An Amazon Forest Adventure, Part III: ‘The Trees are for Our Grandchildren’

Written by Rane Cortez on . Posted in Learn

This blog entry is the final entry in a three-part series by Rane Cortez, a forest carbon development adviser at The Nature Conservancy. The series highlights Rane’s recent 10-day trip into São Félix do Xingu, a large municipality in the heart of the Amazon in northern Brazil. She is working with local communities and experts on potential strategies to reduce carbon emissions from these forests. See also Part I, “The Journey Begins” and Part II, “The True Carbon Cowboy.”

On the last day of our 10-day Amazon journey in São Félix, we visit a small cacao plantation in which the cacao trees are intermixed with mahogany and other timber species. The farm is owned by Raimundo Freitas do Santos and is part of a cooperative of cacao producers in São Félix. The plantation manager, Manuel Teixeira-Silva, shows us around and shares with us his deep knowledge of cacao production. He explains that the cacao provides steady revenue over the long-term and produces well under a balanced mix of sun and shade provided by the trees.

As the lifetimes of the cacao trees come to an end, the landowner is still left with the beginnings of a mixed native forest that holds some very high-value timber trees. “The cacao is for us,” explains Manuel, “and the trees are for our grandchildren.” This simple yet beautifully wise comment shows that the cacao plantation could provide a transition back to native forest cover while providing both short-term and long-term sources of revenue for people like Manuel.

The cacao plantation tour is the perfect culmination for the trip, providing us with a peak of a sustainable agricultural practice already in progress and the powerful sense of pride visible in Manuel’s face when he speaks of the gift this land could be to future generations.

The visit to the cacao plantation and the journey across São Félix have helped reaffirm some of the main strategies that The Nature Conservancy and our partners have been considering as ways to create a more sustainable future here in the municipality.

Three of those strategies stood out to us during the trip:

Protect existing forests. It’s imperative to work with cowboys and ranch owners like Roberto and Jose Wilson to make sure they generate similar levels of revenue without continuing to expand into forested areas. It’s unlocking the true carbon cowboys – wranglers of both cows and carbon through sustainable practices that promote economic opportunities while protecting the forests.

Restore degraded forests. In degraded forests like “vine hell,” carbon revenue can provide incentives that help landowners restore their forests with high-value timber species and maintain them through smart management.

Reforest abandoned pastureland. These lands could potentially be restored to mixed native forests through the process exemplified in the cacao plantation. “The cacao is for us, and the trees are for our grandchildren.”

Each of these strategies will make for a healthier Amazon forest while providing economic opportunities to its people. Of course, we still don’t have it all figured out, and we will need to invest in further study to finalize the strategies and figure out ways to overcome the challenges ahead. But, the trip has left us feeling that there are a lot of opportunities in Sao Felix to work with our partners to create a more sustainable future.

As we board the nine-passenger plane back to the city and fly over São Félix, we see the mix of landscapes that we have just spent days exploring. The trip has been long, sweaty, and exhausting. But, we leave equipped with an intimate knowledge of the forest and filled with hope that we can restore this beautiful area on the agricultural frontier while providing opportunities to people like our gracious hosts of the past 10 days – Jose Wilson, Ana, Roberto, Adalberto, Raimundo and Manuel.

Rane Cortez is a REDD+ development adviser at The Nature Conservancy.

Photo by: Angelica Toniolo/The Nature Conservancy (Raimundo and Manuel’s cacao trees)

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