Partners start data collection for TerraBio pilot

TerraBio serves as a monitoring, evaluation, and reporting approach to provide environmental accountability to private sector firms working with sustainable agriculture and forest products, and/or invest in sustainable business models as profitable and conservation-driven development initiatives. The methodology is being developed by the Alliance Bioversity/CIAT and partners, with the support of USAID/Brazil to evaluate the impact of private sector investments in the conservation of biodiversity in the Amazon.

The monitoring tool integrates mapping technology – which uses algorithms that detect deforestation, reforestation, and other interventions – with the analyses of wildlife e-DNA - a technique that identifies animal and plant DNA through residues on the soil. All organisms have unique DNA that allow for their precise identification. When they pass through a location, animals leave residues such as hairs or skin fragments which may contain traces of DNA. This method of identification is called “environmental DNA” (e-DNA).

To test the application, the Alliance set up a pilot project in partnership with Brazilian institute Imaflora to conduct the first TerraBio analyses in agroforestry, in the São Félix do Xingu region, in Pará state. The cocoa production areas are part of the Floresta de Valor project, which supports family farmers with capacity building to improve production and land management.

“Imaflora was already an Alliance partner within SERVIR Amazônia (an USAID’s regional program) and these locations were what we were looking for to run the Terrabio tests”, explains Wendy Francesconi. “It was important to have a partner that was already in the field, as we wanted to reduce the exposure of communities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

E-DNA - The collection will be done in four areas. Using Ground – an application being developed by Google that marks geographic coordinates and takes pictures of the location as reference for future measurements. The samples will be analyzed by Salford University, in the United Kingdom, where researchers are already working with e-DNA.

The consultants collecting the samples took part in two training courses. One about Ground and the other on sample collection protocols to ensure the quality of the e-DNA samples. “I believe it will be an easy process, as the collection protocol is very thorough,” said Vitor França, one of the Imaflora’s consultants who participated in the training.

Francesconi also explains that consultants need to follow both collection protocols – which include glove changes to avoid sample cross contamination – and COVID-19 safety measures. Consultants were instructed to follow social distancing guidelines, as well as the use of masks and of sanitizers.

“Consultant and producers must use masks at all times, and the only contact will be on signing the consent term for the sample collection, which will be done with distancing,” concluded Francesconi.

Imaflora has been following COVID-19 safety protocols, changing capacity building procedures to  individual consultants virtually. They follow distancing and mask guidelines.

The pilot will help identify the impact of businesses on biodiversity  when larger scale applications start on monitoring and evaluating. After the pilot, the methodology will be reviewed to include any necessary adjustments.