Brazilian farmers from six cities in the interior of the state of Minas Gerais, in the Brazilian Southeast, have embarked on a new project. They are contributing to the reforestation of degraded areas for the preservation of an important native species: candeia (Eremanthus erythropappus).
The project includes the partnership of the state and federal governments, of the German government, of the Federal University of Lavras (UFLA) and of the Organization of the Amanhágua Civil Society for Public Interest (Oscip), which operates in the city of Baependi, in southern Minas.
According to Mônica Lopes Buono, director of Amanhágua, the target is to end the year of May 2009, when the agricultural year ends in the country, with 2,100 hectares of planted preservation area and around 300 hectares of so-called extraction woods.
In 2008, the numbers were respectively 1,000 hectares for preservation and 56 planted for extraction. Mônica says that, currently, around 200 farmers from the region are involved in the growing of candeia. Last year there were just 80.
The project in the region began in 2007; it is modeled on programs implemented in other parts of the world, like the United States. The equation is simple: farmers are paid for agricultural services provided. And former deforesters may become producers of woods.
In Baependi, families receive 140 Brazilian reais (US$ 65) a year per hectare of candeia planted and turned to preservation, as well as being granted the inputs and material to fence in the area. In the case of candeia in extraction woods, farmers receive saplings and fertilizer.
Production of candeia saplings is another important phase of the program for preservation of the species. According to Mônica, the project is stimulating the so-called family nurseries. "Around 30 families have been asked to produce saplings, and the target is for each nucleus to produce 10,000 units," he said.
The farmers were trained and received adequate material for the work. The value paid is 30 centavos (US$ 0.14) per sapling produced. "In five months, candeia is ready for plantation and may be distributed to farmers," said Mônica.
Payment for production of saplings, according to Mônica, has complemented income of families, mostly small farmers, who live off milk. "It generates an extra 3,000 Brazilian reais (US$ 1,400), and makes a great difference to the income of farmers," she says.
Apart from receiving the material and incentive in money, farmers received information about candeia, mostly collected by researchers at the UFLA. "The candeia tree has always been greatly explored, but without knowledge of the species," explained Charles Plínio de Castro Silva, a master in Forestry Science at UFLA. According to Silva, the main use for candeia was for fences. "It is very resistant and lasts more than other woods when buried in the ground," she says.
UFLA has been studying candeia since 1996, when it developed a study about the trees in the region and the use of the plant. The work focused on two areas. The first, in the line of sustainable management of candeia. "We investigated the best way to cut trees to maintain the same number in the area," stated Silva.
They also discovered, for example, that the trees grow in poor and high land, and there are varieties that grow above 550 meters and others above 700 meters. "The tests are now going in the direction of improvement of the soil, to see whether the plant grows faster, or presents new characteristics," she explained.
Another line of work was in the development of woods for production, through domestication of candeia. "The intention was to have straighter species, with faster growth," said Silva. According to the researcher, the species planted are ready for cutting at around 10 years of age. But the university hopes to reduce this time to 6 or 7 years, with fertilizing and soil correction, for example.
UFLA also researched candeia for the production of oil, an important product for the cosmetic industry, alpha-bisabolol, whose kilogram may be sold for US$ 60 in the national and international market, according to figures supplied by the university.
According to Silva, all the cosmetics that have camomile in their composition may use candeia oil instead. "It is a great market, which is starting to be explored now," says Silva. He stated that company Natura is already working on research for replacement in some of its products.
UFLA Tel.: (+55 35) 3829-1700