Learning from Brazil’s innovative model to reverse desertification in Caatinga
Brazil’s vast rainforest, rich in biodiversity, has captured the imagination of people around the world and attracted large-scale financing from donors committed to preserving this unique ecosystem. But what about the other, lesser-known or naturally endowed biomes?
The Caatinga drylands occupy 11 percent of the country, an area about 100 million hectares in the northeast of Brazil. It is home to over 34 million people. Preserving the unique resources in this region is vital because drylands are highly susceptible to land degradation.
In 2016, Brazil established the Recovery Units of Degraded Areas and Reduction of Climate Vulnerability (URAD) initiative to address the main drivers of land degradation in the Caatinga. The project, which in the long run will be financed from the moneys generated by domestic environmental fines, received a start-up funding of USD$1 million from Brazil’s Climate Fund and US$9 million from the international community.
Under the program, a recovery area is defined by its watershed. The local communities are mobilized to restore their watershed. They get support in the form of resources and training needed. The start-up cost per family for carrying out a watershed recovery is estimated at US$ 8,000. About 30 to 40 families take part in each project.
The first activities aim to produce highly tangible results, such as restoring a water source. Direct results are they key to keeping the enthusiasm among community members going and to motivating them to take further actions.
The first URAD community-level interventions were completed in half the estimated time. In turn, local people started to have confidence in government projects. The interest to get involved and enthusiasm in the projects grew and spread throughout other communities.
But the watershed recovery project is rooted in more than providing direct benefits to communities.
The participation of local communities is a guiding principle. Studies show that environmental actions that reduce the population's climate vulnerability are more likely to succeed when they involve local communities in decision-making to create sustainable value chains, generate employment and improve the quality of life.
The URAD watershed recovery initiative is also founded and fully integrated in a sustainability model. The environmental, social and economic interventions are taken seriously with specific results targeted.
For URAD, environmental actions aim to conserve soil, recover spring water, preserve biodiversity and improve the conditions for food production. Social actions focus on meeting the water, energy and sanitary security of the communities. Beekeeping and integrated crop-livestock-forest systems are examples of the sustainable activities being encouraged to meet livelihood needs – the economic side.
The project is also designed to generate short-, medium and long-term needs. This is essential in project planning because political leaders, who are the main decision-makers, often mostly care about and invest depending on the short-term political gains or losses of what they do. Communities, on the other hand, are more willing to invest in actions that change their lives for the long haul.
URAD’s short term goals were to recover water sources, contain soil erosion, reduce land degradation, mitigate the effects of drought and cut down soil and water pollution. In the medium-term, the productive capacity of the soil would recover, and help Brazil to fulfil its commitment to achieve land degradation neutrality.
The conservation of the Caatinga is expected to improve the quality of life for the local people year by year, and reduce forced migration to urban areas. In the long-term term, the communities and their lands, plants, animals and natural resources are expected to adapt or become resilient to climate-change and it’s impacts.
Brazil invests in the drylands because the URAD strategy has the potential to transform the reality for thousands of rural communities. With community-owned successes at the core of each intervention, the new model to reverse desertification has every chance to succeed.