Thirty years ago, Henrique Carneiro’s grandfather bought the 44,000 hectares that make up the Fazenda Vera Cruz do Xingu farm, in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. Today, Carneiro is planting trees amongst the soybeans, corn, cotton and broad expanses of pasture. More than one-third of the farm’s natural forest had been cut down over time. Now, together with the local nonprofit Instituto Socioambiental, the farmer is hoping to find ways to recover some of this portion of Amazonia, the world’s largest tropical rainforest.

So far, 40 percent of the 12,200 seeds and 67 native species he has planted have grown. “It’s meticulous work that involves neighbouring farmers,” he says.

As part of the Paris Agreement to combat climate change, Brazil pledged to restore 12 million hectares of trees – nearly the size of England – by 2030. The challenge is huge. The government’s National Native Vegetation Recuperation Plan (PLANAVEG), announced in November 2017, plans to plant 390,000 hectares of Brazilian rainforest over four years.

But a number of other actors are attempting to help honour the country’s pledge through economic, environmental and social means.

One is the Alliance for Restoration in Amazon, a partnership of more than 50 civil society organisations, governmental and research institutions and businesses. Its goal is to plant 73 million trees on 300,000 hectares – the largest reforestation project on the planet currently underway.

“The key is to lower the costs of forest recovery and migrate from individual projects to larger scale projects, offering opportunities to generate revenue,” says Rodrigo Medeiros, VP of strategic partnerships at Conservation International, one of the NGOs in the alliance.

The world-renowned Rock in Rio music festival helps spread the message, offsetting its carbon footprint by planting trees. And foreign countries are also contributing. The Norwegian-backed Amazonia Fund expects to inject 200 million reais (USD 54 million) into projects that combine reforestation and commercial profit. “Income earned from standing forests will prevent the return of high rates of destruction due to the predatory activities we’ve had in the past,” notes Medeiros.

But current deforestation rates still cancel out restoration efforts. According to the Imazon Institute, logging increased by 40 percent between August 2017 and July 2018. The 300,000 hectares that were lost equals the surface area that the Alliance for Restoration in Amazonia hopes to plant.

Satellite images show that 83 percent of the logged area, including within environmental and indigenous reserves, has become pasture or cropland. “Agreements with production chains, like beef and soybean, that were supposed to control deforestation have weakened,” explains Carlos Souza, monitoring coordinator of the Imazon Institute of People and the Environment.

Digital technology makes it possible for individuals to monitor what is happening in the rainforest. Terras, a Belem-based company, has developed an app to cross-check environmental and production data from farms, offering access to loans from banks that refuse to finance deforestation. They have connected 18,000 farms to Banco da Amazônia, and plan to reach a total of 200,000 in the region by 2020. The startup, distinguished by NatureVest, a global program for conservation investment, aims to create a showcase for those working towards zero deforestation.

The Alerta Clima Indígena mobile app is used by different indigenous tribes and requires less Internet connection than most technologies. Some groups monitor illegal farming, while others keep a watch on fires and illegal fishing, capturing geographic references via satellite.

“The result is greater autonomy to access information without depending on governmental agencies,” explains Fernanda Bortolotto, coordinator of the app development project at the Instituto de Pesquisa da Amazônia.


Other innovations include sustainable timber production. In the Floresta Nacional do Jamari, where federal land is available for sustainable economic use, the company Amata uses satellite imagery to identify and select which trees can be cut down with the smallest possible impact. To maintain the forest’s integrity, the company’s limit for logging is 15 cubic metres of wood per hectare – half the amount allowed by law.

Others believe in using substitutes for forest products. Far from Amazonia, in the town of Guaramiranga, the Hotel Vale das Nuvens is built of synthetic “wood” made from recycled plastic. Its founder, civil engineer Joaquim Caracas, says he’s proud of having used tree-saving technology and plastic that would otherwise go to landfills.

“In order to fight deforestation, the economy must be in favour of the forest, not against it,” says Beto Veríssimo, director of programs at the Center for Entrepreneurism in Amazonia. He believes that combining technologies can add value to the forests and counter the activities that destroy them. “We have 20 million inhabitants [in the nine states of the Amazon basin] and can’t always wait for the government to act.”