FAPESP and the Sustainable Development Goals

How a government program promoted conservation of Atlantic Rainforest remnants on rural properties

How a government program promoted conservation of Atlantic Rainforest remnants on rural properties

The Santa Virgínia area of Serra do Mar State Park in São Luiz do Paraitinga was one of the focal points for the Conexão Mata Atlântica program (photo: Carlos Joly/UNICAMP)

Published on 03/11/2024

By Elton Alisson  |  Agência FAPESP – In the last four years, the amount of native vegetation threatened with extinction in a strip of 20,200 hectares spanning the states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais in Southeast Brazil has fallen almost 38%, from 1,300 hectares to 490 hectares. This area is occupied by 547 rural properties located in the Atlantic Rainforest southeast corridor of the Paraíba do Sul river basin. Non-threatened native vegetation on these properties increased more than 11%, from 8,507 hectares in 2019 to 9,547 hectares in 2023.

These improvements resulted from a pioneering project implemented between 2017 and 2023 to offer economic incentives to landowners who adopted conservation and soil protection practices as part of the management of their properties.

The project was called Conexão Mata Atlântica and was supported by FAPESP. In São Paulo state, it was executed by the Department for Environment, Infrastructure and Logistics (SEMIL) and Fundação Florestal. It served as a laboratory to test different approaches to application of the principle of payment for environmental services (PES) for inclusion in the state government’s environmental policies.

“The project is an example of how it’s possible to manage a value chain holistically, generating income and jobs, and at the same time conserve and restore native vegetation, making PES an even more significant instrument than it was designed to be. We plan to scale up this powerful mechanism so that it covers the entire state of São Paulo,” said Natália Resende, São Paulo State Secretary for Environment, Infrastructure and Logistics, during an event held in January to present the results of the project.

The initiative resulted from a call issued in 2011 by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), one of the world’s largest funders of environmental projects and programs, for proposals to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change by fostering protection, restoration and management of areas in the vicinity of conservation units. Another aim of the call was to promote land use changes in degraded rural areas so as to increase carbon stocks, raise crop yields, improve water infiltration, contain erosion, and reduce water flow rates to prevent floods such as the one that occurred in December 2010 in São Luiz do Paraitinga, a historic town in the Paraíba Valley region of São Paulo state.

Carlos Joly, then head of the Department for Policies and Thematic Programs at the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI), proposed submitting a plan for the Paraíba Valley. “Showing that it was possible to promote conservation and ecosystem service restoration in the region could serve as a model for replication anywhere,” said Joly, professor emeritus at the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP) and one of the people who masterminded the FAPESP Research Program on Biodiversity Characterization, Conservation, Restoration and Sustainable Use (BIOTA-FAPESP).

On this basis, in 2012 the federal government, via MCTI, and São Paulo state, via SEMIL, Fundação Florestal and FAPESP, decided to propose a project that would combine climate change mitigation with support for biodiversity in the Atlantic Rainforest southeast corridor portion of the Paraíba Valley. SEMIL and Fundação Florestal set out to work directly with farmers in the region via PES, granting of special permits (Organic, Agroecological and Forestry Certification) and fostering of a sustainable value chain in municipalities with large areas of degraded pasture. The scope of the project also included a buffer zone around the Serra do Mar State Park and its Santa Virgínia and Itariru areas, the Bananal Ecological station, and the São Francisco Xavier environmental protection unit in São José dos Campos. FAPESP funded research projects on ecosystem service support via human-animal coexistence in conservation units, among other topics.

“We achieved our goal of creating a restoration and conservation project in São Paulo that served as an example. Conexão Mata Atlântica engaged people, yielded huge environmental benefits, and changed the lives of many small farmers in the region,” Joly said.

The states of Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais, parts of which are also in the Paraíba do Sul river basin, were invited to help design and implement the project. Each proposed specific actions to promote biodiversity conservation and carbon storage recovery in fragile areas.

“Through this project, we were able to use economic incentives to foster the use of conservation and soil protection practices in the management of rural properties, promote environmental restoration, and contribute to habitat protection, coexistence with native fauna, carbon sequestration, maintenance of biodiversity and protection against agricultural pests. The project converted farmers into environmental service providers,” said Luiza Saito, who runs Conexão Mata Atlântica in São Paulo.

Different modalities

Investment totaled USD 31.5 million, of which USD 16.56 million went to the São Paulo project. More than 1,700 agreements were signed with some 950 farmers in 20 municipalities across the state, including Aparecida, Cachoeira Paulista, Cruzeiro, Guaratinguetá, Lorena, Paraibuna, São Luiz do Paraitinga and Taubaté (in the Paraíba Valley, Ribeira do Iguape Valley and Santos regions).

PES was one of the main instruments used, enabling farmers to earn income by providing environmental services associated with conservation and restoration of native vegetation, as well as sustainable agricultural practices. The program selected 939 properties involving a total of 11,972 hectares. The selection criteria included land use change driven by sustainable agriculture, and pro-conservation practices such as rural sanitation, composting, assisted natural regeneration with fencing, and drinking troughs for livestock located well away from water bodies, among others.

“Farmers who signed up to the program only received PES if they implemented genuine improvements on their properties. They were paid for environmental services they provided before its inception and for any new services thereafter,” said Helena Carrascosa, who ran SEMIL’s project management unit.

The amount of degraded pasture in the region was significantly reduced in response to the incentives for good pasture management, including grazing rotation, forage grass diversification, and planting of native tree species.

“In the first year, we observed that the area with grazing rotation became larger than the area of degraded pasture. This trend is expected to continue, possibly until degraded pasture disappears,” she said.

The area occupied by pasture is 4,260 hectares or 25% of the total area of the rural properties that participated in the PES scheme. In São Luiz do Paraitinga and Natividade da Serra, however, the proportions are 35% and 41% respectively.

Although agriculture emits greenhouse gases and contributes to ecological habitat impoverishment, farmers are among the first to be affected by climate imbalance and therefore play a key role in climate change mitigation and adaptation, according to the researchers who participated in the program.

“The program focused on the key role played by farmers in the process by investing in training and technical assistance to their properties,” Carrascosa said.

Market access

Farmers were also given training to help them obtain product certification for access to the market in organics. Certification assured the implementation of sustainable cultivation and management practices. A total of 155 certifications were awarded in eight municipalities, taking the area certified to 4,360 hectares.

“As far as we’re aware, this is the first group of small farmers with Atlantic Rainforest conservation certification. Similar initiatives have been conducted in the Amazon, but this is the first group that mobilized to comply with all certification criteria for Atlantic Rainforest conservation without being associated with a production chain,” said Claudette Hahn, who coordinated this part of the program.

The principle of sustainable value chains was also used to foster cultivation and processing of typical Atlantic Rainforest products such as native fruit, honey, milk, and vegetables grown in agroforestry systems. A total of 202 properties benefited: 73 in fruit, 41 in dairy, 30 in honey, and 18 in vegetables.


Source: https://agencia.fapesp.br/51073