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Pact in transformation

Movement to restore the Atlantic Forest reorganizes to meet proposed targets

Pedro Brancalion A 26-hectare area along the banks of the Jaguari River in Cosmópolis, São Paulo, where reforestation efforts began 60 years ago: an example of Atlantic Forest restorationPedro Brancalion

The Atlantic Forest Restoration Pact (AFRP), a movement that brings together entities involved in environmental research and conservation for a joint effort to recover fragments of Atlantic Forest throughout Brazil, is reorganizing for greater autonomy and to meet the targets proposed at its founding in 2009 (see Pesquisa FAPESP Issue nº 159). Now, eight years later, the ongoing projects monitored by the Pact account for some 100,000 hectares of native vegetation (1 hectare is the equivalent of 10,000 square meters) currently in the process of recovery—which is less than 1% of the initial restoration target of 15 million hectares (150,000 square kilometers) of forest area by 2050.

“The numbers we’re seeing today are not encouraging, but they reflect the difficulty involved in extensive monitoring of forest areas undergoing restoration in Brazil. Thousands of hectares of regenerating forest are beyond our radar,” says agronomist Pedro Brancalion, a professor with the Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture at the University of São Paulo (ESALQ-USP), who is a member of the Pact’s technical and scientific working group and a coauthor of the  methodological handbook Pacto pela restauração da Mata Atlântica: Referencial dos conceitos e ações de restauração florestal [Atlantic Forest Restoration Pact: Handbook of forest restoration concepts and actions]. A survey conducted by the SOS Atlantic Forest Foundation and the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and published in January 2017 reported 219,000 hectares of Atlantic Forest in recovery—primarily in initial stages or in areas previously devoted to pastureland—in 9 of the 17 states where this type of vegetation is found, between 1985 and 2015. The findings were drawn from analysis of Landsat 8 satellite images of forest remnants whose area measures at least three hectares. When smaller areas are included, the total area is greater. Based on images from Global Forest Watch, which monitors global forest expansion and contraction at a spatial resolution of 30 meters by 30 meters, biologists Renato Crouzeilles and Rafael Feltran Barbieri, who conduct research at the International Institute for Sustainability (IIS) in Rio de Janeiro, concluded that the total land area of naturally-regenerating forests and planted areas between 2000 and 2014 in the Atlantic Forest was 489,816 hectares.

Pedro Brancalion Land covered by low-growing vegetation for extensive livestock farming in Teresópolis, Rio de Janeiro in 2014…Pedro Brancalion

Using a database expected to become operational in 2017, the AFRP team hopes to gather further information and obtain a more accurate picture of the areas being restored. “With the database we’ll be able to cross-reference data from states, the federal government and other institutions to build up records on projects and natural regeneration,” says biologist Ludmila Pugliese de Siqueira, executive secretary of AFRP. The findings from the restoration projects are evaluated using unified methodologies. “By standardizing the methods used to monitor and evaluate the findings, the AFRP can more optimally obtain and use resources and improve forest restoration techniques,” says biologist Sergius Gandolfi, a professor of forest restoration at ESALQ-USP.

Other obstacles
“One of the biggest problems is that the AFRP has not yet achieved enough financial sustainability to support its members’ activities,” says agronomist Miguel Calmon, manager of forest landscape restoration for the Global Forest and Climate Change Program of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and former general coordinator of the movement. The AFRP brings together 270 members affiliated with universities, research institutions, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), government agencies and companies, including rural landowners.

Pedro Brancalion …and a plantation of native species after two yearsPedro Brancalion

The movement has no headquarters and operates inside the member institutions. Since the members rely on the infrastructure of universities, NGOs and companies, the AFRP has no administrative costs or a budget of its own—and this constitutes one of its greatest problems. Calmon wants to help change this situation. In light of the limitations of the AFRP’s informal structure and given the fact that the work has not progressed at the desired pace, he regards financial autonomy as essential to maintaining a minimal structure with its own space and fixed equipment, so it can mobilize other members and attract public and private resources for large-scale implementation of Atlantic Forest restoration activities, as provided in the group’s founding document.

One of the ways envisioned for overcoming these problems is to transform the movement into an NGO in 2017. “That way, it’ll be possible to work more independently and full-time to achieve the movement’s objectives,” says Siqueira. As the only full-time member of the AFRP, her salary is paid by NGOs. Siqueira says that this change is expected to preserve the AFRP’s mission of being an agent for mobilizing other institutions and a platform for collaboration among parties interested in environmental conservation, as it publicizes methodologies (see Pesquisa FAPESP Issue nº 238), restoration projects and areas with restoration potential throughout Brazil.

Pedro Brancalion Area used for mining in Poços de Caldas, Minas Gerais: land prepared for restoration in 2014…Pedro Brancalion

Options for restoration
In a paper published in the scientific journal World Development Perspectives in November 2016, Brancalion and other researchers present four distinctive features of the AFRP: mobilization and engagement of a diverse group of participants; development of unified working methodologies; harmonization of regional differences into a large-scale national vision; and constant innovation, such as introducing scientifically-evaluated forest-restoration methodologies into mining areas, or economically beneficial measures such as planting eucalyptus trees, native timber species or juçara palms. “We want to offer restoration options to large and small farmers, so they will reap greater returns from the recovered areas than from extensive livestock farming,” says Brancalion. He says that the AFRP’s governance model has enabled rural landowners and companies that are current AFRP members to cease acting solely in response to legal requirements for forest recovery—which call for environmental compensation for infrastructure projects such as hydroelectric power plants and highways—and instead to propose and implement their own economically beneficial projects, such as diversifying agricultural production.

“The AFRP proposes a unique, large-scale agenda that views restoration not only as expanded vegetation coverage, but also as a means of promoting the local economy and the chain of production through job creation and higher incomes,” says biologist Severino Rodrigo Ribeiro Pinto, Chief Executive Officer of the Northeast Environmental Research Center (Cepan) and the movement’s current national coordinator. The transformation of pastureland and other abandoned areas involves recruiting manpower and establishing nurseries for seedlings of regional native species.

Pedro Brancalion …and wooded area established after three yearsPedro Brancalion

The AFRP is not the only organization of its kind in Brazil. The Alliance for Restoration of the Amazon, which was publicly launched in the city of Belém on January 30, 2017, brings together NGOs, research centers and companies to promote integrated activities aimed at recovering deforested areas of the Amazon Forest. “Brazil’s commitment under the Paris Agreement to restore and reforest 12 million hectares around the country illustrates the magnitude of the challenge we are facing,” commented biologist Rodrigo Medeiros, Vice President of Conservation International Brazil (CI-Brazil), in the new organization’s inaugural press release. “On such a scale, only a broad-based coalition of several sectors of Brazilian society, including the private sector, can create an environment that is truly capable of promoting this transformation.”

Rodrigues, R. R. et al. Pacto pela restauração da Mata Atlântica: Referencial dos conceitos e ações de restauração florestal. São Paulo: Esalq-USP/Instituto BioAtlântica, 2009, 260 p.

Scientific article
BRANCALION, P. H. S. et al. Governance innovations from a multi-stakeholder coalition to implement large-scale Forest Restoration in Brazil. World Development Perspectives. V. 3, p. 15-17. 2016.