By Yara Shennan-Farpón, Morena Mills, Aline Souza and Katherine Homewood

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The Atlantic Forest is one of Brazil’s most endangered biomes. With unique biogeographical characteristics and many endemic species, the biome boundaries stretch from the North-East in Bahia along the country’s Atlantic Coast down into Argentina and the Iguazu Falls National Park. The native forest has been severely degraded after centuries of deforestation and agricultural development. Today, the Atlantic Forest is a restoration hotspot and there are many initiatives at different scales to reforest its degraded landscapes.

Forest Landscape Restoration is emerging as a conservation strategy to restore degraded ecosystems at the landscape scale, considering both ecological outcomes and improvements to local livelihoods. But, in practice, issues of wellbeing, community involvement and livelihood development often remain overlooked. Millions of smallholder farmers live in rural Brazil, most of whom farm for subsistence to feed their families, and have strong cultural connections to the land. One of the most prominent communities of family farmers in Brazil is those from the Rural Landless Worker Movement (Movimento Sem Terra, MST, in Portuguese). They are part of a socio-political mass movement fighting for land reform, food security and food sovereignty. If restoration across the biome is to be successful, the support and engagement of family farmers such as those from the MST is key.

This study investigates the use of agroforestry (a farming practice in which mixed crops are grown alongside native trees) by MST farmers, using semi-structured interviews, workshops and focus group discussions across 13 MST settlements in Pontal do Paranapanema, São Paulo State. We find that agroforestry farming can offer livelihood and wellbeing benefits, as well as providing ecosystem services. However, there are many barriers to implementation, mainly because policies and financial incentives are not designed with family farmers in mind. MST farmers often farm organically and are providing stepping stones on their land for pollinators and birds, but logistical and bureaucratic barriers prevent formal organic certification and its potential economic benefits. Tailored financial mechanisms, for example to support the initial investment required in switching to agroforestry farming, and policy support are needed if restoration with co-benefits for people and nature is to be achieved.