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Research project on native trees of the Amazon and Atlantic Forest receives Bezos Earth Fund US$ 2.5 million donation

Species will play a central role in achieving the country’s conservation, restoration, and bioeconomy goals

WRI Brazil

Native tree species from Brazil’s Amazon and Atlantic Forest biomes will play a central role in achieving the country’s conservation, restoration, and bioeconomy goals. However, native tree species have not benefited from the research and development that exotic species have. More research is needed to increase native trees’ yield and quality, as well as to optimize production and management costs. The Bezos Earth Fund, with a USD 2.5 million donation, is supporting a pioneering project focused on enhancement of native species of the Amazon and Atlantic Forest.

Resources will support the Research and Development Program in Silviculture of Native Species (PP&D-SEN), a project with initially a 20-year duration which has been launched in 2021 by the Brazilian Coalition on Climate, Forests and Agriculture with the support of several partners. The grant is from the Bezos Earth Fund and will provide support for the initial program phase, with the broader program being structured and negotiated with the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES).

PP&D-SEN is the first national research and development program with native forest species of high conservation, economic and productive value. It connects research institutions, universities, companies, governments, the civil society, and funders, creating a network that works to promote technological innovations and development necessary to deliver national conservation and restoration aims, and establish silviculture of native species on a scale comparable to Brazil’s main agro-industrial sectors.

The Bezos Earth Fund resources will be used over the next three years to enable some activities of the R&DP-SNS, under responsibility of the Southern Bahia Scientific and Technological Park (PCTSul), in partnership with the Federal University of Southern Bahia (UFSB) and the Brazilian Coalition. These activities include the establishment of two research sites in project partners’ areas and collecting data and conducting studies in an existing experimental field. Also, maps of priority areas for planting native species, business models and proposals for improving the management and conservation of protected areas and their surroundings will be developed – always prioritizing native tree species of high conservation, economic and productive value.

According to Daniel Piotto, professor at UFSB and project lead scientist with PCTSul, the investment will allow a leap in the silviculture of native species in Brazil, with the experimental trials aimed at the production of native woods of high commercial value and dissemination of technologies that will allow the expansion of wood production alternatives for rural producers, communities, and investors in the Amazon and Atlantic Forest. One of the main missions of the Southern Bahia Scientific and Technological Park (PCTSul) is to offer alternatives to reconcile the production of goods with the conservation of the region’s rich biodiversity.

“Southern Bahia is already a major hub for eucalyptus forest production and, more recently, has become a hotspot for several investments aimed at implementing carbon sequestration and hardwood production projects through restoration and mixed reforestation of native species and agroforestry systems. The outcomes of this research project will leverage these initiatives and attract many investments for forest production in the region,” he explains.

The support from the Earth Fund will also enable the development and promotion of silviculture of native species and productive restoration models for buffer zones of protected areas, to reduce deforestation and degradation pressure, and improve biodiversity in the territory. It is also intended to develop and disseminate investment packages for potential public and private investors, aiming to improve the management and conservation of protected areas in the Amazon and Atlantic Forest biomes.

Training and capacity building activities are planned to disseminate the knowledge gained, which will also be used to improve public policy proposals for the Ministry of Environment, the Brazilian Forest Service (SFB) and the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio), among others.

Miguel Calmon, co-leader of the Brazilian Coalition’s Silviculture of Native Species Task Force and senior consultant of WRI Brasil, assesses that such economic activity has a potential comparable to of the most important commodities such as soybeans and corn: “The high value and the great national and international demand for hardwoods allow investment in reforestation to generate profit for the investor, communities, and landowners. This is one of the best examples of how economic development can be aligned with environmental preservation,” he concludes.

“Native tree species are vital for forest enrichment, conservation, and restoration that delivers the maximum benefits for carbon sequestration and nature protection. But for too long, native species have been ignored in favor of exotic species that  benefit from decades of private investment. Our partnership with the PCTSul and the Brazil Coalition will begin to close the R&D gap on native species research and data collection and apply these findings to deliver more effective conservation and restoration outcomes, “ said Cristián Samper, Managing Director and Leader for Nature Solutions at the Bezos Earth Fund.

 Native trees: Brazil’s new silvicultural frontier

In 2021, the top exporters of wood products were Canada (USD 22.5 billion), China (USD 20.5 billion), Germany (USD 13.3 billion), Russia (USD 12 billion) and the United States (USD 9.82 billion).  Brazil was far behind with only USD 4.6 billion in exports, or 2.37% of the total USD 194 billion traded by the international wood products market.

In addition to the small amount exported, Brazil has a limited portfolio: currently, national silviculture prioritizes species such as eucalyptus, pine and teak that, over the past 40 years, have been the subject of R&D work that has resulted in more efficient management systems and higher yields. These exotic species, along with just two native ones (Araucaria and Paricá), account for 91% of all wood produced for industrial purposes in the country, according to the Brazilian Tree Institute (Ibá) only 9% comes from legally managed natural forests.

International interest in hardwoods from native species is made clear by the illegal exploitation that is advancing on forests. Although there are no official records, it is estimated that up to 90% of exported wood is illegally harvested – i.e., it does not pay taxes, does not generate quality jobs, encourages deforestation, and jeopardizes Brazil’s international image.

At the same time, the country has around 50 million hectares of degraded pastureland with low suitability for agriculture that could be recovered with silviculture of native species, generating new income opportunities for producers.

How the PP&D-SEN works

PP&D-SEN conceives research projects in three priority areas: forestry production, environment and landscape, and human dimensions. 

The Forest Production area has three lines of research: Forest Improvement, Forest Management and Technology of Forest Products. Under Forest Improvement, three themes were prioritized: molecular biology, vegetative propagation, and seeds/seedlings. Under Forest Management, there are four priority themes: ecophysiology, forest modeling, silvicultural practices and topoclimatic zoning. Under Technology of Forest Products, there are two priorities: timber and non-timber products.

The environment and landscape area has two research lines: ecosystem services and biodiversity.

The area of human dimensions includes research on socioeconomics and public policies. The first develops cost analyses, assesses job creation, products and markets. In public policies, the priorities are the Forest Code and legal framework.  In addition to research, the program is based on two other pillars: training and communication.

Altogether, 30 species from the Amazon and the Atlantic Forest were prioritized for this program due to their high economic value for native forestry.

It is expected that the scaling of the area of silvicultural plantations and the adoption of practices and innovations resulting from this program will contribute to meet the demand for tropical wood, recover the 12 million hectares of degraded areas by 2030 and increase carbon sequestration and storage, generating thousands of jobs and improving livelihoods in rural areas.

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