Restoring the Caatinga: Reviving nature at the Xique-Xique agroecological farm

My name is Maria Geane, I’m 30 years old, and I’m the daughter of smallholder farmers in the Brazilian Caatinga.

Together with my brother, Gean, I am responsible for the administration of the Xique Xique Agroecological Farm, a family initiative with the mission of restoring our territory through agroforestry practices. Our family is part of the Lagoas Quilombo in the Serra da Capivara territory in the state of Piauí in northeastern Brazil. 

Quilombos are sanctuaries built by the hands of enslaved Africans and their descendants who escaped the slave system in colonial Brazil. These traditional communities emerged from the shadows of slavery, offering refuge where freedom thrived and resistance flourished.

Rooted in ancestral ties, these territories are bastions of cultural resistance and host a rich community life. The Lagoas Quilombola Community covers more than 100 settlements on 62,365.8 hectares. As the fourth largest Quilombola territory in Brazil, our community covers six municipalities in the Piauí river basin, representing a profound legacy of strength and unity.

My family and I have always had a deep connection with our land, working in agriculture and raising small animals. In 2016, we decided to work with agroforestry to recover our land. Our dream when embarking on this journey was to recover and conserve the degraded land on our property, as well as to serve as an example to other young people and farming families seeking a healthier relationship with nature.

Since we started our agroforestry project, we have received visits from more than 200 people from schools, universities and farmers’ associations, with the intention of sharing our experiences with the world.

Me and my brother working with the first seedlings of native and fruit-bearing plants in our agroforestry project. Image credit: Maria Magalhães

A story of family resilience: The Xique-Xique farm

Our farm is named after a plant endemic to the Caatinga, the Xique-Xique (Pilocereus gounellei). This cactus, which has become an iconic symbol of northeastern Brazil and a source of inspiration for the restoration work we conduct, is mainly characterized by its resilience in the shallow, stony soils of the semi-arid region, which receives low rainfall. 

The Xique-Xique is used by the region’s farmers as an alternative to quench the thirst and hunger of animals during periods of great drought. Its exuberant flower feeds insects and moths during its nocturnal bloom, and its pleasantly scented red fruit feeds birds and other wild animals in the Caatinga.

Our property has been in our family for generations as an inheritance from our grandparents, who in their day worked with rainfed agriculture in their day, planting corn, beans and manioc. Our grandparents pursued conventional farming practices, which are still followed today by the majority of farmers in our region, centered on deforestation and the use of fire to open up new planting areas.

This unsustainable model has left us with an extensive area of degraded land on our property.  Faced with this situation and concerned about the state of our land, we were motivated to look for alternatives that could regenerate the cleared land in our property, which was continuously losing its biodiversity before our very eyes. 

Photo of our mother on the project site before we started our restoration activities. Image credit: Gean Magalhães

Consolidating the agroforestry movement in the semi-arid region of Piauí

My brother and I saw agroforestry as a viable alternative for regenerating our degraded areas and decided to adopt this production model for the entirety of our farm. Eight years ago, we took the first steps towards our transformation by inaugurating our first experimental area.

Today, our project already has four separate areas where we are implementing agroforestry, two of which are dedicated to horticultural production, and the remaining ones based on silvipastoral systems for livestock production.  

The diversity of species in our agroforestry system demonstrates the possibility and beauty of creating agricultural production systems rooted in biodiversity. Image credit: Gean Magalhães

An acerola tree in one of our agroforests, formerly an area degraded to the point of unproductivity. Image credit: Gean Magalhães

By incorporating practices that benefit both nature and local populations through an agroforestry philosophy, we want to inspire more farmers in our region to rethink their environmentally destructive practices. We want to catalyze a movement that strengthens other producers in the region so that we can regenerate and bring back our beloved Caatinga.

We hope that our work will inspire many people in the semi-arid region of Piauí and around the world, strengthening a movement to regenerate our degraded areas. At the same time, we want to showcase how we are improving the food and nutritional security of local populations through our agroforestry practices, as well as generating income for marginalized communities in the semi-arid region.

My brother and I, carrying out planting activities in the agroforestry system on our property. Image credit: Alaisa Santana

Participating in the Restoration Stewards program is an unique opportunity for our project, as it will give us the chance to boost our work and engage new people in the movement to regenerate the Caatinga through agroforestry systems. Our goal for 2024 is to restore two hectares of degraded area in our territory, which was previously a cassava plantation that depended on conventional cultivation practices.

A lack of responsibility for the management of the land has turned this area into capoeira – a local term referring to land whose undergrowth has been cleared or burned to cultivate the land or for other purposes – as well as directly impacting the biodiversity present at the site.

This restoration effort dialogues directly with our dream for the future on the Xique-Xique farm, which is to gradually regenerate all of our areas that suffered severe deforestation under our predecessors. We want our agroforests, with their diversity of native fruit trees and fodder plants, to inspire more members of our community to get involved in the wave of transformation needed to establish food systems centered on ecology and social justice.

Me and our collaborator, Alaísa, in one of our restoration projects. Image credit: Gean Magalhães

Welcome to our journey. Together, let’s create paths toward a better world for all!

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Supporting partners 2023

Supporting partners

The Restoration Stewards program provides funding, mentorship and training to deepen the impact of youth-led restoration projects. The year-long program is run by the Youth in Landscapes Initiative (YIL) and the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) under the banner of Generation Restoration to support and highlight the work of eight young restoration practitioners and their teams in 2023.

During the program, the Restoration Stewards and their teams are  supported to further develop their project and serve as ambassadors at both global and local levels. Globally, the Restoration Stewards share their journeys in a series of vlogs and blogs documenting their stories of inspiration and challenges and participate in different international events to showcase their work. Locally, they are sparking a restoration movement, mobilizing local communities and creating pathways to connect, share, learn, and act for livelihoods and landscapes.