Will this plantation bring anything to Demorvan and Rejane? I hope so. In the meantime, there is fertile soil being built there. Communities are not dying of hunger and they have stopped seeing their land turn into desert.
As of January 2019, The Forest Trust has become Earthworm Foundation.
Belém do Pará, Brazil November 10th: After having spent 2 days of meetings with our North Brazil team I am heading off with them to visit of a “small” plantation of 1000 ha that the company we work with in Belém, Pampa is doing.
Pampa owners, Rejane and Demorvan come to pick us up at the hotel at 6h45am and the whole TFT North Brazil team joins us: Camila and Andresa who have been since the beginning working with the company on improving the way they source timber and Rossynara, who knows the region like her pocket for having worked in it her whole life, who is responsible for the work we do in the project we are going to visit. There is also one guy, newly recruited, Rodrigo, who moved two weeks ago from his original state in South Brazil and decided to come to “work for the Amazon forest with TFT”. So three women in total with two of them pregnant! (I know I’ll get told off for that buy they insisted), on a Saturday because they made a case to visit the project too and get to know better the work of their colleague. Not a bad spirit to start the day!
On the way I get to know better Rejane and Demorvan who are not only partners in business but also husband and wife. They own and run one of the biggest timber operations in Pará and manufacture flooring and decking products that are exported all around the world (mostly in the USA and Europe) for being used in houses, terraces etc… You, who read this article might well have already in your life walked more than once on one of their products.
It the first time I meet with them even if I had already heard a lot about the work we do with Pampa: TFT’s team here has actually been working with their suppliers to make sure that “they do the right thing” as Demorvan likes to say. The right thing in Pará is in summary for a forest manager to plan the management of the forest in order not to destroy it and to make sure that people (workers and communities) are benefiting from it. And it can be challenging: horrible working conditions for the workers and over exploration of certain species are the norm in the region and have led to degrading most of the natural forests explored so far. “Everyone does it” is the usual excuse. But Rejane and Demorvan see things differently. “We are one player in the chain in the middle of our suppliers and our clients. We have a responsibility here for all the people that are involved in that chain”. Demorvan generally is the one buying timber and is actively leveraging his suppliers who manage forest areas to not only change the way they cut timber but also the way they interact with surrounding communities. It sounds idealistic on the paper. But it is doable in reality. The TFT “girls” are doing it every day. They recently helped two of Demorvan’s suppliers receive the FSC certification. And this is a real success in such a challenging environment.
While Demorvan focuses on his driving to avoid the numerous random trucks and pedestrians moves, Rejane tells me more about the project we are going to visit: she says that while they don’t own the forest areas they source their timber from, they have in parallel acquired 1000 ha in a very poor area some years ago to replant Teak, Parica, Mahogany and other species. Demorvan keeps interrupting her to add details and elements and she gets angry. But it always ends up with a smile: they are just eager to share all the details of what they do and here they have the same passion. Once arrived we get out of the cars and take a look at the trees. They are 15 years old for some of them and I can’t believe how big some of them are. We meet with the forest engineer, Mauro, who has been living here since the beginning. He tells us with passion what he does every day and how he is collecting data about the soil (which he published in a book – Mauro Dos Santos Carvalho, Manual de Reflorestamento) how the species behave and which management techniques to use…No one had done this work previously. There is no scientific data about the region. He tells us that sometimes, some trees die after 4 years, we don’t know why…maybe their roots have hit a hard cap in the soil and couldn’t grow further? Clearly we still have a lot to learn about Nature…
What impresses me the most is the nature of the soil. It is pure sand, and wherever there isn’t any trees, there is nothing. Only drought heat and dust. One step away from desert in fact. We stop by the road from time to time and walk under the cover of the trees with Demorvan. It is green and fresher. There are plenty of species and I can see some yellow birds flying around us. There is noise too. The soil is made of leaves, branches and grass that are all decomposing nicely to build up a cap of black, humid, fertile soil. Without those trees, there would be no soil. There would be no life. No agriculture. “Nothing grows here” as people use to say in the region. Without those trees, there would be no jobs too, no money for the people around. 1000 Ha are probably not profitable in that region, but they are a fantastic laboratory for the future.
Rejane is in charge of the work here and together with Rossynara from TFT and another lady who is community specialist (Ione) they have the ambitious goal to certify this plantation for best management practices. But it is not just about applying a standard: “The FSC tells us we should control the area we plant in” says Rejane “but I don’t care! I have had all the fences taken out because I think villagers shouldn’t be forbidden to walk in those areas to collect fruits from the Mango trees we have left or hunt or fish as they have always done”. It shows me once again that this space for innovation at local level is indispensable in any sustainability initiative. Big principles like those of the FSC are a useful guide and benchmark, but they should leave space to innovation and be more open to it. “We should be adapting to those people who have lived here for years, not them to our plantation” she adds. Basic common sense, and it sounds so right to me.
Will this plantation bring anything to Demorvan and Rejane? I hope so. But it is not sure because it is small and still somehow experimental. But they know they are doing the right thing, and so do we by helping them in their journey.
In the meantime, there is fertile soil being built there. Communities are not dying of hunger and they have stopped seeing their land turn into desert.
I feel deeply proud of the fact that TFT is a partner of people like Rejane and Demorvan. I feel humble too that they give us their trust and see value in our advices.
Back to my hotel in Belém I am overwhelmed by a feeling of hope: what we do with Rejane and Demorvan is NOT a drop in the ocean. We are part of a wider, deeper change movement. Rejane, Demorvan, Mauro, the TFT girls, Ione and Rodrigo are everyday inspiring and helping more people to change the way they do business in order to better serve LIFE. And tomorrow we will inspire more people: governments, other businesses, banks, pension funds and managers to embark on this journey too.