The Atlantic Forest has been reduced to green fragments due to agricultural expansion. It used to be 6 times the size of the United Kingdom, but it is now only a forest in name. Over the course of 20 years, it has lost over 80% of its original forest cover. No other large tropical forest has suffered this much loss, which has affected the rich biodiversity in the area.
The project aims to reconnect the forest patches, creating more space for animals such as the endangered black lion tamarin so that they can thrive again. We combine several restoration methods (i.e. assisted natural regeneration, framework species approach and farmer-assisted reforestation) which are chosen based on land ownership, level of degradation and the amounts of seeds present in the degraded soil. Agroforestry, yet another system, is also used when farmers are eager to directly improve their diet or increase their income.
UNESCO still considers the Atlantic Forest to be one of the world’s most important biodiversity hotspots, with more than 300 amphibian species (such as the snouted treefrog), 250 mammal species (such as the ocelot and the maned wolf), 1000 bird species and almost 200 reptile species. The fragments that remain are often separated by great distances, so many species are now listed as endangered, vulnerable or near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
We will win this battle against deforestation when people start making a living from restoring and protecting forests, and not from cutting the trees. Community-based nurseries around the restoration sites are run by local female entrepreneurs, and enable them to become financially independent. Transplanting the produced seedlings to the final planting site provides another opportunity for income: members of the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra) are hired, and learn valuable skills to finally make a decent living. Various training sessions in forestry techniques are provided to the people of the community several times a year.