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Linking smallholder economic development and climate change mitigation by providing funding and training for native tree seedling nurseries



YggBrasil is a proposed social venture focused around participatory development of native tree seedling production enterprises by both individual family farmers and communities of farmers and traditional peoples in southeastern Brazil. It will address the barriers many small farmers and rural peoples face to profit from opportunities for diversified, sustainable production, as well as addressing the high demand for seedlings for restoration efforts in the Atlantic Forest. Seedling production for restoration could serve as a focal point around which broader visions for sustainable development and improved social capital could be articulated, while generating real income from the market demand for native seedlings. By providing start-up capital and training for farmers to run their own small-scale native tree seedling nurseries, YggBrasil stresses farmer ownership over projects, increasing self-esteem and capacity to benefit from forest restoration efforts. Seedling production also links farmers with other sustainable development endeavors such as agroforestry, environmental education, and environmental services, sparking interest in broader themes of sustainability, and seedling production offers opportunities for the application and revitalization of traditional knowledge, such as through species choice based on timber or medicinal qualities.

The role of YggBrasil in enabling and supporting farmer access to opportunity is:

1)    To provide start-up capital and training for farmers to start their own small-scale native tree seedling nurseries.

2)    To provide ongoing training and technical support to farmers and communities by funding trainings from experienced nursery managers and other trainings requested by communities.

3)    To provide access to a network of other farmers and professionals working in restoration.

What actions do you propose?

The Problem:

Although farmers and rural peoples are vital to Brazil’s economy, 25% of them live in extreme poverty (IBGE, 2011). Access to land and capital is limited, and the Atlantic Forest where small farmers and traditional peoples reside has been reduced to less than 12% of its pre-colonization expanse and continues to face ongoing degradation and loss of biodiversity (Ribeiro et al. 2009). Failure to address these problems will result in continued migration to cities, reduced food security, ongoing loss of traditional knowledge, and further ecosystem degradation.

However, investments to meet reforestation goals offer opportunities to both mitigate climate change and improve smallholder wellbeing, and calls for increased reforestation indicate that investment in forest restoration will continue to grow. The New York Declaration on Forests and the Bonn Challenge propose restoration of 150 million hectares by 2020, which would sequester the equivalent of 1 gigaton of atmospheric carbon dioxide every year (UNEP 2014); the Atlantic Forest Restoration Pact calls for restoration of 15 million hectares by 2050 (, removing 200 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per year (Calmon et al. 2011); and the Rio Branco Declaration addresses mitigation at the subnational level by supporting smallholder engagement in restoration (GCFF 2015). Meeting these goals will require increased production of native seedlings for restoration.

The Solution:

The Brazilian Micro and Small Business Support Service considers the native Atlantic Forest tree seeds and seedling market as expanding (Sebrae), and demand will continue to grow as components from Brazil’s new Forest Code requiring restoration of riparian and other “permanently preserved” areas are increasingly implemented (IUCN 2015). In fact, Calmon et al. (2011) estimate that 200 direct and indirect jobs are created through seed collection, seedling production, planting and maintenance for every 1,000 hectares of restored land, with 3 million jobs created if the Atlantic Forest Restoration Pact’s goal of restoring 15 million hectares is met. Other reports have identified jobs in afforestation and reforestation as offering the “greatest scope for job creation” in the forestry sector, “particularly where rural unemployment or underemployment is high,” and as directly contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation (Nair and Rutt, 2009).

YggBrasil will identify farmers interested in pursuing this opportunity, with an initial focus on communities São Paulo State, assisting in the establishment of local governing boards and subsequently providing capital to establish nurseries, trainings to run nurseries, and networking, sales, administrative, and technical support. Nurseries will have a target production capacity of 50,000 seedlings per year. Community members will benefit from seedling sales and from opportunities to work on or provide seeds to nurseries of other community members. Once nurseries begin to profit, a portion of this profit will be returned to fund further programs for as long as farmer nurseries remain associated with YggBrasil. While associated with YggBrasil, participants will continue to have access to technical and administrative support, ongoing trainings, and maintenance funding.

As new forest restoration-related skills are gained through nursery management and trainings, some farmers may seek opportunities with implementation and monitoring of restoration projects. New skills can be applied to further ventures, for example by providing training to other communities and by providing planting and tree growth monitoring services. YggBrasil will conduct biannual reviews to assess productivity of nurseries and farmer satisfaction, in addition to hosting frequent discussions with farmer governing boards so that local perspectives and needs are driving program development. Increased opportunities for sustainable production and engagement in the restoration economy will decrease dependence on conventional, low-revenue crops like bananas and decrease deforestation resulting from conventional production.

Evaluations will be conducted by both participants and people from outside a community to assess whether goals are being met. Indicators could include increased income, engagement with seedling production, management skills gained through running a nursery and potentially hiring other community members, including youth, and changes in perception of self, of community, and of conservation and restoration. Seedling sales themselves are an indicator of restoration activities being carried out. Performance metrics include income and what percentage of income is coming from sale of seedlings and seeds; percentage of community engaged in seedling production and in what capacity; number of people employed at nurseries, including youth and poachers; change in overall farm income pre-nursery to post-nursery establishment; number and types of ventures embarked upon post-nursery establishment; number of people who have been engaged with seedling production for over x number of years (who may have been youths at the time ventures were launched in the community); and other changes in the community that could be correlated with increased income, such as school attendance and pursuing higher education.


Socioenvironmental problems in Brazil are typically addressed by the NGO or government project model, defined by funding cycles, urban perspectives, bureaucratic hurdles, and a lack of understanding of local realities. Rather than projects serving farmers, farmers typically end up serving the projects, which benefits neither them nor the climate. Furthermore, bureaucracy can impede access to rural credit programs such as PRONAF (National Program to Strengthen Family Farming) and ABC (Low Carbon Agriculture), and other problems in their implementation have been identified. For example, little credit from ABC has been directed to reforestation (Nepstad et al. 2015). Thus, new approaches are needed for Brazil to meet its Intended Nationally-Determined Commitments (INDC).

In contrast to existing models, YggBrasil draws on farmer knowledge, experience, and needs to create economically sustainable programs over which farmers can feel ownership. Through participatory engagement with farmers, YggBrasil co-designs programs that most reflect the perspectives and needs of each community, with seedling production a focal point around which broader visions for sustainable development can be articulated. Seedling nurseries can be considered as a component of diversified production, vital to resilience of farming systems in the face of climate change (Altieri et al. 2015).

YggBrasil employs a hybrid financial model that utilizes both grants and income generated from seedling ventures to fund programs, and its organizational structure will be decentralized, with each community group assuming increasing responsibility for local operational decisions over time. Real income from the market demand for native seedlings is generated, and farmers are capacitated to be entrepreneurs rather than dependents of projects. However, the economic model bears resemblance to microcredit schemes and lending organizations such as the Grameen bank, but resources are cycled back into YggBrasil by farmers only after a profit is seen from nursery operations.

It is important to stress that, although seed capital will be necessary to establish nurseries and assure farmer access to technical and managerial support, once farmers have acquired these skills and are participating in the seedling economy, the nurseries will be self-sustaining. Research shows that low success of community based tree seedling nurseries results from poor operational effectiveness. Thus, YggBrasil considers the training and technical assistance components of its projects essential to their success. Failure on the part of YggBrasil to raise sufficient funds in a given year means fewer nurseries established that year, but not the failure of the farmer enterprises already established. YggBrasil is interested in dissemination of skills and improving access to the restoration market, not in expansion of any central organization. For this reason, low overhead costs allow for the most effective application of resources to farmer enterprises. Even very small grants are effective, as they can be applied towards workshops, enhancing the non-monetary benefits of knowledge acquisition and spreading of knowledge through networks. When new nurseries cannot be established, farmers can benefit by participating in the seed market. And, as farmers gain more skills, they can provide workshops to other communities establishing nurseries, decreasing dependence on “experts.”

In order to keep overhead low, the project could also seek fiscal sponsorship from organizations such as Earth Island Institute, rather than using resources on nonprofit establishment. Other important sources of funding include donation-based, tax-deductible crowdsourcing, grants from organizations like CASA, Centro de Apoio Socioambiental, which provides grants to projects addressing socioenvironmental problems in South America, Global Green Grants (if nominated), and other local and international foundation grants with a socioenvironmental focus. Securing seed funding through social entrepreneurship competitions like Echoing Green and BrazilLab offer other possibilities, and allocations from national restoration commitment funds and other international environmental financing mechanisms, such as the GEF, will also be sought. Social financing entities like Sitawi may also offer viable pathways for initial funding.


Although this project is designed for implementation in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, its model of farmer-run nurseries and economic sustainability could be replicated in other regions with a forest restoration economy and where smallholders face barriers to benefit from sustainable development, or where the traditional project model has been ineffective. Expansion to other regions of the Atlantic Forest and other regions of Brazil are feasible in the short to medium-term.

Who will take these actions?

Alaine Ball (Director, YggBrasil) and network: responsible for securing seed funding and future grants, for establishing networks, for providing technical support, and for overall project management.

Funders: CASA, crowdfunders, Sitawi, Climate CoLab, others.

Seedling entrepreneurs: Small farmers or groups of farmers with an interest in managing seedling nurseries. Other members of communities can benefit from working on nurseries and selling seeds to families with a seedling production venture. The first nursery will be established in partnership with the Associação dos Jovens da Juréia (Youth Association of Juréia), whose mission is to preserve and promote caiçara (traditional peoples of the Atlantic coast) culture. Farmers who self-identify as traditional peoples (caiçarasquilombolas) or as “family farmers” are the intended beneficiaries of nursery projects, with potential for expansion to indigenous communities as well.

Seedling buyers: Restoration companies hired by larger companies such as Petrobras fulfilling environmental compensation requirements; government agencies such as the Fundação Florestal (Forest Foundation, São Paulo) implementing forest restoration projects; individuals who are restoring their own property; companies investing in restoration.

Consultants: Specialists (foresters, experienced nursery managers) hired by YggBrasil to provide training on nursery operations and other relevant topics. As part of a broader effort to establish a network for information exchange and learning, informal relationships will also be established with relevant departments at universities (such as the Laboratory of Ecology and Forest Restoration, LERF, University of São Paulo), with other community associations focused on agroecological production, and with NGOs doing complementary work and associated with the Atlantic Forest Restoration Pact. However, YggBrasil seeks to decrease farmer dependence on organizational support and employs a decentralized model.

Where will these actions be taken?

YggBrasil addresses forest restoration and community needs in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil. The first nursery will be established in the community of Guaraú in the municipality of Peruíbe, São Paulo, where many traditional peoples expelled from their territories are residing and face barriers to economic development. Subsequent nurseries will be established in communities across the Vale do Ribeira region of São Paulo State, where the HDI drops below 0.65 in some municipalities, a stark contrast to urban centers with indices above o.85 (IBGE). As operations expand, nurseries can be established in other regions of the Atlantic Forest outside of São Paulo, especially in northeast Brazil where there are few nurseries. YggBrasil’s model could also be replicated in regions worldwide where there is a forest restoration economy and where smallholders live close to forests.

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

For each hectare of restored forest, an average of 15 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent are sequestered per year (Brancalion et al. 2012). As restoration models vary, we assume an average of 1000 seedlings per hectare. Thus, one nursery would supply seedlings to restore the equivalent of 50 hectares per year, resulting in 750 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent sequestered. So after five years of operation, one nursery will be responsible for the future sequestration of 3,750 tons of carbon; if two to three new nurseries of similar production capacity are established each year, after 5 years, the future carbon sequestered from the combined sale of seedlings from a total of 10 nurseries would be 19,500 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Avoided deforestation from conventional production (such as bananas) to achieve equivalent income results in avoiding 132.5 tC/ha of emission per hectare in the Atlantic Forest (Nepstad et al. 2015).

What are other key benefits?

In addition to contributing to solutions to climate change and increasing smallholder income, the activities of YggBrasil will provide farmers with improved management skills, gained through the experience of managing a nursery and potentially hiring other community members, including youth, which could improve overall farm management. Exposure to the sustainable development economy and principles of agroecological production will open up new opportunities for income generating activities, such as agroforestry, and engagement of youth will stimulate interest in sustainable rural development and in remaining on the farm rather than seeking opportunities in cities. Other benefits include preservation of traditional knowledge by cultivating tree species about which farmers have knowledge, and biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services from restored forests.

What are the proposal’s costs?

YggBrasil employs a hybrid model that relies both on grants and earned income to fund its activities. Initial organizational costs, establishment of the first nursery with production of 50,000 seedlings, and trainings associated with nursery maintenance would require an initial investment of $15,000. Expanded operations require an investment of $8000-$10000 per nursery, including trainings costs in the first year of operation.

Costs over 5 years, with 10 nurseries established: $116,000. Because the nurseries are designed to be sustainable business ventures for the farmers, maintenance costs and additional trainings after Year 2 are paid for from revenue generated by the seedling ventures themselves. However, YggBrasil will make resources and trainings available to farmers if revenue is insufficient, as the goal is to help the nurseries succeed. These additional funds to sustain operation are acquired through grants and through revenue from successful nurseries, which contribute a portion of their earnings to fund YggBrasil’s activites.

Other negative side effects include potential for conflict and jealousy within communities if some sellers are more successful and capture more of the seedling market.

I present below two different scenarios for the financial sustainability of the enterprise. In addition to traditional income-generating activities, farmers may be engaged in other parallel, income generating activities associated with the nursery that are not shown in the table, including: agroforestry, production of greens for home consumption or sale, production of ornamentals (common in nurseries), selling seeds, ecotourism, environmental education, and eventually, timber. As mentioned above, they may also supplement their income by providing other services associated with forest restoration after gaining these skills.


Time line

Short term (5-15 years):

-Identification of families and communities interested in establishing a nursery, and identification of the main barriers from the point of view of farmers. Identification of relevant policy concerning nursery management.

-Evaluation performed of existing nurseries in São Paulo to identify problems and gaps; in-depth market study performed to determine species demand and which species are lacking; assistance from consultants.

-Establishment of first 10-20 nurseries, including seed collection and germination training, purchasing of materials, installation of irrigation systems, and trainings.

-Ongoing support and networking through meetings and workshops.

-Ongoing grantseeking to support activities.

-Monitoring and evaluation of activities to assure goals are being met.

Medium term (15-50 years):

-In the late short-term/early medium term, operations expand to other states and countries.

-Ongoing grantseeking.

-Incorporation of native timber production and non-timber forest products (NTFPs) into nursery projects to help farmers transition to new markets. As seedling markets contract at nursery sites established in early phases, farmers will need to apply skills to new ventures to ensure economic sustainability of rural activities. Although some farmers may continue to benefit from the restoration economy in 50 years from selling seedlings and monitoring restoration sites, new sources of forest-friendly income will be needed. Forward-thinking restoration projects in Brazil are already incorporating economically useful native timber and NTFP species into their design, and farmers can similarly begin to establish production agroforests on their properties using seedlings from nurseries. YggBrasil can likewise adapt its mission to accompany and support this transition.

Long term (50-100 years):

-Full transition to support of other sustainable forestry activities by smallholders in regions where there is no longer demand for native seedlings.

Related proposals

TREECONOMY - The roots of a sustainable future

Scaling-up SAI’s agro-forestry model with tribal population in Central India

Facilitating Smallholder Tree Farming for Better Land Management in the Tropics

Native forests restoration to substitute illegal tropical forests logging


Altieri, M. A., Nicholls, C. I., Henao, A., and Lana, M. A. 2015. Agroecology and the design of climate change-resilient farming systemsAgronomy for Sustainable Development35: 869-890.

Brancalion, P.H.S., R.A.G. Viani, B.B.N. Strassburg, and Rodrigues, R.R. 2012. Finding the money for tropical forest restoration. Unasylva 63: 25‑34.

Calmon, M., Brancalion, P.H.S., Paese, A., Aronson, J., Castro, P., da Silva, S.C., and Rodrigues, R.R. 2011. Emerging threats and opportunities for large-scale ecological restoration in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil. Restoration Ecology 19: 154–158.

Governors Climate and Forests Fund. 2015. Rio Branco Declaration and INDCs: Stimulating Early Action and Closing the Emissions Gap.

Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE, Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics). 2011.

IUCN. 2015. Lowering the costs of restoration – creating supply chains for people and forests.

Nair, C.T.S. and Rutt, R. 2009. Creating forestry jobs to boost the economy and build a green future. Unasylva 233: 3-10.

Nepstad, D., Tepper, D., McGrath, D., Da Motta, R.S., Edwards, R., Swette, B. and Shimada, J. 2015. Policy Brief: Research and Financial Innovations in Support of Brazil’s INDC Process. Report prepared by Forest Trends and Earth Innovation Institute.

Pacto pela Restauração da Mata Atlantica

Ribeiro, M.C., Metzger, J.P., Martensen, A.C., Ponzoni, F.J., and Hirota, M.M. 2009. The Brazilian Atlantic Forest: How much is left, and how is the remaining forest distributed? Implications for conservation. Biological Conservation 142:1141–1153.

Sebrae. Como montar um viveiro de mudas florestais. Available at:

United Nations Environment Programme. 2014. New Collaboration Launched to Restore the World’s Forests. Available at