As I mentioned in my last post, I am back in Brazil. I have been here for 8 days now and have 4 full days and then a flight home Friday/Saturday. (This is kind of long, so if you don’t feel like reading it all, there are some pictures at the bottom!)
Last week was spent in a town called Juruena in the state of Mato Grosso. To get there, I took a 9 person plane which landed in the towns of Juina and Juara before arriving in Juruena. It was a new experience for me to fly on a plane that small and also to land on dirt runways (2 out of the 3). The flight was surprisingly smooth and because we flew at a lower altitude, we were able to see much of the landscape below.
Mato Grosso, as you may remember from my post from last April, used to be mostly Amazonian rainforest, but the southern part has been mostly deforested to make way for huge soy fields and cattle ranches. It was pretty interesting to see this transition in the air and the immensity of these farms – something you can’t appreciate from the ground.
This meeting was run by the United Nations Development Program to discuss the possibility of a carbon market for agroforestry systems (I’ll explain those in a bit), but was brought about in part because of the meeting we held last year in Rio Branco (look about halfway down the post). One of the farmers who has an agroforestry system came to the meeting with the UNDP representative and they decided it would be good to have a community level meeting there as well.
We were invited to participate as instructors in the course and to help design the program. My boss couldn’t go because of another meeting he had to attend, so I was the only representative from our organization. It was fun, though. I didn’t really know anything about agroforestry systems before, and we went to visit one, so now I have all sorts of great ideas.
The idea of an agroforestry system is to plant cash crops among larger trees or to allow your livestock to roam among the trees. The larger trees provide shade for the crops and the system as a whole is more productive and profitable and ecologically beneficial in terms of biodiversity and carbon sequestration as well.
In the Legal Amazon (a legally defined region of Brazil which has different laws for some aspects of development), it is necessary for farmers to retain 80% of their land as rainforest. This law is hardly ever followed, however, because it is greatly lacking in enforcement. Also it requires landowners to purchase 80% more land than they need for their production – quite an expensive proposition.
This particular farm that we visited, however, is an exception to that rule. Luisao (Loo-ees-zow) kept 79% of his land as primary forest, has 12% as an agroforestry system and the remaining 9% is his home, some pasture and a few man-made ponds for fish.
Within the agroforestry system, he has planted some trees whose wood will provide him with a source of income in the future, below which he has planted coffee and cacao both of which grow well in the shade and he also has a huge variety of fruits and vegetables native to the region (like pupunha and cupuacu). His income has sky rocketed because of this and it’s more elastic because if the coffee price drops one year, he can rely on his other crops to meet his family’s income needs. It was super interesting and has me thinking about what Elvis and I could do if we decide to buy some land in Guatemala.
The last day of the course was Friday. I felt somewhat famous because everyone wanted their picture taken with “the American”, to thank me for coming, invite me back, and, in some instances, tell me their life stories. It was cool, though, to play that kind of role in these meetings since my boss normally plays the larger role since he’s my boss (and his Portuguese is better than mine!).
Now I’m in Porto Velho in the state of Rondonia working with the Surui on developing their carbon project and investment plan. We have one more day of meetings tomorrow and then on Tuesday – Thursday we’re headed to the field to do some studies and visit some of the villages. It should be quite interesting! I’m looking forward to spending the night in the village and learning more about the scientific side of things!