Growing heart of palm and tropical timber in Brazil's Atlantic Forest
Garça, Sao Paulo State, Brazil
About the project:
In Brazil's Sao Paulo State, years of monoculture agriculture and unsustainable grazing have damaged the landscape, lowering crop yields and threatening the local way of life. Without trees to hold the soil in place, local rivers have silted up and jeopardized the water supply. The result? Farmers and ranchers are struggling. One Brazilian company is helping reverse that trend.
Futuro Florestal, founded in 2006, grows high-value tropical timber species for the market alongside crops like coffee, cocoa, and açaí. The company plans, manages, and advises commercial reforestation and agroforestry projects that use both native and exotic species to transform degraded landscapes. Their goal? Create thriving landscapes that provide economic opportunity for local people while protecting and restoring farms and forests.
Today, the company, supported by the Verena Project, directly manages 500 ha and provides technical support across 4,000 further ha with its permanent staff of 25 people. One of its most innovative test plots mixes peach palm, a food crop that is native to the region, with hardwood species, including the native jequitibá rosa and guanandi. The peach palms help farmers earn revenue beginning in the second year of the project while they wait for the high-value hardwood to mature over 20 to 25 years. The farmers then selectively harvest some trees while leaving many standing.
Futuro Florestal made the commitment to grow native trees not only because they wanted to ensure that these threatened species survive and continue to protect the region's biodiversity, but also because it makes economic sense. These rare woods are becoming increasingly valuable on the market as supplies dwindle while demand for the furniture, flooring, wood artifacts, musical instruments made from them continues to increase. Sustainable plantations like these can protect the remaining native specimens in the few remaining intact expanses of the vulnerable Atlantic Forest.
This is a Brazilian solution to a Brazilian problem. As the vast majority of this timber is consumed within Brazil, planting these species on farms closer to large cities like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo decreases the carbon footprint of shipping timber while also restoring land near these major population centers. With the creation of these new forestry and agroforestry projects came jobs. Futuro Florestal trained 60 people used to conventional (and damaging) coffee and cattle farming to grow native trees and restore the land. Local communities had the opportunity to participate in courses, lectures, workshops and field days that the company conducted on the farms. They worked with schools, universities and individuals to show that environmental and economic sustainability can come hand-in-hand.
What impact has Futuro Florestal had so far? Since the company started growing trees, the landscape produces four times more water than before, securing this key resource for the company's nurseries and nearby farmers. The soil is healthier, and native animals like pumas, otters, and birds have returned to the property. And more carbon is now stored in the plants and soil than before. A bright future awaits Brazil's Atlantic Forest, but only if companies can access finance and technical support to scale up their work. Initiative 20x20 and WRI Brasil are actively working to support efforts like Futuro Florestal's throughout Latin America.
Futuro Florestal would like to thank its partners Tropical Flora Reflorestadora, Tropical Eco Wood, and WRI Brasil for their support.
The projects use the following tree species: jequitibá rosa (Cariniana legalis), louro pardo (Cordia trichotoma), louro freijó (Cordia alliodora), mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), guanandi (Calophyllum brasiliense), teak (Tectona grandis) and African mahogany (Khaya senegalensis and Khaya grandifoliola / ex-Khaya ivorensis), and ipê felpudo (Zeyheria tuberculosa).