Inventing a new way to grow native timber and food in Brazil
Valença, Bahia state, Brazil
About the project:
Farms and ranches across Brazil’s Bahia State have suffered from decades of degradation. The result is declining crop yields and an uncertain future. For one Brazilian company, though, restoring that land makes both ecological and economic sense. Sucupira Agroflorestas grows both trees for timber and crops for food in a vibrant agroforestry system that is reversing that damage. Its goal is to promote agroecological principles as the instruments of a new green revolution.
In 2011, the company purchased the first of the 7 rural properties that now make up their 80-hectare farm, Fazenda Sucupira. The initial focus of the farm was growing African mahogany (Khaya spp.) and managing the existing crops better. From experimental plantings, though, the company gained a better understanding of the region’s environmental conditions, allowing the farm to pursue more complex and diversified agroforestry with higher productivity. Today, the farm, evaluated by WRI Brasil and the Verena Project, works with “successional agroforestry,” learning how the land naturally regenerates and applying forest ecology principles – and native species – to accelerate restoration and protect biodiversity.
There are 63 plant species under cultivation: 29 timber species, 25 fruit trees, 5 spices, and 3 palm trees. More than 60% of these species – açai, cupuaçu, cocoa, juçara and jabuticaba – are native to Brazil. The company's forest is home to timber trees at three different ages, which the company selectively harvests and replaces at cycles of 17, 25 and 30 years.
To date, Fazenda Sucupria has planted 60 hectares of the property and plans to expand the operation to the entire farm. This involves planting and managing the farm’s Legal Reserve, a part of the property dedicated to native plants that Brazilian law protects. Fazenda Sucupria provides a rich and healthy diet for the people and animals that live or work on the farm.
Beyond the positive environmental impacts, Sucupira Agroflorestas’s work has important social benefits. The farm employs a full-time staff of 7 people, almost all of whom are small farmers. The farm is building deeper understanding of the use of native trees in Brazil’s forestry industry, native fruit domestication, and agroforestry management, all nascent fields of research. It partners with research projects and hires student interns from Brazilian universities to train the next generation of aspiring professionals to manage agroforestry projects, hosting 35 students from 10 universities to date.
The farm is also investing in agroforestry research by partnering with Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro and Embrapa Agrobiologia. One recent study found that managing projects by copying how nature regenerates, rather than pumping them with herbicides, led to more carbon stored and nutrients in the soil.
Sucupira Agroflorestas’s work shows that growing timber and food together is both economically profitable and environmentally beneficial in Brazil. These rare woods and healthy foods fetch a high price on the international market, which helps companies like Sucupira Agroflorestas invest in conserving native species from the Atlantic Forest and the Amazon. The “added” benefits? They are improving soil richness, conserving water, and sequestering carbon, too. With their ongoing work, Sucupira Agroflorestas is paving the way for the future of agroforestry.