A growing body of research and practice from Brazil and elsewhere demonstrates that many components of biodiversity benefit agricultural production and also generate benefits for wider society. Well-planned management of biodiversity both within and beyond the farm makes farming landscapes more resilient, more cost effective, more sustainable and more productive.
The Atlantic rainforest of eastern Brazil has exceptional levels of diversity and endemicity but less than 15% of its original extent remains. Most of the remaining, highly fragmented forest is on privately owned land, much of which is on smallholder family farms. These farms, which are critical to many international commodity supply chains, are key to the conservation of the biome.
In recognition of the roles of farmers and corporations in biodiversity conservation, Fauna & Flora International, Souza Cruz (a subsidiary of British American Tobacco) and the Brazilian NGO Sociedade de Pesquisa em Vida Selvagem e Educação Ambiental (Society for Wildlife Research and Environmental Education) partnered with 17 smallholder farmers in Paula Freitas municipality, Paraná, in a 4-year project Parcerias pela Biodiversidade (Partners for Biodiversity), which was completed in December 2015. The partners built knowledge of financial and legislative frameworks, enabling and constraining factors for farmers, and the costs and benefits of practical interventions to improve biodiversity and ecosystem services on farms. Interventions included forest restoration, enhancing habitat for pollinators, removal of invasive species, and management of crops to reduce fertilizer use. The results demonstrate that costs of interventions, particularly restoration, are significantly less than previously reported. For example, tree-planting restoration techniques, which include labour costs for planting, maintenance for 2 years and native seedlings from local state nurseries, were found to be cheaper (BRL 6,100, USD 1,610, per ha) than expected. This can be explained in part by not using agrochemicals and by implementation being carried out by farmers and hired labour rather than project staff. In addition, fencing (at USD 200–300 per 100 m, including labour) to exclude livestock can result in significant early natural forest regeneration in areas with previous low-impact land use. Monitoring from 2013 to date by farmers and project staff demonstrated the success of these actions: < 10% mortality of planted seedlings, good average growth (2 m) of diverse native plants in naturally regenerating areas, 23% increase in maize yield and 25% reduction in urea application by using inoculants, and a reported increase in fruit yield as a result of an increase in pollinators.
We used InVEST to map and value some key ecosystem services influenced by the interventions. The models for carbon, crop pollination, and sediment and nutrient retention spatially prioritized areas to improve ecosystem services and estimate economic gains by comparing the pre-project land-use scenario with two riparian forest restoration scenarios (10 and 30 m wide buffers). Estimated revenues derived from reduced costs of soil recovery, water treatment and dredging, and value of carbon credits, represented total potential annual gains of USD 509,000 and 177,000 in the 30- and 10-m scenarios, respectively. Including the opportunity cost of forgoing usual economic activity in riparian zones, the potential annual ecosystem service benefits from the 30- and 10-m scenarios equate to USD 750 and 270 per farm, respectively.
The Brazilian Forest Code requires that landowners maintain or restore forest in areas delivering ecosystem services. The project demonstrated clear economic benefits for complying with and going beyond the requirements of the Forest Code. To realize these benefits, frameworks such as payments for ecosystem services need to be established. Such mechanisms are increasingly used in Brazil and elsewhere as the economic case for biodiversity management in farming landscapes becomes recognized. The frameworks are most effective when private landowners, NGOs, government agencies and companies form partnerships to realize common, sustainable land management goals.