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Advancing Sustainable Practices in the Cerrado Savanna

January 10, 2024

Did you know that the Cerrado is South America’s second largest biome, and one of the world’s most biodiverse regions? It’s also home to thousands of smallholder farmers who depend on its natural resources for their livelihoods. We’re working with the Louis Dreyfus Foundation and VBIO to support these farmers and protect this precious ecosystem from the impacts of deforestation, land degradation and climate change, through agroecological production. 

The Cerrado savanna covers around 23% of Brazil’s surface area, which represents more square miles than the combined territories of Spain, France, Germany, Italy and the UK. 5% of the planet’s plants and animals make their home in the Cerrado, including some 10,000 native plant species and more than 1,600 indigenous species of mammals, birds and reptiles. This savanna is also fundamental for global water supply, climate stabilization and carbon storage.

Despite its size and significance, however, less than 2% of the Cerrado is protected by national parks and conservation areas, and has come under threat from deforestation, land degradation and climate change.

That’s why we’re working alongside our partners to support these farmers and protect the local environment through agroecological production.

How is our project advancing more responsible practices and empowering farmers?

Advancing Sustainable Practices in the Cerrado Savanna

Since 2022, we have worked with our partners to support smallholder farmers in 26 municipalities in Brazil’s Goiás, Bahia and Minas Gerais states, while reducing pressure on Cerrado ecosystems.

The project supports farmers to form cooperatives that receive training on production and commercialization of native crop species, with a focus on agro-ecological practices, allowing farmers to transition to 100% chemical-free production. 

Farms will be organically certified and connected to the Solidary Commercialization Network – a network of local producers that works with almost 5,000 families, promoting valorization of local and native products produced by traditional communities, and providing a platform for participation in decision-making, production planning and marketing.  

The overall goal is to facilitate market access and enable farmers to extract a better premium for their goods. Being part of a cooperative gives farmers a channel to sell their products without intermediaries. Eligible producers also gain organic certification, allowing them to market their production with an organic label and, consequently, at a premium. Smallholders can also standardize their production and reduce costs through shared equipment, storage and logistic costs. 

Advancing Sustainable Practices in the Cerrado Savanna

We’re helping about 500 farming families in Brazil to improve their living conditions. These families receive training and exchange on sustainable farm management and organic certification, farm biodiversity enhancement through seedling planting and implementation of more resilient agricultural practices.

Fernanda Saturni, Grains & Oilseeds Sustainability Manager

What is agroecological production and why is it important?

Agroecology is a way of farming that respects the natural environment, while improving the social and economic conditions of farmers and their communities. It involves using organic methods, diversifying crops, conserving water and soil, and promoting biodiversity. Agroecology also helps farmers adapt to climate change, reduce their dependence on external inputs, and increase their food security and income.

Existing local ‘agroextractivist’ communities of the Cerrado face severe challenges due to lack of training. Traditionally, these communities collect nuts, roots and fruit from native vegetation for food consumption and medicine. They also produce a range of beans, rice, vegetables and fruit on small farms of approx. 30 hectares (a small property for the region) on average. To sell their produce, they depend on intermediaries who dictate off-market pricing and terms. These farmers also suffer from low productivity due to lack of technical knowledge and poor soil quality, which makes sharing best practice critical to help improve their yields and livelihoods.

Beyond training farmers on sustainable farm management as a path to gain organic certification for food crops and native vegetation, they also receive guidance on socio-productive organization and commercialization, including through follow-up and monitoring visits. In addition to driving the implementation of conservation agriculture techniques, the project is having a direct and immediate positive effect on the environment through reforestation. Overall, some 36,000 indigenous trees are being planted, improving yield quality of regional soils and reducing pressure on Cerrado biome ecosystems. 

Local participating farmers in Canaã setlement, Brazlândia, Goiás State, shared their expectations for project benefits:

I’m very happy that this project has come here to Canaã, and I believe it will help many families, including mine. Becoming a part of the cooperative is beneficial for us, as we can achieve more when we work together. I’m also happy that the field technician is always here with us, sending positive messages and providing practical guidance. It motivates us a lot.

Mateus Hudson Gomes Ferreira

I’m grateful for the opportunities this project has created in the area, which are very important for us family farmers, helping us to improve planting and commercialization processes, and to continue moving forward. With the cooperative, we are starting hibiscus and sesame projects. It’s super important to have these partnerships, which I hope and believe will be solid and enhance our livelihoods.

Antônia Maria da Silva Aguiar

What impact are we having?

Our project is not only benefiting smallholder farmers, but also the communities they live in and the environment. Here are some key figures:

  • 506 farmers participating
  • 44 communities supported
  • 36,000 indigenous trees to be planted
  • 1,200 indirect beneficiaries 
  • 41% of farmers supported are women 

Among these benefits that farmers are already seeing, the project strives for a lasting positive impact on the local farming community, through:

  • Successful transition to agro-ecological production, via improved skills and practices; 
  • Increased productivity and income, by adopting sustainable agricultural practices; 
  • Standardization of production, generating fewer crop losses; 
  • Improved food security, by diversifying production and enhancing yields for existing food crops such as beans, rice, peanuts and fruits; 
  • A 10-20% increase in family incomes, thanks to better market access and product value-add through organic certification; 
  • Biodiversity conservation via incorporation of traditional knowledge for crop production; and
  • Long-term soil quality and fertility improvement, and reduced pressure on Cerrado biome ecosystems. 

Learn more about our recent work with the Louis Dreyfus Foundation, empowering smallholder farmers:


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