the work with cooperatives and community associations was to open the market for products, involving not only commercialization but commercial arrangements to strengthen production flow.  

"One of the partnerships with the greatest impact in this sense is the one we have with Central do Cerrado. In the baru chain, for example, we have been able to help export 20 tons in the last crop. We also provided the condition for Central do Cerrado to expand its physical infrastructure, with more space for the storage and processing of products. These actions resulted in a dizzying growth of Central with the financial movement and higher income for the extractors," says Soares. 
Golden grass generates income for traditional communities, especially quilombolas
© Emerson da Silva / WWF-Brasil
The flower occurs in abundance in the humid fields near the Cerrado paths
© Emerson da Silva / WWF-Brasil
Golden grass is considered "the gold of Tocantins" because its carefully crafted stem is transformed into objects of various types
© Emerson da Silva / WWF-Brasil
"We take out the seeds and throw them in the soil so that it will be strengthened and return a beautiful golden grass to us the next year", says Noeme
© Emerson da Silva / WWF-Brasil
The Mumbuca community association, as well as others from Jalapao, are part of a comprehensive network of cooperatives and organizations dedicated to strengthening the market for products derived from the socio-biodiversity of the Cerrado
© Emerson da Silva / WWF-Brasil
The extractive worker needs each tree standing, and that is why this work brings a great contribution to the conservation of the biome
© Emerson da Silva / WWF-Brasil
It is in the store of the Association of Artisans and Extractive Workers of the Mumbuca Community that Tonha and other quilombola women sell their production of hats, baskets, vases, mandalas, trays, bio-jewelry, bags, lampshades, and other objects
© Emerson da Silva / WWF-Brasil
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