Landscape restoration beyond numbers: FASB changing lives in Brazil  

A blog by iNovaland, a private company restoring landscapes for people and planet. 
Author: Andrew Heald, COO iNovaland.

Sometimes when people think of forest restoration or sustainable agriculture, they often focus on the numbers—thousands of hectares restored, millions of trees planted. While these metrics are important, they can overshadow the deeper, more meaningful and life-changing impacts of landscape restoration initiatives. In Brazil, the FASB initiative is flipping the script by emphasizing smaller, community-centred projects. By supporting and accelerating a diverse range of initiatives that often do not get interests and support from traditional funders and financial institutions, FASB is creating impact at the lowest possible level. Further reflecting on how we have managed to create impact at the lowest community level, it has indeed been more on the mantra of big changes start small. Over the past three years, FASB has supported 45 different locally led initiatives and projects, providing initial funding of $20,000 for most and $200,000 for a few more advanced projects. This tiered investment approach, allows for a gradual, trust-building engagement and capacity enhancement with community groups. This method not only minimizes risks for project developers but also ensures a thorough understanding of each other’s motivations, needs and goals. Even if a project doesn’t advance to the next stage, valuable work, trust, and capacity-building have still been achieved. In fact, some of the initiatives we support have gone ahead to secure other funding building on the capacity and mentorship we provide. 

Another standout feature of FASB’s approach is the emphasis on peer-to-peer learning. The 45 projects have been developed by 34 different groups, creating a vibrant network for sharing ideas, knowledge, and resources. Peer-to-peer learning also helps to reinforce impact and outcome, for example when seed collectors from project 1 are working with a nursery project 2, who in turn is supplying trees to project 3 which is implementing agroforestry, the impacts, multiplier effect and opportunities are limitless. We also know that for network development, we are intentional in facilitating a two-way information and knowledge flow. For instance, face-to-face meetings, emails, and WhatsApp groups facilitate knowledge, information and resource exchange, enabling community members and projects with similar challenges to share experiences and resources, such as tractors or GIS mapping tools. This collaborative environment accelerates learning and enhances the overall impact of each initiative. 

This interconnectedness was palpable during our recent study tour (more on the study is below), where the collective spirit of cooperation and mutual support was evident.

From our successes and lessons so far, FASB continues to grow and expand, and has recently announced its second investment cycle. A total of 8 million Euros will be contributed over three years to meet three major goals: the implementation of 1,500 hectares of ecological restoration and sustainable management for the establishment of ecological corridors, which will enable the connection of around 170 thousand hectares of forest fragments between the south of Bahia and the north of Espírito Santo and with these actions connect a 500km ecological corridor. 

 Our recent study tour to the North of Espírito Santo and the South of Bahia brought together 50 participants from various current and prospective FASB projects, alongside international colleagues and investors. The tour aimed to explore the region’s landscape, visit multiple projects, and discuss how FASB can expand both geographically and in scale. This study tour was supported by WWF-Brazil and Fórum Florestal da Bahia.  

This hands-on experience allowed participants to reflect, reconnect and ask questions, share solutions, and build a deeper understanding of each project’s unique challenges and opportunities. Globally, there are concerns regarding carbon investment and forest projects which seem to begin with a lack of clarity and transparency. Whilst we are unlikely to have all the answers at the start of any project, by being open and clear about objectives and outcomes we can help to reduce risk and build understanding. What we learnt from the study tour is that openness and trust are crucial to build confidence both for project developers but also funders and investors. 

A key objective of the study tour was to strengthen the restoration value chain by examining essential components such as tree nurseries, seed collectors, and agroforestry innovators. Some of the projects we visited in the study tour clearly showed the connections and inter-dependencies between projects:  

  • Aldeia Viva “Pataxí Pohehaw” – who have been supported by FASB to undertake forest restoration and develop a small-scale tree native nursery, with an annual capacity of up to 20,000 seedlings. Indigenous communities are among the few people who are allowed to collect seeds in protected areas, making their role crucial.  
  • Collecting seeds and producing good quality seedlings aligns with the needs of the “Pau Brasil” project which is restoring a larger area of forest, and supporting 300 hectares of regenerative farming and agroforestry, working with sixty families.  
  • The farming at Pau Brazil benefits from the knowledge exchange and innovative agroforestry we saw at Anauá Nursery. Here the Hudson family have an inspiring mix of large-scale line cropping integrating Balsa wood (Ochroma pyramidale) trees, pineapple, bananas and a range of fruit trees. A key part of the Hudson’s enterprise was a tree nursery producing over 1 million seedlings each year with up to 80 different native species, which relies on good quality seeds collected by indigenous communities.  

In the study tour, we saw that the solutions developed to support projects are complementary. Throughout the tour, participants witnessed first-hand collaboration and knowledge sharing, and learnt lessons from each other which will be implemented in their own contexts. For example, indigenous communities are developing their nurseries and exploring eco-tourism opportunities, while other projects focus on medicinal plants and traditional handicrafts. This diverse array of initiatives showcases the adaptability and creativity within the FASB network. 

In running the study tour, collaborative working groups were at the core of all the activities. We formed multidisciplinary teams and assigned participants the task of developing project ideas over the course of the week that could benefit from this new investment cycle. On the last day of the study tour, these projects were presented at a project fair, which triggered another moment of incubation thanks to the contributions of the fair visitors. Six projects were presented at the fair, focusing on strengthening the restoration value chain and in adding value to the new forests. It was very pleasing to see how all the proposals involved partnerships between the different sectors, ensuring the continuity of the FASB spirit of support between projects and sectors.  

In conclusion, in building long-term sustainable projects we re-affirm that meaningful community involvement is crucial. Environmental issues are often intertwined with social, economic, and political challenges. In the areas where FASB operates, these issues have contributed to land-use changes and degradation. Simply planting trees won’t solve these problems as they are more complex requiring innovative solutions. Engaging with communities to identify underlying issues and co-developing solutions is essential. 

The reality is that there are no quick fixes or cookie cutter solutions, each community and location will have a unique combination of challenges and opportunities. Whilst it is tempting to push forward with a top-down solution, we know from experience that this seldom delivers the best long-term solution, and often addresses the symptoms rather than the underlying problem. Our FASB approach helps to build the physical and social infrastructure which is essential for successful sustainable restoration, the physical infrastructure for example nurseries, and the social infrastructure of skills, confidence and trust.   

We are organising an “Project Accelerator Event” to complement the FASB’s work on origination and incubation of projects. The event will be held online on June 26th co-hosted by iNovaland and WWF Bankable Nature Solutions. This event will present and discuss Brazilian forestry and sustainable agriculture projects from traditional communities such as indigenous people, quilombolas and family farmers, and will connect with people who can contribute to their development and strengthening. To learn more or participate in the online event, please visit the news section of the iNovaland website.

The FASB programme will shortly open for new projects. There will an announcement via social media and an on the FASB website.