Plant Nursery Workers: the Climate Professionals

14 de March de 2024

The success of forest restoration starts with seed gathering and seedling cultivation, with the workforce playing an increasingly strategic role in the face of the planet's growing socio-environmental demands

By Sérgio Adeodato, from Lorena

Photos: Juan Pablo Ribeiro

Suelen Joia, a plant nursery specialist, recognizes that attention to detail is key during the birth and 'early childhood' of plants. Tasked with coordinating seedling production at the Atacadão Florestal nursery in Lorena (São Paulo), her responsibilities extend to supplying seedlings for the restoration of the Atlantic Forest. The process is nothing short of meticulous—from seed collection to sowing in tubes, the development and acclimatization of seedlings, all the way to their distribution to customers. This initial link in the production chain is strategic in enabling the country to restore forests and achieve climate change mitigation goals. The demand for both quantity and quality in plant nurseries is crucial, and Suelen emphasizes the primary requirement for those in the industry: "being in tune with nature and understanding that you contribute to the planet's climate."

With a clipboard in hand for the routine examination of seedlings, Suelen understands that the meticulous care provided at this stage can influence the success or failure of the areas receiving trees, thanks to a partnership with SOS Mata Atlântica. She points out the different plant types, distinguishing between pioneers and those that act as cover, such as the canasfístula, which exhibit rapid growth to form protective canopies. This species creates shade, supporting the growth of other plants, such as jerivá, which has a slower vegetative development. "This species takes six months to germinate in the nursery," shares Suelen, sharing her expertise on the unique characteristics and demands of each plant species.

The seeds of the majestic guapuruvu need to be sanded with a grinder and then soaked in water for five days to germinate. The tiny seedlings are nestled in plastic tubes, which are organized in trays, and undergo a three-month journey through growth stages until they are deemed ready for planting. Once in the field, this species boasts a lifespan of 50 years, reaching heights of 10 meters. Its yellow flowers beckon toucans in the spring.

New Family Trade

For the coordinator, working directly with nature is also a matter of ethics because "we contribute to the forest that does so much for us, year after year." The plant nursery specialist has brought her family along, as climate professional, to Atacadão Florestal. Her father, José Sebastião Rodrigues, or Tião, used to milk cows as a child on other people's farms. These days, he carefully cleans plant seedlings before their next stages of development until hardening, when they adapt to variations in solar radiation. This adaptation is crucial to ensure high survival rates when they are finally transplanted into the field.

"Milk nourishes children, but without plants, not even livestock can survive. We wouldn't even breathe without plants; they're the very essence of our living," expresses Tião in the converted warehouse that once housed the stable of an organic milk-producing farm. The 5-hectare area features an orchard with trees specifically designated for seed collection. Seeds are also sourced from local collector associations to stock the nursery.

At the entrance of the facility, there's a room with seed stocks stored in a cool environment, with shelves serving as a showcase. Adorning the wall, a poster delivers a poignant message: "Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven't done a thing. You are just talking," (Wangari Muta Maathai, 1940–2011, the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize).

Raw Materials of Forest Restoration

The scarcity of native seedlings and limited access to funds are challenges to forest restoration in Brazil. The National Plan for Native Vegetation Recovery (PLANAVEG) set an ambitious goal of reforesting 12 million hectares, but this would demand an annual supply of up to 1 billion seedlings, according to industry estimates. To address this demand, recent initiatives have been announced by the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) and other credit-promoting institutions to increase plant nursery capacity and help develop a production chain for forest restoration.

Operating with an annual production capacity of 600,000 seedlings, and working with 93 native tree species, the Lorena plant nursery is a key supplier for SOS Mata Atlântica's forest restoration projects in Aparecida and other regions within the Vale do Paraíba. This project is part of the Forests of the Future program. This partnership not only facilitates the exchange of knowledge and the expansion of seedling production, but also connects with other projects, such as tree planting projects in the State Park of Serra do Mar. "There's a strong resurgence in demand," says Adriano Santana, the plant nursery manager. A former aircraft mechanic for the local aeronautical industry, Santana has found a new calling. He is currently pursuing a degree in Agronomy and is actively seeking opportunities in the field of forest restoration.

Adriano Santana, manager at the Atacadão nursery

His focus is on the so-called "neo-rurals," the emerging generation of farmers and heirs to the old properties in the Vale da Paraíba region. Armed with an acute awareness of risks, they are also committed to preserving springs. "It's not just about meeting legal requirements with a Legal Reserve. It's about phasing out cattle because the market no longer covers the costs of the activity and transitioning to forests," says Adriano. In his view, substantial orders for seedlings from clients like SOS Mata Atlântica played a pivotal role in convincing local landowners about the promising prospects of plant nurseries. "In Vale do Paraíba, we are experiencing a new economic cycle that no longer focuses on coffee, cattle, or eucalyptus, but on the restoration of lost forests."

The staff at Atacadão Florestal nursery exchanged milking for seedling.

The nursery has 93 species of the Atlantic Forest.

Seedling samples.

Stocks of seeds collected in the forest.

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