Community & nature-based solutions in the Cerrado

“The store has been a success story: the monthly operating cost of the store is roughly BRL$ 500 and the average monthly revenues are BRL$ 10,000.”

Nature-Based Solutions (NBS): Buzzword or Holy Grail?

Can the current buzzword of the environmental movement – nature-based solutions – really deliver the holy grail to the climate crisis?

According to the United Nations Global Compact, “nature-based solutions can provide over one-third of the cost-effective climate mitigation needed between now and 2030 to stabilise global warming to below 2º C, achieving nature’s mitigation potential of 10-12 gigatons of CO2 per year.”

What are nature-based solutions (NBS)? In short, NBS activities promote nature’s inherent ability to sequester and store carbon dioxide in forests, grasslands and wetlands. The vegetation covering around one-third of the world’s surface is vital to maintaining the planet’s natural balance. It supports intricate wildlife systems and helps maintain a healthy atmosphere by taking in carbon dioxide (CO2) and releasing oxygen. Such projects also have extra benefits, such as offering alternative sources of income to local communities, improving soil productivity, cleaning air and water and maintaining biodiversity.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines nature-based solutions as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems, that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits.”

Adequate investment in NBS will help reduce the financial consequences of climate change and contribute to the creation of new jobs, to livelihood resilience and to reduce people’s poverty. NBS underpin the Sustainable Development Goals: they support vital ecosystem services, biodiversity, and access to fresh water, improved livelihoods, healthy diets and food security from sustainable food systems.

NBS could include restoring and conserving coral reefs and mangrove belts to enhance the resilience to coastal flooding and sea-level rise, acting as the first line of defence to help dissipate wave energy. It could also include upsloping vegetation to reduce the risks of landslides and creating permeable green areas to help replenish groundwater in regions facing water scarcity.

NBS in the Cerrado

The Cerrado biome of central Brazil, the most biodiverse savannah in the world, is being converted to farmland at an alarming rate, due in part to unsustainable agricultural practices. As a result, it is receiving significant attention on the global stage, which has led to declarations such as the Cerrado Manifesto, which calls for an end to deforestation and native vegetation conversion in the region. Embrapa, the Brazilian agricultural research organization, has presented Integrated Crop-Livestock-Forestry systems (ICLF) as a pathway to both food security and environmental restoration. ICLF is classified as a regenerative agricultural technique because it:

  1. Promotes carbon sequestration in soils and trees
  2. Improves food supply & biodiversity through integration with agroforestry species
  3. Improves livelihoods & resilience of local farmers
  4. Improves productivity reducing deforestation pressures

Implementing integrated systems is not easy, as they require specific technical knowledge, as well as an upfront investment of roughly $USD 1000-2000/hectare. The economic returns of ICLF systems are much higher in the long-term, and not to mention more resilient to a changing climate.

Many farms in Brazil are producing nowhere near their productive capacity; for example, the average cattle stocking rate is less than 0.75 head per hectare. If properly managed, pastures could maintain 2-4 heads/hectare.

Brazil doesn’t need to deforest one more tree to triple food production. Brazil needs to farm smarter and more efficiently; however, farmers lack the incentives for regenerating degraded areas or updating their farming practices.

Carbon finance can provide this incentive by compensating farmers for stocking carbon in their lands.

That is why, in 2017, Climate Smart Group launched the Cerrado Carbon Program in the state of Tocantins, Brazil, to incentivize farmers to implement ICLF systems and promote the conservation of “surplus”[1] forests.

Two NBS Case Studies

Climate Smart Group has been working together with visionary farmers, along with our local partners Idesam, Embrapa and the Tocantins state secretary of environment (SEMARH), to demonstrate a new model of production: integration crop-livestock-forestry. The ICLF model shows that regeneration can be both ecologically and financially rewarding in the long-term.

1. Fazenda (Farm) Guara

Guara is a 3,000-hectare farm located in Alianca de Tocantins. A twenty-five-hectare test area was regenerated using the ICLF system, whereby an investment of BRL$ 4,000/hectare was required. The costs to regenerate the degraded land included lime soil correction, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK) inputs, sorghum seeds, agroforestry seedlings, labour, machinery and technical assistance. The farmer decided to plant sorghum to produce fodder in the first three years to feed his cattle, and the tree species selected were baru, cashew and yellow and pink Ipe, all native Cerrado species. This test area has the potential to sequester over 3,500 tCO2e over ten years (14 tCO2e/ha/yr) through soil sequestration and biomass. The payback for this system is four years and an internal rate of return (IRR) of 44%.

2. Fazenda (Farm) EcoAraguaia

EcoAraguaia is a 500-hectare cattle ranch located near Caseara, Tocantins. Guilherme Tiezzi, the owner, inherited the breeding ranch from his father. The farm had previously been mismanaged, causing pasture degradation and low productivity, with a carrying capacity of less than one head per hectare.

To improve the rentability of the ranch, the owner was advised to regenerate the soil using the ICLF system and diversify the value streams, such as agroforestry, noble wood (teak) and ecotourism. The farm is beautifully located on the edge of the Araguaia River and is rich with biodiversity.

The farmer has planted 20 hectares of teak/pasture integration, 16 hectares of baru/pasture integration and an agroforestry module with over 20 different species of organic food. Climate Smart Group modeled the potential carbon sequestration over the next ten years to be roughly 30,000 tCO2e.

The farm is in partnerships with Black Jaguar Foundation, who has built and is managing a tree nursery, as well as IUCN and the American Bird Society, who supported the creation of a conservation easement (Private Natural Heritage Reserve) on the legal reserve due to sightings of rare bird species.

ICLF–C for Community

Supporting community engagement and development is a focus for Guilherme Tiezzi of Fazenda EcoAraguaia. His “farm of the future” design is based on environmental and social regeneration, known as integration crop, livestock, forestry and community (ICLF-C).

Coordination was the first step in creating social change in the municipality of Caseara, which has a population of 5,000 and mainly subsistence farming families living in settlements known as “assentamentos.” Since 2017, Guilherme has been organizing workshops, meetings and field days with interested community members.

January 2020 marked a milestone, with the opening of the Rural & Natural store in Caseara, a collaborative commercialization strategy, helping cooperative members sell their products. The store has been a success story: the monthly operating cost of the store is roughly BRL$ 500 and the average monthly revenues are BRL$ 10,000. The store provides smallholder farmers with a vehicle to get their products to market in a more efficient way, rather than spending time selling door to door or on street corners. This case study demonstrates how simple ideas can radically change how food is sold and transacted in rural towns in Brazil. It also provides an inclusive model for the integration of smallholder communities in food security and supply chains.

Supporting Smallholder Resilience

In February 2020, Climate Smart Group launched its smallholder agroforestry program by providing The Rural & Natural Cooperative with 2,500 baru nut seedlings. Baru nuts are a super nut for socio-environmental development in the Cerrado because they are a native tree (Dipteryx alata) and produce a low-perishable product with a high economic value. The baru trees will start producing nuts in the fourth year and have the potential of providing a return of roughly BRL$ 15,000 per hectare compared to extensive cattle ranching, which returns BRL$ 300-500 per hectare.

Baru trees represent an amazing opportunity to reforest degraded areas of farms in the Cerrado by integrating them into ICLF agroforestry systems. The Cerrado, which covers an area three times the size of Texas, is the most biodiverse savanna on the planet. Unfortunately, it is under severe threat, with millions of baru trees being burned down to make way for soy production and unsustainable agriculture. Not only can the growth of baru nuts help put an end to the deforestation, but it can also reverse it while allowing locals to make a living off the standing forest.

Benefits of Baru Nuts

Health Benefits

  1. Antioxidant power: Over three times higher than most popular nuts
  2. Best on calories: 25% fewer fat calories than other nuts
  3. Higher fiber content: Compared to other nuts
  4. Best on protein: 6 grams per 30g serving size with all essential amino acids
  5. Top micronutrients: Loaded with magnesium and other health-promoting minerals

Economic Benefits

With Integration Livestock/Forestry or Agroforestry systems with spacing 10m x 10m, 100 seedlings per hectare can be planted.

Smallholders can expect to receive an additional BRL$ 15,000 per hectare when integrating baru into their agricultural production systems. The average profit per hectare of the typical smallholder is approximately BRL$ 100-300 per hectare.

Social & Environmental Benefits

  1. Baru cultivation can help put an end to deforestation because it allows the local population to live off a standing native forest.
  2. Baru that remains can feed the cattle and be used as organic fertilizer (waste) to make composting and regeneration of their own degraded land.
  3. Water friendly! Nearly all nuts use diverted irrigation to supply their water needs, especially most common nuts (almonds), since most are grown in water deprived areas where the water needs are excessive. Baru nuts use rainwater for irrigation, and very little water is used during the processing, so the overall water footprint for baru nuts is very low.

Author: Hannah Simmons, Project Manager at Climate Smart Group Brazil

[1] According to the Brazilian Forest Code, a law that regulates land-use, every property must maintain a percentage of the land as native vegetation to promote proper landscape ecosystem functioning and biodiversity corridors.