Rural woman producer rehabilitates degraded areas with native Cerrado species

31 março 2023

WWF-Brazil and the Tapestry Foundation support the planting of 500 baru seedlings in pastures in Mato Grosso do Sul
By Daniely Lima, do WWF-Brazil

The baru (Dipteryx alata), a native fruit from the Brazilian Cerrado, is at the centre of a pilot experience for the rehabilitation of degraded pastures, carried out with the support of WWF-Brazil and the Tapestry Foundation, in the municipality of Bonito, in Mato Grosso do Sul state. Taking part in this initiative, is the Boa Vida farm, located in the Santa Lúcia settlement, where more than 500 baru tree seedlings were recently planted, reinforcing a market trend in which productivity is intensified without the need for vegetation to be cut down.

The rehabilitation of degraded areas is a practice to recover and return the productivity of natural landscapes that were converted mainly to agricultural activities and, therefore, became unproductive. Today, it is considered one of the main solutions against new deforestation because, in addition to increasing the productive yield, it also increases the financial gains of the producer, without having to open new areas.

Data from MapBiomas indicate that 53% of Brazilian pasture areas present some sign of degradation, and with potential for rehabilitation and for the expansion of Brazilian production.

Several techniques can be used in this rehabilitation, including the conversion of pastures to agriculture, the implementation of Crop-Livestock-Forest Integration (ILPF) systems and recovery with native species, as has been done at the Boa Vida farm, owned by producer Elida Cristina Martins. A resident of the region for more than 20 years and a reference for female leadership in the sector, she says that the gains increased considerably by keeping the cattle in one hectare of pasture with the baru trees. “The cattle gets a more beautiful fur and, in periods from frost, it is not affected because it is protected by trees. The animals do better when raised in the shade, as they don't suffer as much from drought, and they feed well,” she says.

Besides making livestock more profitable, the producer also saw another opportunity: the commercialisation of baru. Currently, she sells, on average, 50 kilos per month, for BRL 90 to BRL 100 per kilo. In other words: planting in degraded pastures opened up the possibility of increasing income.

The baru tree can exceed 20 metres in height and its fruit, which is one of the protagonists of the socio-biodiversity of the Cerrado, has several uses, including the production of food, cosmetics and medicines. The baru nut, for example, is considered a superfood and a delicacy with great commercial potential, including for export, as much as the Brazil nut.

Cerrado species diversity

Planting at the Boa Vida farm was carried out at the end of 2022 and used two different restoration techniques, planting seedlings and direct sowing, the so-called seed mix. The purpose of this action, which has the support of WWF-Brazil, is to make it a demonstrative unit for carrying out long-term assessments and monitoring, analysing the development of trees, the productivity level of pastures and baru, costs and the economic, environmental and social benefits for the region. So that this kind of experience can be replicated in other places in the country.

After preparing the soil, the baru seedlings and seeds were placed in rows on the degraded pasture and watered with hydrogel, a specific gel that keeps them hydrated for longer because it retains the water used during planting. It is a product that helps in the development of seedlings, especially in places with a climate like the Cerrado, which goes through long periods of drought.

Along these same rows, the seed mix was launched, a technique that uses a mixture of seeds of different species, which in the future will provide shade and other resources that will facilitate the growth of the baru tree. In addition, the species included in the mix can also be used for food and marketing. Species that will serve as bait for ants and other insects were also added to the mixture, so those bugs will not destroy species of economic interest, reducing the need to use pesticides.  

Elida Cristina points out that working with this diversity of species is more profitable. “I make a lot more money mixing all these plants than I do on one hectare of a single crop. We make much more profit from planting than from deforestation”, she underlines. The seed mixes in the plantation were composed of native species of the Cerrado and of agronomic use, such as jatobá, araticum, corn, sunflower, beans, annatto and sesame.

The producer recalls that when she took over the property, which totals 12 hectares, the area was completely degraded. “When we got here, there weren't any trees,” she says. Today, more than 80% of the farm has been rehabilitated, including pastures, IFP systems (livestock-forest integration) and agroforestry systems. “When we recover, we are not just planting trees, we are planting food, clean air and water,” she adds.

New models and experiences

Investing in nature conservation, as Elida Cristina has done, is critical to combating the climate crisis. “These new models and experiences are extremely important for the rehabilitation of pastures. The more we integrate crops within an area, the more richness we have in that ecosystem, even if it is an agriculture or livestock environment”, points out Laís Cunha, Conservation analyst at WWF-Brazil. “Brazil already has enough open areas to produce until 2050 without cutting down any trees”.

“Integrating economic activities such as pasture and productive restoration, with marketable species such as baru, expands biodiversity and values local culture, in addition to generating extra income for the producer”, points out Veronica Maioli, specialist in Conservation and Restoration at the WWF-Brazil. “With the model implemented at the Boa Vida farm, we hope to demonstrate in practice that these models are especially interesting for small rural producers, who have a smaller area for cultivation, but also attract medium and large producers, due to their profitability and sustainability, in addition to expand the supply of ecosystem services to the entire region, such as water quality and soil conservation”.

According to MapBiomas data (2020), of the more than 154 million hectares of pastures in Brazil, 14.3% have severe levels of degradation and 38% have levels of degradation considered intermediate. In the Cerrado, in particular, the data reveal that there are more than 48 million hectares of pastures in the biome and of these, more than 57% are at some level of degradation".

Discover the series of studies on pasture rehabilitation

About WWF-Brazil

WWF-Brazil is a Brazilian NGO that has been working collectively for 26 years with partners from civil society, universities, governments and companies across the country to combat socio-environmental degradation and defend people's lives and nature. We are connected in an interdependent network that seeks urgent solutions to the climate emergency. Donate:
Producer Elida Cristina Martins, a reference for female leadership in the sector
© Silas Ismael / WWF-Brasil
The rehabilitation of degraded areas is considered one of the main solutions against new deforestation
© Silas Ismael / WWF-Brasil
The baru tree can exceed 20 metres in height and its fruit, which is one of the protagonists of the socio-biodiversity of the Cerrado
© Silas Ismael / WWF-Brasil
After preparing the soil, the baru seedlings and seeds were placed in rows on the degraded pasture and watered with hydrogel
© Silas Ismael / WWF-Brasil