Valdete “Dete” do Nascimento, 47, does not complain about her busy routine. She wakes up at 5:30 am and starts her day. First, she makes breakfast and lunch. Then she goes to her farm, where she works until the late afternoon, taking care of her palm plantation, which produces hearts-of-palm, and her fish farm. She then returns home and does the housework, taking a break from time to time to watch TV. Preferably, Brazil's popular novelas.
A resident of the Mata do Sossego Settlement in the Southern Bahia Lowlands county of Igrapiúna, she is driven by work. “I'll never stop or slow down. My life has always been this way. I'm guaranteeing my survival,” she says. For example, she has started participating in the Payment for Environmental Services Program (PSA), through which she helps preserve the environment. “I'm going to start reforesting my property, mainly around two springs that I have here. I decided to help them so they don't dry up.”
The PSA is run by the Land Conservation Organization (OCT), an institution that is part of the Program for the Development and Growth Integrated with Sustainability of the Southern Bahia Lowlands Mosaic of Environmental Protection Areas (PDCIS), promoted by the Odebrecht Foundation, the government, civil society and private institutions. This initiative enables the planting and maintenance of native Atlantic Forest plants in Permanent Preservation Areas for a 24-month period at no cost to the owners. Dete has chosen this path, and has already started planting. “I'm doing my best to get good results. Everyone in the settlement supports this program,” she says, clearly pleased.
According to Volney Fernandes, the Leader of the OCT Cooperative Alliance for Environmental Services, who is also working towards a Master's degree in Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Development, his institution considers the recovery of degraded areas and springs a priority for ensuring that the flows of life - a term that includes the soil, water, flora and fauna, humans and their businesses - are balanced. “We want to establish an economy in the Pratigi Environmental Protection Area (APA) communities that is in harmony with the environment, thereby promoting environmental services: water, carbon and biodiversity,” he says.
Dete Nascimento is going even further. While becoming a water producer, she is also planting a one-hectare area with a variety of crops, such as cocoa, rubber and fruit trees, a method known as the Agroforestry System (SAF). The OCT is providing technical and financial support in partnership with the Regional Development and Action Company (CAR), an agency of the State of Bahia. The Brazilian Biodiversity Fund (FUNBIO), the Executive Planning Commission for Cocoa Farming (CEPLAC) and the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) have also joined forces, conducting research that identifies plants suitable for cultivation in the Pratigi APA, which covers five Bahian counties: Igrapiúna, Ituberá, Ibirapitanga, Piraí do Norte and Nilo Peçanha.
“The SAF is included free of charge, providing a means of ensuring a source of income for each family unit. It serves as a quid pro quo for farmers who set aside part of their land to preserve native vegetation,” says Volney Fernandes. He adds that the ongoing work at the APA will result in a model that can be replicated in other regions. “It will be possible to gain scale by using existing public policies, making it natural to have access to resources that are available in other regions,” he explains. For Dete, this is yet another opportunity to collaborate with the environment. “We receive guidelines on how to cultivate crops while protecting the soil,” she says.
In addition to her activities on the farm, Dete still finds time to study. Last year, she graduated from the Youth House State High School, a teaching unit that is part of the PDCIS and also located in Igrapiúna. The farmer is clearly interested in planning the future of the forests around her. “What we are doing today is important for the present and future. I know we need to preserve the environment now so we don't suffer the consequences later, like running out of water. I'll leave the rest to fate.”
According to Volney Fernandes, the OCT focuses on activities that contribute to the reforestation of the Pratigi APA, fostering the creation of ecological corridors that will link up forest fragments in the Central Corridor of the Atlantic Forest, an area ranging from Bahia to the neighboring state of Espírito Santo. “We have an annual deforestation rate of about 700 hectares in the region. We need to reverse that trend,” he observes.
Jeovan Nascimento, 41, hopes this will be the case. Like Dete, he cares about the environment. “My children and grandchildren need to know what a forest is,” says the farmer, who lives in the Juliana community, in Piraí do Norte county. Jeovan is also restoring a spring. “When my father came here, he found a devastated region. He made a pasture, but raising cattle isn't profitable here because it rains too much. When this opportunity arose through OCT, he let us use those areas and get down to work,” he says.
On Jeovan's family farm, in addition to restoring the spring, they are also planting an SAF and engaging in forestry, another OCT strategy to reduce deforestation which encourages people to plant eucalyptus trees to meet the demand for wood in the region. “I want to use these different crops to increase our income and start my own business,” says Jeovan, who currently works as a day laborer on someone else's farm.
Environmental engineer Bruno Matta, OCT's Environmental Conservation Leader, feels a sense of satisfaction because farmers are realizing that there are ways of using the land that does not degrade the soil. “This is a major achievement,” he says. “We are working to recover springs, deploy and promote agroforestry systems, and encourage timber production to meet the demand in this region, thereby cutting down on deforestation. This will lead us build up an economy that is in harmony with the environment,” he argues.