Alan Batista explains the R&D platform for native species

Photo: Mauricio Fegali

28th September, 2016 - There is no denying the vastness of the area to be reforested or restored in Brazil. In the country's own commitment to the Climate Agreement (NDC), the numbers are big and ambitious: restoring and reforesting 12 million hectares for multiple uses. Part of this total should involve native species for economic purposes. But such a prospect has not yet come to the fore for investors and small, medium and large-scale farmers. How can this become a reality?

The VERENA project team, a partnership between WRI Brasil and IUCN, funded by the Children's Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), identified promotion of research and development (R & D) of native species, with the purpose of improving their prod uctivity and economic return, as a priority. This led to the idea of an R&D platform for native species silviculture, in total synergy with the Brazilian Coalition on Climate, Forests and Agriculture (Coalition), and with its Working Group (WG) for Restoration and Reforestation.

Alan Batista, forestry engineer and investment analyst at WRI Brasil, explains how this platform will work. "Our goal is to increase the productivity of native species, deliver a portfolio of products for investment in forests, increase forest cover and thus mitigate climate change, fix carbon levels and have economic and social return." Read the full interview below.

How did the R&D platform come about and what is its relationship with the Brazil Coalition?

The platform is a part of the VERENA project. It began, earlier this year, with the study of three cases of companies that grow native species for economic purposes. We held a workshop with each of them, which resulted in 12 pillars for the feasibility of replicating these experiences. The two main ones are R & D and economic modeling. The R & D platform emerged as the central element of VERENA, but developing a pre-competitive project to develop native species forestry in Brazil is also a proposal of the Coalition. Therefore, this and some of the other pillars are being developed together. In the Coalition, we work most closely with the Restoration/Reforestation WG.

What is the scope of the R&D platform?

We are very careful to talk about what the platform is and isn’t. It wants to turn research into innovation until hitting a pre-competitive point. But what does that mean? The platform will invest in research and develop silviculture, such as genetic improvement and forest management. Then it will deliver the results to companies and farmers. It will deliver, for example, an improved species with guidelines and procedures on how to grow it. From there, those who want to develop more can do more research with their own resources. This is what happened with eucalyptus, for example. This research began at institutions such as the Forest Research Institute (IPF) at Esalq/USP. It has evolved and today, each company has its strategy of planting and improving species.

Research and development data will be made available on the platform. But where will the information come from?

The main objective is to have resources to create a fund and a managing institution to start the platform. It will be fundamental to have a scientific committee, which will decide what is strategic and a priority, and will hire consultants to produce edicts. For example, if the committee says it is critical to develop Paricá - an Amazon species whose wood is used to make laminate and plywood - it will point out what needs to be done to improve its productivity. This would be transformed into edicts. From there, research institutions will compete, one of them will win the bidding, and the managing institution will manage the resources and will get results.

What is the differential of this platform in relation to other forestry development projects of native species in the country?

There are several initiatives for restoration and reforestation with native species, as well as initiatives with exotic species. But there is nothing that unites these two fronts. The few projects in universities and research institutes are very punctual, related to some problem of management of a species, for example. But the platform would all be in the same format and feature that will allow for fulfillment of the long-term schedule required in a breeding program for several generations of trees planted and harvested. This will be the great differential of the platform.

What will be the minimum duration of the platform?

We have spoken about 30 years, but we are dividing up the expectations. There are short term, from one to five years, medium, from ten to twenty years, and long term expectations, from twenty to thirty years. A very short-term delivery would be precisely to monitor all the initiatives, now rather diffuse, and the decision to choose which species will receive resources and investments in the next five years to generate good results.

Would divisions of time frames help the investor understand that this project could offer results prior to 30 years?

Yes, this is the message that we want to communicate. It is fundamental. We cannot wait 30 years. If the species that the investor intends to plant has a return in the short term, it already has an indication that productivity will increase.

Is restoration with native species for economic purposes something new?

Thinking about economic ends, it is, yes. There has always been more of native planting for ecological restoration.

But the two things go together - economic ends and ecological restoration?

Yes. Note that the eucalyptus plantation has major economic production, while the environmental aspect is relatively small. Already the environmental plantation has gains for the environment, but a very small economic return. What we have worked on are agroforestry systems, mixed plantations, native monoculture, that is, models that have intermediate economic and environmental gains. Our challenge is to put economic gain up there, to lower risk, to increase return, and to have more environmental benefits. It has different gradients, but these two fronts go together. But there is no silver bullet. There's much to be done.

Do you talk to other WGs of the Coalition, such as the Tropical Forest Economy WG?

There is a synergy, but their focus is a bit different. The goal of that GT is the legality of timber and they work on the issue of tracking, to curb illegal trade. This has everything to do with the VERENA project, because as long as there is illegal wood in the market, the economic models are unfeasible. The agendas work in parallel, but with the same goal.

Do you interface with the Valorization of Ecosystem Services WG of the Coalition, too? Does carbon enter into the account?

We talk, but not very directly. But carbon permeates all of this initiative, ultimately more productive forests as a result of R & D, there is more carbon capture and they are economically more attractive, allowing for scaling of forest restoration.

Will the platform initially focus on the Amazon?

Yes, in the Amazon and in the Atlantic Forest. They are biomes with greater deficits for reforestation.

Could you give a scenario of how the platform would develop and reach its ideal?

The first step is to have the financial resources for the platform to be created and to have a managing institution. From this we would have some species, within this platform, with improvement of double or triple productivity. That will make investment happen. When investors and farmers (small, medium and large) look at this possibility, they have this information, economic reforestation will happen and help to fulfill the Brazilian NDC. No one knows how much of the restoration will be for economic purposes. But our goal is to increase productivity, deliver a portfolio of products to investors for investment in the forests, and to increase forest cover and economic returns. The complete formula is: to mitigate climate change, fix carbon levels and achieve economic and social return.

What would be the social return?

There is a component called the social aspect of plants, of investing in the species used by communities. Chestnuts and açaí are trees used in extractive activities, so if I can give a community a variety that allows them to produce more, within the same area, I am generating a wealth in that community. That is, we are dedicated to this social component.

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The article was originally published in Portuguese and translated by WRI.