The REGUA reforestation programme is occurring at a rate not thought conceivable just ten years ago. We first planted an area of three hectares and thought it was hard work. We had no experience and every time the sun came out, we thought the trees would die. Nethertheless we persevered and every year we gained more experience and became better and better at this work.
Today we are planting twenty times that area in a year and the REGUA team is divided in three sectors. We have the seed team that procures seeds in the forest, picking up seeds of close to 180 species. The nursery team that is getting wiser at breaking seed dormancy and getting great uniformity in the production of seedlings, and there is the field team that transports the seedlings to the field and looks after them, nurturing them with patience and care.
The sad picture of destruction of the 1920s is slowly reverting to forests of the future. Just a century after areas were cut down to make way for pastures, the same areas are being restored to forests.
These forests now generate employment within the local community; act as new buffer areas to the large forest of the escarpment, forming an ever larger forest block that offers new habitat for the biodiversity around, which in turn leads to more research opportunities and potential tourism.
Gradually the small fragments of fading forest value can make it back and through forest corridor planting those islands can be reconnected offering a safer future for the species found here at REGUA.
Nicholas Locke, REGUA’s Project Director recently participated in a seminar on the use of natural regeneration as a means to reforest large areas. Led by distinguished scientists and organised by Miguel Calmon (IUCN) and Bernardo Strassburg (ISS) a large audience enjoyed the seminar.
“Natural regeneration is defined as “the regrowth and reestablishment of an ecosystem following disturbances at a range of spatial intervals”. Although it takes time, like any self-organizing colony, it can be accelerated and assisted. The process doesn’t involve planting trees but fertilizing and weed suppression, i.e. promoting growth naturally and reducing its threats.
Although it is very unattractive in its initial stages, forest does form over time and Itatiaia is an example of a successful naturally regenerated landscape. Natural regeneration reflects nature’s resilience, itself influenced by climate and the historical use of the land. It certainly is the cheapest way to attain the current target of 350 million hectares in the world (an area larger than India) established by the Bonn challenge (UN Climate Summit 2014).
Brazil with vast areas needing to be forested in both the Atlantic Forest and Cerrado are perfect areas for planting trees and sharing in this objective.
However, this technique does not always work and given that 3/4 of Brazil’s areas for restoration are pastures, how can one attract land owners to abandon land, both in large and small properties? How can one measure natural regeneration and create marketable indices? Perhaps carbon and water or ecosystem payments can help? However experiences show that when ecosystem payments terminate, land owners often cut those forests.
Given that certain areas never regenerate forest, perhaps we need to examine our own farming methods to prevent land from being completely exhausted. Also there are economic issues at heart for the cheaper forested land invites destruction as a means of capitalising investments.
We know that natural regeneration is a big step in the right direction. Reforestation is critical to maintain the world ecosystem and normal weather patterns, so we need to develop a strong collective message. An approved plan that gives a clear direction in defining land use as a landscape of productivity and functionality for if we don’t come up with a strategy, inertia sets in, and it’s business as usual.
We need to organise those who can fund this process to include all elements from seed collection to nursery development. Perhaps a new approach is needed; new tools needed to cope with the mammoth scale. Perhaps we need to examine land tenure and land rights and start by reducing the scale and regionalising a programme.
At the same time, researchers need to measure forest regeneration to remunerate land owners prioritising an economic return for small landowners. Much preparation is needed but leadership is vital to bring in landowners to cede their land for reforestation so perhaps the current drought is an opportunity to grasp.
For me the six big questions are:
1) What indicators are necessary to prove natural regeneration’s success?
2) How do we reconcile food production in forested landscapes?
3) How do we make natural regeneration economically viable for small landowners?
4) How can we scale natural regeneration scale?
5) How can we reach the politicians?
6) How to share the responsibility with the people living in cities?
The current conclusion is that natural regeneration of ecosystems is the least expensive way to reforest and in areas where it doesn’t naturally work we have to plant trees.
I met several interesting people from recognised organisations with valuable experiences around the world and I hope this seminar provides the impetus that is needed to revert the current levels of deforestation.”
Ruy Sylvester Lagoas and his wife Angelica have lived in Santo Amaro, just above the village of Guapiaçu for many years. Ruy has worked for Nicholas Locke for many years and was contracted to oversee REGUA’s tree planting workforce. With a love of the countryside, Ruy is only too keen to be re-planting forests in an area where trees have previously been felled.
His story is not untypical of recent generations throughout the world but the changes he has seen at REGUA show what can be achieved and something that he is rightly proud of.
Ruy was born in Santo Amaro, and at the age of 15 began helping his father in the family business of felling trees on their land. The trees with a diameter of at least 2 metres were chosen and felled with an axe by one of Ruy’s brothers. The family had their own hydro-powered sawmill and oxen to drag the trees down the hillside. They would sell timber as far away as Cachoieras de Macacu. The wood was used for many things from houses for hens to homes for people.
In addition, the family farmed bananas and Ruy remembers they would make up to four trips to the mountains a day bringing the bananas down to sell in the local villages and town.
After a few years Ruy went to work for a gas bottle distribution company on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro but after being assaulted by men with guns on seven occasions in a year he decided to return to the countryside he knew and loved. John Locke (Nicholas Locke’s uncle) asked Ruy to look after his brother Robert’s property, adjacent to his own and Ruy was delighted to accept. At around this time Nicholas Locke came to work in Brazil and this started the friendship and respect between Ruy and Nicholas which endures today. Over the years they built successful farm with sheds, houses for Ruy, Nicholas and his family, bridges, set up a generator for electricity and by the early 1980’s had build over 10 homes for the workers on the property. They also built up a team of labourers to cultivate crops and manage the cattle pastures.
When John sadly died, his widow Genevieve, asked Nicholas to run the property and Ruy joined him. Bananas were planted on the lower slopes – something that had not been done before; and when the banana price dropped they began growing yams, manioc, okra and maize corn. This all worked very successfully until 2000, when the REGUA reserve was created.
As land was acquired by REGUA and taken out of farming, restored and re-forested, Ruy was the natural choice to head this task and with a hardworking team around him, he successfully helped REGUA to create the wetlands and extend the forest along the valley closing vital gaps in the lowland slopes and preventing further encroachment into the forest by property developers.
Asked the key to the success of REGUAs reforestation project, Ruy says he has a good group of men working with him, and with mutual respect and an optimum team, planting new forests is in his word “easy”.
However, without a great manager, that team would not have developed into the successful group it is now. The new forests are a testament to both Ruy and the whole REGUA Team.
Looking back, Ruy can see how the project has grown and adapted to cope with the vagaries of the land. The men have learned how to plant on steeper slopes where access is difficult and everything has to be done by hand. The tough imperata or brachiaria grass will choke young trees if it is not kept at bay with maintenance for the first two years. Poor, hard soils take longer to nourish the saplings, but with patience even the most challenging areas eventually flourish. Planting a larger variety of species and increased the diversity of the replanted areas which brings in more species of birds and mammals.
Ruy considers the hardest area to work on has been the 25 hectares behind the wetlands which held every disadvantage. Access was difficult and all the tools and trees had to be brought to the area manually. Despite the slow start with steep slopes, saplings are now starting to grow through.
In contrast the area Ruy considers the most successful is the 2013-15 reforestation area. Here on the pastures and slopes above the river the access was easy, allowing farm trucks to bring the men, trees and all the equipment they needed right to the heart of the area. This was also an area of good soil and new technology helped to get the young trees planted as quickly as possible – drilling machines were used to break up the soil and create holes and hydrogel was added to retain much needed moisture near the roots of the trees.
Asked about his own personal key to success and Ruy is quick to point to the support he has from his wife, Angelica who shares his commitment to the project. She ensures he is happy and content and gets up at 5 am every morning to cook his breakfast and prepare a cooked lunch. She talks openly in the community of her dislike of hunting and the burning and clearing of forests.
They are the most respected couple in the Guapiaçu valley. Ruy is doubly pleased that the trees he felled in his youth, have now been replaced with new trees and forests are forming in pastures that he once created.
Ruy understands well the concept of nature and time; how trees grow, their needs and his gentle calm nature ensures that the REGUA team achieve the hard work of forest restoration.