Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon hit a record high earlier this year, according to Brazilian government data. The new AmazonPasto app, published by Instituto Ouro Verde (IOV), a Brazilian non-governmental organization, and the University of Exeter, aims to protect the environment and help small farmers earn a living in deforested areas .
In a silvopastoral system – a type of agroforestry – farmers intentionally grow trees in combination with forage plants and graze livestock on the same land. The new AmazonPasto digital platform allows users to access and share information on species that are beneficial to these tree farming systems. It also includes tips for improving soil quality and developing sustainable farming techniques. To encourage small-scale farmers in the region to adopt silvopastoral systems, AmazonPasto also offers microcredit financing that can support start-up farmers.
“We need to evolve the concept of product quality towards the concept of environmental quality,” Alexandre Olival and Andrezza Spexoto, co-founders of IOV, explain to Food Tank. “We will only be able to produce high quality products when our production system is connected to the local biome, thus helping to preserve animal and plant species.”
According to a recent report by Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, the historic extraction of food and minerals for global markets has led to high levels of poverty and inequality in the region. The continued exploitation of resources, including beef, milk, soybeans, maize, cassava, rice, bauxite and iron ore, contributes to the decline of the region’s vast natural capital without adequate improvements in well-being. be local. The World Bank reports that in the northern region of Brazil, where the Amazon is located, poverty rates reach 35.3%, nearly double the national average in 2021.
Before joining AmazonPasto, some of the farmers involved in the project were homeless. But through silvopastoralism, small farmers are able to produce crops and milk to sell at a fixed price to the Brazilian government for consumption in local institutions like schools.
Large-scale mining projects and other infrastructure are also increasingly threatening protected areas and indigenous lands. According to research published in A land, a recent proposal to regulate mining on indigenous lands could impact 20% more forests than under current policies. And Nature Conservancy reports that 34 million people, including more than 380 indigenous groups, are exposed to air pollution associated with wildfires.
AmazonPasto developers aim to transform current systems focused on these short-term gains. Olival and Spexoto explain that planting trees can provide farmers with benefits that go beyond just income from the sale of timber. Olival’s previous research in Agronomy and forestry finds that improving soil quality and forage plant quality can help reduce the need for corrective fertilization or nutritional supplementation of animals. These changes are particularly effective during the dry period of the year.
While the project currently uses Inga trees to trap nitrogen in the soil and maintain long-term soil fertility, no one species is a “savior,” Olival and Spexoto tell Food Tank. “The idea behind the app is to show that what will make the system better is precisely the combination of species.”
To promote dialogue between producers, the application offers two tools allowing users to exchange information and highlight experiences with successful species combinations. They can submit ratings of trees already saved in the app, which will be visible to other users. Users can also register a new species in the application system, indicating its main characteristics. By evaluating the images sent through the app, a team of botanical specialists from partner universities can then help to correctly identify any newly added species.
Registered participants also have the option of sharing suggestions via a WhatsApp group created for platform users. AmazonPasto hopes this additional outlet will help facilitate more direct communication as farmers and technicians select the best trees and forage plants for their production systems.
So far, the app has helped create around 60 hectares of silvopastoral systems, containing more than 20,000 trees in the Brazilian Amazon. The project aims to increase this area by approximately 150 hectares per year. In the coming months, the IOV team hopes to expand its operations and work with people from other Brazilian biomes, including the Caatinga, Pantanal, and Atlantic Forest.
“No single species possesses all the ecological functions that guarantee the productivity and resilience of systems,” Olival and Spexoto explain to Food Tank. “But if we bring the species together in an organized and rational way, we can achieve incredible results.”
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Photo courtesy of Dieny Portinanni, Unsplash