A tale of resilience and restoration in Brazil’s Paraíba do Sul River Basin

By Climate Champions | September 29, 2023

Partner: Regions4

Implementers: Global Environment Facility (GEF), Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Government of the States of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Minas Gerais;  Federal Government of Brazil.

Country & Region: Brazil, specifically in the states of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Minas Gerais, focusing on the Paraíba do Sul River Basin and the Atlantic Forest.

Impact System: Finance/Rural/Human Settlements

Beneficiaries / Impact: 237 rural landowner families benefited; 2,440 Ha of land restored out of 440,000 Ha pledged,  US$1.7 million invested.

In the heart of Brazil, spanning across the states of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Minas Gerais, lies the Paraíba do Sul River Basin, a region that is home to some of the country’s largest industrial and population centres. Here, the water resources are a lifeline for over 14 million people, playing a crucial role in supplying water, generating electricity, diluting effluents, and serving various other purposes. However, the basin has witnessed extensive deforestation in the past, particularly during the 18th and 19th-century coffee cycle, leaving a significant portion of its territory covered by degraded and unproductive pastures.

Amidst the escalating climate crisis and its associated impacts, the urgency for a transition to a low-carbon economy has never been more pressing. The government of the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has stepped up to this challenge, setting an ambitious goal at COP26 to increase the forest coverage of the Atlantic Forest in the state from 30% to 40% by 2050. This translates to the restoration of an additional 440,000 hectares, with the potential to absorb 159 million tons of carbon dioxide.

Propelling the delivery of this is the “Conexão Mata Atlântica” project, initiated in 2017 through a collaborative effort involving the Brazilian states of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Minas Gerais, and the Federal Government, represented by the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation (MCTI). Funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), along with matching funds from the state government, the project stands as a testament to the power of collective action.

In Rio de Janeiro, the project has adopted an innovative approach focusing on Payments for Environmental Services (PES) to incentivize and value the environmental actions taken by rural producers in private areas. The objective is multifaceted – mitigating climate change, conserving biodiversity, and ensuring water and food security, all while aiming to increase carbon stocks. The project has emerged as an effective strategy in preserving forests and recovering degraded areas, offering both economic and social benefits, and contributing to the environmental wellbeing of the region.

PES investments in the project have totaled US$1.7 million, bringing about transformative changes for farming families. A total of 237 families have been compensated for their contributions to conserving and restoring nearly 2,440 hectares of land. These families, initially lacking funds or access to credit lines, were empowered by the project to adopt sustainable systems such as agroforestry and silvopastoral systems, where trees are planted at wide spacings into grazed pastures. These systems integrate native trees with crops and pasture, promoting environmental gains and increasing the income of producers.

The Conexão Mata Atlântica project has not only expanded and strengthened the State Environmental Payment for Ecosystem Services Program – PRO-PSA but has also included seven more micro-watersheds and six municipalities in Rio de Janeiro that benefit from this initiative.

The main beneficiaries of this project are rural landowners with limited financial capacity. The project has played a significant role in enhancing their resilience and wellbeing, fostering sustainable agricultural practices, and contributing to the overall development of the region. It has strengthened community organization, reduced the vulnerability of the beneficiaries’ production, especially in family farming, and promoted food and nutritional security through the Technological Leap and specialized consultations.

To read about this story in Spanish, visit Regions4’s website

Race to Resilience partner, Regions4, is supporting resilience building and promoting sustainable practices among regions across the world in a bid to put people and nature at the heart of adaptation. Discover our other partners.

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