Sustainability Through Seed Collection in Brazil 

February 23, 2022

Promoting Economic and Environmental Sustainability in Brazil Through Seed Collection Innovation with The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conversancy (TNC) in partnership with the Caterpillar Foundation have been working to promote muvuca, a direct sowing technique that involves planting a mix of seeds from Atlantic Forest trees such as Aroeira, Ipê Verde, and Jatobá, Guapuruvu with crop seeds such as corn, pumpkin, beans, and sesame, across Brazil’s Atlantic Forest to boost restoration. Muvuca is a cost-effective technique because it does not require the maintenance of a nursery for the seedlings, and because it reduces maintenance costs after seeds are planted. The soil density created when seeds are planted is almost 3 times higher in comparison to planting seedlings, which helps reduce the grass that often grows on degraded pastures. Furthermore, species planted through muvuca are much more resilient. With a stronger root, the growing trees will surely thrive, and if fires happen, the chance of natural regeneration and regrowth is higher.

In 2017, TNC, in partnership with the Instituto Sociambiental (ISA) and Corredor Ecológico, carried out a demonstration unit—a plot of land where the muvuca sowing technique was deployed—in the Paraíba Valley, and has annually monitored the restoration progress and lessons learned. Since then, the local demand for muvuca has increased, which in turn has created the need to train seed collectors.

In partnership with the Caminhos das Sementes Initiative, about 20 seed collectors who live in two rural settlements, the Lagoinha and Tremembé, have already received TNC’s support for training, personal protection equipment, seed collection apparel and guidance for firefighting and prevention. This support has also enabled the creation of a space called “Casa de Sementes” (seeds house), where they can store seeds and equipment as well as hold meetings.

Over the last three years, these seed collectors have already collected enough seeds to reach a USD $30,000 revenue from the sales. In 2020, this amount was equivalent to R$1,000, or USD $160, per family per month, a significant added value to the income of people that are out of the employment system with no regular income, living in vulnerable conditions and depending on government assistance programs.
Thiago Ribeiro Coutinho, 34 years old, has lived in the rural settlement of Lagoinha for five years and has worked as a seed collector. “In addition to all the economic benefits that seed collection has provided us, we want to join forces to create a Seed Hub to improve the use of earlier species. After we learned how to use native seeds, we were also able to reduce the use of herbicides to control grass, so we know it´s possible to manage land in a more sustainable way,” he explains.

The promotion of muvuca and the support provided to seed collectors have created additional long-term impacts beyond the financial benefits to local communities. People engaged with seed collecting and restoration have developed a new perspective on their environment. Collectors value the standing forest, observing which trees are in their path, and what the seed collecting cycles.

At the Caterpillar Foundation, we believe that no one organization, group or person can achieve meaningful progress on their own and it requires an ecosystem-based approach to build resilient and sustainability communities. This is why we have partnered with TNC on several projects to support nature-based solutions, climate change adaptation and reforestation efforts across Brazil.

These initiatives educate local communities about preventing deforestation and climate disaster mitigation; TNC also works with these communities to enable them to restore their native tree species, soil and land.

By working with organizations like TNC, we are building authentic global and local partnerships that cut through convention – and we are proud of the work being done in Brazil, which focuses on people and the communities in which they live, equipping them with resources, tools and skills of tomorrow’s economy and putting them on a path toward economic prosperity.