The Black Jaguar Foundation plans to reforest 2.4 million acres along Brazil’s Araguaia and Tocantins rivers in the Amazon and Cerrado biomes. The 1,615-mile long natural corridor will require the planting of around 1.7 billion trees. Tens-of-thousands have already been planted.
Big dream: NGO leads in creating 1,615-mile Amazon-Cerrado river greenbelt
The Black Jaguar Foundation plans to reforest 1 million hectares (2.4 million acres) along Brazil’s Araguaia and Tocantins rivers in the Amazon and Cerrado biomes. The 2,600-kilometer (1,615-mile) long natural corridor will require the planting of around 1.7 billion trees. Tens-of-thousands have already been planted.
This natural corridor will be established on private lands, and it will have dual ecological and economic goals, resulting in both land conservation and sustainable agroforestry production. It would cross six Brazilian states (Goiás, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Tocantins, Pará and Maranhão).
BJF is well funded and well organized, so the greatest barriers to accomplishing the NGO’s goals are many initially resistant rural property owners who need to be sold on the economic benefits of the green corridor. 24,000 privately owned lots are included in the planned green corridor.
Brazil has a huge liability in degraded areas, and the BJF [green corridor] initiative is a huge outdoor laboratory for ecosystem restoration in the center of the country, in the agricultural frontier region,” said one researcher.
The Black Jaguar Foundation (BJF) has just one goal, but it’s a very big one: the NGO founded by the Dutch entrepreneur and environmentalist Ben Valks plans to reforest 1 million hectares (2.4 million acres) on either side of Brazil’s Araguaia and Tocantins rivers in the Amazon and Cerrado biomes.
The 2,600-kilometer (1,615-mile) long natural corridor would, when accomplished, extend 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) outward from both banks of the two streams. It will require the planting of around 1.7 billion trees, according to the organization, and serve a dual purpose of supporting agroforestry production and environmental preservation.
The BJF project is already underway, with tens-of-thousands of trees planted. But its biggest stumbling block lies ahead; the planned greenbelt will be established only on private lands, so it will require cooperation from numerous initially resistant landowners.
The merit of the project lies not only in its immense scale — the restoration as planned will cross six Brazilian states (Goiás, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Tocantins, Pará and Maranhão). It would also go a long way toward protecting and providing wildlife connectivity for Brazil’s two biggest and most important biomes: the Cerrado savanna (which occupies 48% of the project area) and the Amazon (which occupies 52%). Both biomes are under intense pressure due to the expansion of pastures and croplands.
Forest Code helps make greenway possible
If or when this vast vision is realized, the reforested territory will form the Araguaia Biodiversity Corridor, a concept first conceived in 2008 by biologist Leandro Silveira, from the Onça Pintada Institute. That year, Silveira, one of the world’s leading jaguar conservationists, founded the Jaguar Conservation Fund (JCF). Now BJF is working to make the green corridor a reality.
One of JCF’s tasks is to map the distribution of five key species in the region, and to especially study jaguar ecology in the corridor zone. BJF’s challenging, but crucial, role is to create a continuous natural corridor by connecting the green dots: linking up currently existing fragments of native vegetation with newly replanted forest that will blanket presently deforested and degraded lands on privately owned rural properties.
It is Brazil’s Forest Code — enshrined in federal law in 1965 and revised last in 2012 — that helps make the project viable. That legislation requires all private landowners in the Amazon and Cerrado to protect a significant proportion of nature on their properties. These privately conserved areas are given several designations, including permanent preservation areas (APP), Legal Reserves (RL) and Restricted Use areas. According to federal law 12.651/2012, every private rural property must include an APP and an RL.
Among an APP’s environmental functions is the preservation of water resources. The primary goal for an RL is the preservation of native vegetation, to ensure the ongoing economic use of the property’s natural resources in a sustainable manner. The size of an RL depends on the biome in which it is located. In the Cerrado an RL must occupy up to 35% of a privately held property’s area; in the Amazon, up to 80% must be conserved.
“We thought about what could be a feasible way to recover the corridor, so we did a study to identify how many and which [private] properties were obeying the [Forest Code] law and which were not. We also found the location and size of the degraded areas in the RLs and APPs, and quantified the environmental, economic and social benefits and costs of the future corridor,” Andrea Lucchesi told Mongabay. She is professor of environmental economics at EACH/USP (the School of Arts, Sciences and Humanities at the University of São Paulo) and coordinator of the feasibility study.
Commissioned by BJF, and carried out by researchers from EACH/USP and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the research identified 24,000 rural properties in the corridor area, of which 13,148 have an environmental deficit in RLs and APPs totaling 1 million hectares. The team also mapped out other features, including land tenure and existing native vegetation areas and species.
However, the study was only able to determine clear ownership on 81% of the proposed green corridor’s total area. “The problem is that CAR [the Rural Environmental Registry, which records all rural properties in Brazil] is self-declaratory, and we found a lot of land overlap between properties, for instance,” said the environmental economist. Determining land boundaries and establishing clear title will be one of the challenges to realizing the corridor project.
Benefits outweigh costs
The BJF study concluded that the restoration of the one million hectare green corridor, coupled with the implementation of agroforestry production systems in the restored forest, could result in US $21.1 billion in environmental and economic benefits over the next 50 years (an estimate that depends on the growth cycles of harvestable trees and forest management techniques).
Other project benefits include the capture of 262 million tons of CO2 equivalent, a reduction of 527 tons of soil erosion, revenue from timber and non-timber products, and the creation of more than 37,000 jobs. Total project cost is estimated at US $2.2 billion.
The expenses are to be covered by BJF, and will include maintenance of the reforested areas during the first three years of the project, along with forest monitoring in the 10th and 20th years after the planting. Each rural property owner that joins the BJF effort will receive their own restoration plan based on the size of the area owned, an estimate of the current level of land degradation, along with native species seeds and seedlings that offer greater agroforestry economic development potential.
“The two restoration models we have adopted [both] follow ecological principles for the conservation of biodiversity” and the restoration of forests and native vegetation, but the second model also follows “economic principles that include the sustainable use of the soil for the generation of timber and agriculture products,” explained Dimitrio Schievenin, a BJF forest engineer and project coordinator. “The [reforested] areas cannot be disfigured, nor can they be clear cut, and the removal of one or two trees per hectare, when they are grown, is common in plans for sustainable management in native forests.”