A growing movement for sustainable agriculture in Brazil has taken on new urgency with the coronavirus pandemic, and Eugenio Scannavino is leading the way.
In the Amazon, more land is cleared for cattle than anything else. It’s easy clear: just chop down some trees and light a few fires. But restoring the forest is considerably more difficult and takes a lot more time.
However, it's got to be done and scientists at the Experimental Active Forest Centre (CEFA) in Brazil is getting on with the task. It is a research and development centre where farming within the forest, or agroforestry, is the focus. And it's part of an expanding movement for sustainable agriculture in Brazil that has taken on a new urgency with the coronavirus pandemic, as scientists - and, even, the Pope - warn that the climate crisis and land development increase the odds of another deadly virus jumping from animals to humans.
Eugenio Scannavino, founder of CEFA, has spent 30 years in the Amazon rainforest working on sustainable solutions. As part of these endeavours, he also established the non-profit Health and Happiness Project, that helps sustainable community development while also providing health and education services for remote communities.
The centre’s aims are ambitious but equally practical: 40,000 seedlings from its nursery will be donated to local communities to reforest areas in the reserve cut down and burned for cattle or traditional farming. These include pau-brasil, grown to be sold as wood; urucum, whose seeds are traditionally used as body paint by the Amazon’s indigenous peoples and sold for colourant in lipstick; and pau-rosa, whose leaves are used in perfume.
“The culture here is slash and burn, and we’re trying to change that,” Scannavino Netto says.
Changing the culture is not easy - and the Brazilian government, as we know, has been an obstacle rather than a supporter in recent years. But now with the coronavirus pandemic, farmers themselves see they have more reason to change.
In March, Scannavino Netto argued in Brazil’s Folha de S.Paulo newspaper that the monocultures of modern agriculture were destroying everything from biodiversity to insects that serve as “bioregulators”. Cutting down the Amazon changes animal behaviour and heightens the risk of another, much more lethal virus jumping to humans.
So, restoring the rainforest is now as much about restoring the planet's lungs as preventing another avoidable pandemic event.