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Agricultural land in Brazil near tropical forests

Solutions Challenge: Tropical Deforestation

Working Trees: Land Management Tools to Reduce Tropical Deforestation

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From 1985 to 2020, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon emitted 31.3 gigatons (Gt) of CO2 into the atmosphere, over 5 times the annual emissions of the US. The average annual rate of deforestation between 1989 and 2004 was 1.8 million hectares (MHa) and, at the current rate of deforestation, over a quarter of the Brazilian Amazon will be cleared by 2030.

Beef is a leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon. Beef production has two sources of greenhouse gases: carbon is released when forests are cleared and methane is produced by large herds living in poorly managed pastures. Current ranching practices in the Amazon have low levels of productivity; thus, ranchers are driven to expand to cheap, illegally-cleared forestland to increase their income. This results in the systemic degradation of land.

Planting low-density trees on pasture – a practice called silvopasture – has been identified as a leading solution for carbon removal and for reducing deforestation pressure. Trees store carbon while simultaneously improving pasture productivity (shade decreases heat stress and increases pasture carrying capacity, reducing the need for ranchers to expand acreage). Additionally, the system unlocks new revenue streams from the tree products (e.g., wood, fruits, and nuts), and can save ranchers money by displacing hay cost through fodder provision.

Working Trees gets ranchers paid for growing trees on pasture. They provide technical support throughout the silvopasture design and installation process, and the carbon payments assist with financing. Working Trees is able to run carbon projects like this thanks to their proprietary phone-based monitoring technology. By expanding their platform into Brazil, they aim to slow deforestation in the Amazon region. To create silvopasture momentum in Brazil, they will build a local team to recruit and support farmers, provide technical services, and build the necessary connections in the forestry supply chain with the end goal of deploying over 1,000 acres of silvopasture in the coming year.

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John Foye (MBA, GSB / MS E-IPER)
Aakash Ahamed (PhD, Geophysics)
Professor Gretchen Daily (Biology)

Awarded 2023
Solutions Challenge: Tropical Deforestation