Conservation International aims to plant 73 million trees in the Brazilian Amazon in the largest reforestation project ever. The trees will be planted in the “arc of deforestation” that runs through the Brazilian states of Amazonas, Acre, Pará, and Rondônia, as well as throughout the Xingu watershed. In the short-term, the project aims to restore 70,000 acres of tropical forest. “If the world is to hit the 1.2°C or 2°C [degrees of warming] target that we all agreed to in Paris, then protecting tropical forests in particular has to be a big part of that,” said M. Sanjayan, CEO of Conservation International, in an interview with Fast Company.
“It’s not just the trees that matter, but what kind of trees,” said Sanjayan. “If you’re really thinking about getting carbon dioxide out of atmosphere, then tropical forests are the ones that end up mattering the most.” Ceasing deforestation would allow for the absorption of 37 percent of the world’s annual carbon emissions yet scientists worry that 20 percent of the Amazon may be deforested in the next two decades, in addition to the 20 percent that was deforested in the past 40 years. To combat this rapid pace of destruction, Conservation International is utilizing new, efficient planting techniques that could be applied worldwide. “This is not a stunt,” said Sanjayan. “It is a carefully controlled experiment to literally figure out how to do tropical restoration at scale, so that people can replicate it and we can drive the costs down dramatically.”
The planting method used in the project is known as muvuca, which is a Portuguese word to describe many people in a small place. In muvuca, hundreds of native tree seeds of various species are spread over every inch of deforested land. Natural selection then allows the most suited to survive and thrive. A 2014 study from the Food and Agriculture Organization and Biodiversity International found that more than 90 percent of native tree species planted using the muvuca method germinate and are well suited to survive drought conditions for up to six months. “With plant-by-plant reforestation techniques, you get a typical density of about 160 plants per hectare,” said Rodrigo Medeiros, Conservation International’s vice president of the Brazil program and project lead, according to Fast Company. “With muvuca, the initial outcome is 2,500 species per hectare. And after 10 years, you can reach 5,000 trees per hectare. It’s much more diverse, much denser, and less expensive than traditional techniques.”