Brazil Embarks on Ambitious Project to Restore the Amazon Rainforest with 73 Million Trees

Aerial view of the Amazon Rainforest near Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas. Neil Palmer (CIAT)

The Amazon rainforest is set to receive an astonishing 73 million new trees over the next six years. This massive reforestation effort, sponsored by Conservation International, the Brazilian Ministry of Environment, and several NGOs and corporations, aims to revive the 20 percent of the Amazon lost to deforestation due to agriculture and pasturing over the past four decades. This undertaking, spanning a 74,000-acre region across multiple Brazilian states, marks the largest tropical reforestation effort ever attempted.

Restoring the Lungs of the Earth

According to a press release from Conservation International, the project will primarily focus on Southern Amazonas, Rondônia, Acre, Pará, and the Xingu watershed where deforested pasture lands span. The restoration effort not only seeks to bring back the lost greenery but also aims to gain valuable insights into restoring tropical forests.

M. Sanjayan, the CEO of Conservation International, describes this project as “breathtakingly audacious,” emphasizing its impact on the Amazon’s fate, the well-being of the region’s 25 million residents, countless species, and the global climate.

A New Approach to Reforestation

Typically, reforestation efforts are costly and time-consuming, requiring the planting of thousands of saplings, many of which may not survive. However, in this groundbreaking endeavor, restorationists are employing a new method called “muvuca.” Instead of planting saplings, they will distribute seeds from native trees across the deforested and burned areas as well as animal pastures. These seeds come from the Xingu Seed Network, which consists of 400 collectors who gather seeds from native trees.

Rodrigo Medeiros, the vice president of Conservation International’s Brazil program, explains that while traditional techniques yield around 160 plants per hectare, muvuca can produce an initial outcome of 2,500 trees per hectare. This density can increase to 5,000 trees per hectare after ten years. Muvuca offers a more diverse, denser, and cost-effective alternative to traditional reforestation techniques.

A Monumental Step Towards Climate Change Goals

This muvuca experiment serves as the first phase of a comprehensive initiative announced by Brazil to restore 12 million hectares of forest, an area equivalent to the size of Pennsylvania. It is part of the country’s commitment to the Paris Accord’s climate change goals. Recent studies indicate that second-growth forests, which emerge within 60 years after logging or land clearance, can effectively sequester substantial amounts of carbon. By halting deforestation and planting or restoring forests, it is possible to mitigate a significant proportion of current carbon emissions.

While Brazil’s efforts are commendable, it is important to remember that reforestation alone cannot solve the problem. Every year, 25 million acres of forests are cleared worldwide. Doug Boucher, Director of Climate Research and Analysis at the Union of Concerned Scientists, emphasizes that while reforestation has long-term benefits, it takes decades for forests to regenerate fully. Therefore, alongside reforestation, it is imperative to reduce industrial emissions and halt deforestation to make a meaningful impact on our changing climate.

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