Seeds of hope: Nurturing the agroforestry movement in the Brazilian Caatinga

The Xique-Xique Farm, nestled in São Lourenço do Piauí in northeastern Brazil, has been a cherished part of our family for generations. In January 2016, my brother Gean and I embarked on a transformative journey to introduce an agroforestry system to our land.

Previously, our farm had relied on conventional cultivation methods, which unfortunately led to the degradation of our precious soils. Our shift towards a more sustainable and regenerative agricultural model has been a gradual and experimental process, filled with valuable lessons along the way.

In the photos that follow, you can see the vibrant diversity of our agroforestry system (SAF) as it stands today, a testament to our commitment to nurturing the land and fostering biodiversity.

A record from November 2017, marking exactly one year since the implementation of our agroforestry system. The initial years of this journey were incredibly enriching, filled with valuable lessons learned through the hands-on approach of trial and error.

Pruning in our agroforest in 2018, in our second year of transitioning away from conventional practices. This image captures a moment of pruning Gliricidia, a leguminous plant that has thrived in our agroforestry system. Gliricidia holds great potential for producing biomass, which serves both as ground cover and fodder for our livestock.

An area of our agroforestry system being managed in 2019. The area had just undergone pruning, with all the biomass incorporated into the soil to enrich and activate it. Among the tree lines, we can spot fruit-bearing species like bananas, pineapples, oranges and seriguela, adding to the diversity and productivity of our farm.

In 2020, we reaped the fruits of our labor, as showcased in this photo, where Gean proudly displays the biodiversity we’ve achieved over four years of nurturing our agroforestry system.

By this point, our project had flourished to include plants like the nopal, a cactaceous species selected for its ability to improve soil structure with its extensive surface roots. Beyond serving as biomass for ground cover, the nopal also acts as a reservoir, providing water during drier periods due to the significant water content in its cladodes.

Our project boasts a rich variety of fruits, both exogenous like bananas, pineapples, aloe, and sugarcane, and native varieties such as aroeira, umbuzeiro, jucá and angico-de-bezerro, which populate the intermediate and emergent tree strata.

The inclusion of native trees holds significant importance for the regeneration of our Caatinga areas, as some of these species have become scarce in our biome due to historical overexploitation for logging.

In 2020, we witnessed the diversification of our agroforestry system, exemplified in the image by a vibrant grove teeming with biodiversity. Here, we find a harmonious blend of species, including nopal, cassava, banana, gliricidia, moringa and annatto. The annatto plant is particularly valued for its use in producing a vegetable dye, traditionally employed as a spice.

In 2022, we engaged in trimming and planting new species, as depicted in this image. The process involved carefully placing the material resulting from the pruning of grasses, woody plants and legumes to cover the soil entirely. This mulching practice creates a favorable environment for the development of new tree seedlings. Thanks to these efforts, our soil now boasts plenty of organic matter, nurturing the growth of thriving fruit trees.

In 2023, our project and its various forest strata underwent a pruning process that offered us a clear view of the soil beneath. What we discovered was a landscape already blanketed with trees, cacti and grasses, illustrating the flourishing biodiversity of our farm.

Today, in 2024, our forest thrives with remarkable biodiversity, boasting excellent soil coverage and a rich array of herbaceous plants, shrubs, and trees. Among our fruitful trees, which now bear abundantly and provide ample fodder, are species such as aroeira, pau ferro, sabia, umbuzeiro, gliricidia and moringa, which contribute to creating a beneficial microclimate on our farm.

Among our shrubs, we cherish species like maniçoba, camaratuba, jurema, leucena, wild bean, silk flower and cunhã, which serve as forage for the lower stratum. Our cultivation extends to other fruit-bearing species as well, including cashew, acerola, guava, lemon, pitahaya, orange, seriguela, umbu, amora and many others, adding to the abundant tapestry of life we’ve nurtured.

This panoramic photo captures our agroforestry system in 2024, showcasing the transformation of the initial area where sustainable practices were first implemented in 2017. Here, we see robust soil cover and a rich diversity of species thriving across all forest strata.

This year, we have seen more fruit plants growing, such as the papaya tree, shown in this photo in all its vigor.

In this fresh expanse, we witness the emergence of vital crops like nopal, babosa, sabiá, and other indigenous species. The nopal, in particular, plays a crucial role in providing soil coverage. As we expand our agroforestry system into new territories, enriching the soil with biomass remains a meticulous task that we undertake with care.

We aim to further expand our agroforestry initiative by establishing a new area for planting annual crops and trees. These will not only produce biomass but also provide essential soil coverage. Stay tuned for the upcoming chapters of our journey!

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