Seedling Nurseries – Breeding Forests and Hope for Amazon Communities

Environmental education and the restoration of native vegetation in Indigenous lands

May, 2023 – Over the years, environmental degradation has reduced the water flow around the Pindaré River headwaters. This has been cause of concern for the people living at the Krikati Indigenous Land, located in the municipality of Montes Altos, in the state of Maranhão. Indigenous Peoples rely on local rivers for their fishing and food production. Since last year, a degraded area recovery project has brought life back to the river. 

“We are restoring the headwaters by planting seedlings on the river banks, which helps to increase water flow. Gradually, we are recovering this area,” says Airton Krikati, who has been working as a firefighter and volunteer at his community's seedling nursery for a year.

The community where Airton lives has applied for support under a call for projects named Recovery of Degraded Areas and Recomposition of Native Vegetation in Indigenous Lands (more information here). 

Indigenous man talks with researchers on the banks of the Pindaré river

The project is part of the Forest Management and Fire Prevention Program in Brazil, carried out by the United States Forest Service (USFS) with support from USAID/Brazil, under the Partnership for the Conservation of Amazon Biodiversity (PCAB). It is implemented by the National Indigenous Peoples Foundation (FUNAI), USFS, and the National Center for the Prevention and Combat of Forest Fires (PrevFogo), linked to the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA).

The idea is to cooperate with eight local Indigenous associations to develop and strengthen knowledge, practices, and environmental education related to integrated fire management, in addition to promoting exchanges of experiences on nurseries and the traditional use of fire. In addition to Indigenous fire brigades, young people, women, elders, and local leaders have also joined the initiative. 

The program supports Indigenous communities with equipment, transportation, and inputs for their nurseries, among other items. Firefighters and volunteers engage in activities such as the production and planting of native seedlings for the recovery and protection of areas containing springs, riparian forests, and agroforestry systems. They also carry out prescribed burning, a technique applied to prevent more severe forest fires.

Talia Gavião, an Indigenous firefighter from the Governador Indigenous Land, in the municipality of Amarante, in the state of Maranhão, has also joined the initiative. She explains that the seedlings produced in their community nursery include kapok, locally known as sumaúma or big-belly, a threatened and protected tree species that can reach 70 meters in height (the equivalent of a 24-story building). 

In addition to being used for traditional medicine, this tree is considered sacred by Indigenous peoples.

The indigenous Talia holds a tree seedling in her hands. Wears a green T-shirt with the brigade logo

“Our elders teach us that sumaúmas draw a lot of water from the soil. It is also at their feet that we hold our final mourning rites to honor dear relatives who passed away,”

says Talia.

In April, a team of representatives from the USFS, FUNAI, and PrevFogo/IBAMA visited the Governador, Krikati, Porquinhos, and Xerente Indigenous lands to monitor the progress of activities and promote an exchange of knowledge among Indigenous representatives of the different lands.

“Our goal was to understand how these projects are being implemented in each of the communities and, as much as possible, make recommendations with the partner organizations, to enhance their progress. We promoted exchanges among project representatives, where they discussed their experiences, difficulties, and success stories, so that everyone would have an opportunity to improve their work," explains Ana Luiza Violato Espada, USFS Gender and Governance officer. 

Aline Cavalcante, an environmental analyst at PrevFogo/IBAMA, highlights community engagement. “It is amazing—and at the same time gratifying—to see how engaged communities are! This is important not only for the environment, but also for those directly affected by it.”

Bruno Guajajara, who lives at the Araribóia Indigenous Land, had an opportunity to show the practices adopted in his community to facilitate seed germination for some species, and share these practices with members of the Porquinhos Indigenous land.

“One of the things that drew our attention was their planting methods, which  are different from what we do in our community. Our seedlings take much longer to grow," says Airton. 

Diversity - The seedlings cultivated in the project nurseries vary according to the region, but often include embaúba, ipê, cedar, tamburi, buriti, and açaí.

“In our nursery, we build 'cradles', which is where we place the seedlings in the ground. I think this work is really beautiful. Then we monitor it and follow up on the growth of each plant. Before the project, it was very difficult to do it because we had no support. Now, we are receiving material and training, and that helps our community," says Talia. 

Later this year, other selected projects will be visited. “We have seen the importance of going to the field and visiting the projects and the people who are participating. This adds credibility to their work in the community. The participation of Indigenous chiefs and the engagement of the community, including women, young people, and elders, were also very important,” adds Ana Luiza.

For Nathali Germano dos Santos, from FUNAI's Environmental Conservation and Recovery Coordination Office, these technical visits bring them closer to Indigenous representative organizations and communities, in addition to promoting greater networking among the institutions involved in project implementation. “Knowing the reality of these initiatives allows us to better identify the challenges and potential of each one. Thus, it helps us to enhance each project taking into account its particularities. These activities demonstrate the importance of Indigenous firefighters for the restoration of native vegetation, and consequently for the strengthening of environmental management and the promotion of well-being in these territories.”

In addition to the visits scheduled for the second half of the year, partner organizations plan to hold more meetings to promote experience sharing and engage more Indigenous representatives in events related to ecological recovery.