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Claudinha Sowing the seeds of change

Claudia Araujo is the Collectors Coordinator at Xingu Seeds Network (ARSX), the most mature seed network in Brazil.

The Xingu Seeds Network took shape in 2017 as part a campaign to recover and protect river springs and stop deforestation in the Xingu Park – Brazil's oldest indigenous territory.

Initiated by the NGO Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), which focuses mainly on supporting indigenous communities in the Amazon, the Network manages the collection, logistics, storage and sales of native seeds. Claudia watched this story unfold.

Restoring the Amazon

On top of the restoration shortfall needed to meet Brazil’s Forest Code, under the Paris Agreement a further 12 million hectares of forest will need to be restored by 2030. Traditional restoration methods are known for being expensive and resource intensive, but ARSX promotes a promising alternative.

Called ‘Muvuca’, the technique involves planting a mixture of native seeds from several species, rather than seedlings, directly into the soil. It’s much cheaper and mimics the natural forest regeneration process.

The network collects over 200 species of native seeds and has recovered around 6,000 hectares of degraded forest along the Xingu and Araguaia Basin.

Claudinha, as she is known, has spent a lifetime understanding the forest and its people. Born in Pará and raised in Mato Grosso – two border states of the Brazilian Amazon – she graduated as a forest engineer and went on to dedicate her career to supporting smallholder farmers in rural settings. Working closely with local communities is what she really loves.

Claudinha leads a session with seed collectors.

The business of seeds

Partnerships for Forests started working with the Xingu Seeds Association to strengthen their business and support the transition from a grant-dependent model to a financially sustainable one. The team selected a business consultant who would carry out a four-month diagnosis to understand the main features of the operation of the ARSX and then develop a business plan.

One of the biggest changes taken on by the Association concerns its governance structure. ARSX is now testing a new decision-making format: one that gives greater representation to collector groups. With P4F’s support, Claudinha has already seen her role inside the network improve.

“When Partnerships for Forests arrived, we were already aware of the need to organise the Association, fill in staff gaps and identify the appropriate role for each person. I, for example, was working at the Director of the Board as well as doing grassroots work. Keeping both roles was getting confusing, not only for me, but for the groups on the ground because they had difficulty seeing me both as a director and someone who was there with them in the field.”

With the remodelling of the governance structure, Claudinha will return to do what she loves most,

I will be going back to work closely with the local communities, to do my job in the field with more presence and time.”

Balancing business and community needs

Claudinha highlighted other positive aspects of the partnership. “It gave us the chance to understand how people saw us from the outside, which was really insightful. Lots of information now in the business plan had never been formalised before by the Association.”

“It helped us identify the cost of running the business of the Network [...] as well as the social cost of our work: how much we spend on activities that benefit the communities. We’ve never had the chance to properly assess that. And it made us realise that, even though our social work speaks for itself, when it comes to business, it’s the numbers that are important. We need to be able to focus more on that,” she explained.

Pioneering a step change

Though the ARSX model grew up in degraded forest along the Xingu and Araguaia Basin, it can be used in any landscape and could greatly accelerate not only Brazil’s restoration efforts, but beyond. ISA is already looking into replicating it in the Southeast of Brazil.

With the recent improvements, Claudinha has high hopes for the future. “It is a lot of change at the same time” she reflects, “but that was a road we knew we had to cross. Our network is a pioneer, and we need to gain our autonomy in order to pave the way for other native seed networks”.