Natura wants to have 45 thousand hectares of palm agroforestry systems implemented in Pará by 2035, a volume that will cover the company’s entire demand for this raw material.
Palm oil (a plant that is also called dendê in Brazil) is the company’s main input for the production of soaps, creams and shampoos. It is also used in the food industry and for the production of biofuels.
Currently, palm is planted in large monocultures in the northern region of the country and, in some cases, is associated with land conflicts. Last year, for example, the federal government mobilized the National Force to contain a conflict between indigenous people, quilombolas and a large company in the sector in the northeast of Pará.
The largest palm producers in the world are Indonesia and Malaysia, where cultivation in recent decades has also been associated with conflicts, in addition to the deforestation of tropical forests.
For Natura, creating its own production chain is also a way of distancing itself from this controversial market.
Through SAF Dendê (acronym for palm oil agroforestry system), the name given to the project, Natura established partnerships with companies that mediate relations with farmers and livestock breeders in the northeast of Pará, in cities around Tomé-Açu —city – hub of the region that today is already home to large palm plantations.
The idea is that these farmers and producers who own degraded or unproductive areas give up part of their land for the implementation of agroforestry systems, in which palm is produced alongside several other species, such as legumes, fruit and timber.
“Not all species will be there just for economic production. There are, for example, species that will be used for the production of biomass; that is, nutrition for other plants”, says Mauro Costa, senior relationship and supply manager for sociobiodiversity from Nature.
Legumes, he explains, are used because they help fix nitrogen in the soil. The timber, at the end of the 30-year cycle, will be able to be cut and sold legally.
“There are also fruit trees that will be produced throughout this cycle, and some species that will be produced between three and five years, because later their production will become impossible due to the shade”, he adds.
In a SAF like this, the palm corresponds to a maximum of 50% of the area. The system only begins to actually produce palm after five years of operation.
“We have achieved productivity equivalent to that of monoculture. On average, palm production generates 20 tons of bunches of fresh fruit per hectare and we are achieving 17”, says Costa. “When you put the financial and environmental parts into the business model, our proposal ends up surpassing monoculture.”
The contract with farmers provides for the preferential sale of palm to Natura, although not exclusive. Furthermore, the other fruits produced in the system can be sold as the producers wish.
Today, Natura has around 180 hectares of palm SAF implemented and, by March, it intends to implement another 240 hectares. For each agricultural cycle, which runs from October to March, the company’s goal is to gradually expand this plantation until it reaches 45 thousand hectares in 2035. By 2030, it wants to have 40 thousand hectares, enough volume to cover its Biome and Ekos lines.
Last Thursday (1st), the company signed a technical cooperation agreement with the government of Pará to expand agroforestry systems in the state. A work plan highlighting the actions of each party will be formulated in the coming months.
One of Natura’s partners in this project is Belterra, created four years ago to implement cocoa and açaí agroforestry systems.
The company will be responsible for guaranteeing the company at least 20 thousand hectares of palm SAF by 2030, and these systems will be implemented in areas of small, medium and large producers.
Belterra operates with three contract models: 1) leasing, in which the producer transfers a portion of the land for 10 to 15 years; 2) rural partnership, in which the company makes the financial investment and the producer manages the area; 3) financial support, when the producer already has experience in the crop, but needs help in obtaining credit.
In all these models, Belterra earns money by intermediating between suppliers and buyers of the fruits and by selling carbon credits generated from the regeneration of degraded areas.
In the latter case, the credits generated are sold in advance to large companies that want to eliminate their carbon emissions, including Natura itself.
Without the generation of credits, therefore, the business would hardly be profitable for intermediary companies, such as Belterra.
“Agroforestry systems are highly generators of carbon removal. We will share these gains with producers. We already have partnerships today that advance credit in the first ten years, and this anticipation allows us to pay for our operation”, says Valmir Ortega, founder and director of Belterra.
Natura’s goals, however, are not simple to achieve. This is because, even though the company has support from the Tomé-Açu Mixed Agricultural Cooperative (Camta), an important cooperative of Japanese descendants in the region, some producers are still afraid to explore new crops.
“Farmers have historically planted black pepper in this region and there is a great attachment to this crop”, says Jadson Albuquerque, master in geography from the Federal University of Goiás.
Researcher in Tomé-Açu from 2016 to 2017, he studied the social context of palm cultivation in the Pará region. Albuquerque says that, in the 1940s, the municipality was the largest producer of pepper in the world.
“Today, black pepper is like a savings account that is passed down from generation to generation. Many young people aged 14 and 15 already have their own pepper plantation on their parents’ property, precisely with future earnings in mind”, states.
According to Albuquerque, several farmers who tried to plant palm trees in the last decade, through contracts with large companies, abandoned cultivation due to high costs and difficult management.
Recently, the BBF group, one of the leaders in palm production in Brazil, also announced its intention to produce palm in the agroforestry system. The company wants to have the capacity to produce sustainable aviation fuel with the raw material by 2026.