Amazon agroforestry co-op shows how to farm sustainably in the rainforest

In a remote northwest region of Brazil, a group of farmers has set up a rare cooperative enterprise that plants native fruit trees on exhausted former ranchland. In the process, they are making a better living than the ranchers blamed for 80 percent of Amazon deforestation and reforesting the area in a way that mimics the natural habitat, write Brian Barth and Flávia Milhorance in FERN’s latest story.

The story, produced in collaboration with National Geographic, says that the Amazon rainforest “preserves biodiversity, protects soil and water, and sequesters carbon in its trees, mitigating climate change. RECA’s farmers approximate that ecosystem, densely planting up to 40 species in their recreated rainforest parcels.”

The more than 300 families in the co-op earn about five times more per acre from their agroforestry plots annually than local ranchers do from their pastures. “Thirty years ago, a lot of people thought the folks at RECA were insane,” says Dielison Furtunato, who works for the RECA cooperative. “Still today, people think agroforestry does not provide a viable livelihood. But we know it can.”

RECA’s agroforestry contrasts with ranching, which has been driving deforestation in the Amazon. In fact, Rondônia state, where RECA is located, has the third-highest rate of deforestation in the Amazon, according to data from INPE, Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research. At the far western tip of the state, near where RECA is located, large tracts of virgin forest can still be found a few miles from the highway, but they are rapidly disappearing.

You can find the piece, with photographs by Luisa Dörr, at FERN and National Geographic.