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In the Amazon, Farming the Forest To Save the Forest

A groundbreaking Brazilian community demonstrates how to farm sustainably in the Amazon—no cattle necessary.

Open a new road in the Amazon and deforestation most often follows, creating a landscape of big sky, white cows, and green pastures. But on back roads around the frontier town of Nova Califórnia, in a remote corner of northwestern Brazil, a renewed verdant canopy closes in. 

As we crawl down a slick, red-mud road in a four-wheel-drive truck, Dielison Furtunato, our guide, points out açaí palms, whose slender fronds lap at the stout trunks of towering Brazil nut trees. Beneath the canopy, sour cupuaçu fruits hang like bloated potatoes from the branches of the small, rounded species. Although these particular forests look natural, they’re not; they are comprised of cultivated edible Amazonian plants.

These forests exist because Furtunato’s employer, a local agroforestry cooperative called RECA, has made it economically viable to plant and tend them, an especially important endeavor at a time when the rainforest is being razed at an alarming rate. For decades, cattle ranching has been the dominant economic activity in the Amazon, driving 80 percent of forest loss