Brazil: Save the Good Water of Xingu – Y Ikatu Xingu


Xingu is a famous name due to to the cultural richness of its original inhabitants where the Amazon forest and Cerrado merge in Brazil. There dwell 24 indigenous peoples who live, drink, bathe and fish in Xingu river and tributaries. Pollution, silting and deregulation of water flow due to deforestation around Indigenous Territories and conversion to agricultural use, threaten the survival of this people and the sustainability of modern agriculture itself in the region (Figure 1). The Campaign Y Ikatu Xingu “Save the Good Water of Xingu”, addresses this problem and promoted the restoration of circa 5.000 hectares of riparian degraded areas, articulating multiple social actors and stakeholders in the region. The methods developed, based on local and scientific knowledge, included manual and mechanized direct seeding of native species along with green manure legumes and result in high native tree density, fast canopy formation and presence of all functional and successional groups of plants. Our goal is to restore riparian forests in the Xingu headwaters establishing at least 70% canopy cover on an average density of 4.000 saplings of native trees per hectare after 3 years, with species from short, medium and long lifespans. Seeds are sourced by indigenous communities and small landholders gathered in the Xingu Seed Network Association. The simultaneous promotion of ecological restoration at lower costs, water conservation, sustainable household cash income, along with community organization and traditional knowledge were among the factors for different actors to engage in the campaign.

Quick Facts

Project Location:
-7.25199, -52.62467, -7.25199, -52.62467

Geographic Region:
Latin America

Country or Territory:

Tropical Forest

Tropical Forest - Seasonal Broadleaf

Area being restored:
700 ha/year

Project Lead:
Instituto Socioambiental - ISA

Organization Type:
NGO / Nonprofit Organization

Project Partners:
ARSX – Xingu Seed Network Association CPT – Comissão Pastoral da Terra ANSA – Associação Nossa Senhora de Assunção Prefeitura Municipal de Canarana/MT Instituto ECOSOCIAL EMBRAPA/Cenargen – Daniel Vieira UNEMAT/campus de Nova Xavantina Farmers, Rural Settlers, Indigenous communities and their associations


Project Stage:
Monitoring & Evaluation

Start Date:

End Date:

Primary Causes of Degradation

Agriculture & Livestock, Deforestation, Fire & Weather Events, Fragmentation, Invasive Species (native or non-native pests, pathogens or plants)

Degradation Description

The Southeastern Amazon in the state of Mato Grosso has a recent history of intense social and
environmental conflicts between indigenous communities and private enterprises encouraged by the
federal, state and municipal governments to deforest in order to “develop” the regional economy.
Spreading of soy and beef production during the last four decades in the Xingu basin degraded 300.000 hectares around watercourses alone, areas protected by national law. Total deforested area in the Xingu headwaters is 5.7 million hectares, with noticeable increase on the last four decades (Figure 1).
Deforestation of riparian areas around Indigenous Territories, forest fires, urban sewages, farm
agrochemicals and soil erosion are major causes of silting, pollution and deregulation of water flow,
which threaten the survival of indigenous people and the sustainability of modern agriculture itself in
the region (Figure 1). International market movements, such as the global rise on soya price, have been directly correlated to increases on deforestation rates in the state of Mato Grosso. Regional
deforestation is close to its ecological threshold regarding biodiversity resilience. In this context, riparian forests also represent natural ecological corridors for a fragmented landscape. Riparian areas that will undergo restoration with this project are pastures of African grasses with none or low resilience, marked by scarce natural regeneration due to isolation, repeated use of herbicides or fire and three decades of laminar erosion and soil compaction by cattle.


Defining the Reference Ecosystem

The reference ecosystem is based on diverse sources of information (e.g. multiple extant reference sites, field indicators, historical records, predictive data).

Reference Ecosystem Description

Riparian forests in the region commonly include species from Amazon and Cerradão (Forested
Savannah), in different degrees, depending on its position on these Biomes’ transitional range. Since we are focusing on riparian forests (not wetlands) in the Amazon biome of the Upper Xingu Basin, the reference ecosystem is the Riparian Evergreen Seasonal Forest , according to Ivanauskas et al. (2001) *1. A floristic study in this ecosystem found 268 species: 66% trees; 18% lianas; herbs and shrubs 13%, and epiphytes 1% (Ivanauskas et al. , 2004 ). Kunz et al. (2008) found 728 trees/hectare, of 49 species (DBH ≥ 10 cm) on 200 quadrant points, with Shannon index of 3.17. Stefanello et al. ≥ (2008 ) found 1.688 trees/ha of 69 species with DBH ≥ 5 cm in a 10.500 m2 total sample area. The relatively low richness of the Evergreen Seasonal Forest on the South-Amazonic border have already been documented in other studies, ranging between 51 and 66 tree species per hectare (Ivanauskas et al. , 2004). Our target is to establish between 4.000 and 8.000 saplings per hectare in 3 years, from at least 25 native species, from different life forms and successional groups, developing a 70% coverage canopy.

1 Ivanauskas, N.M.; Monteiro, R.; Rodrigues, R.R. Classificação fitogeográfica das florestas do Alto Rio Xingu .
Acta Amazonica. Vol. 38(3) 2008: p.387 – 402.
2 Ivanauskas, N.M.; Monteiro, R.; Rodrigues, R.R. Composição florística de trechos florestais na borda
sul-amazônica. Acta Amazonica. VOL. 34(3) 2004: 399 – 413.

Project Goals

Our goal is to restore and connect riparian forests in the Xingu watershed through mechanized direct
seeding of native species, sourced from the Xingu Seed Network Association, and green manure legumes resulting in high tree density, fast canopy formation with all functional plant groups present and native fruits that can generate income. We will restore as much area as possible with the support and investment of partners and landowners generating income for traditional communities and small landholders through the Xingu Seed Network. Community organizations are key elements for conserving biodiversity while improving local livelihoods and creating opportunities for empowering women and youth groups.


Monitoring Details:
After 2 months, the area is monitored and a selective herbicide (graminicide) may be sprayed if/where the invasive grasses are germinating or re-sprouting. Monitoring twice a year during the first 3 years will tell if other measures are necessary, such as ant control, chemical or mechanical grass control, reseeding, refencing, etc. After that period, a sample of those areas are monitored every 3 years. Indicators are number of morphospecies, density of trees and other life forms, vegetation cover, invasive species cover.

Start date, including baseline data collection:


The ‘shared responsibility’ campaign Y Ikatu Xingu was launched by iSA in 2004 to articulate and
implement a new vision of sustainable development to the Xingu headwaters region. Promoting a
collective action to restore Xingu’s riparian areas, the campaign articulation includes small, medium and big landowners and agribusiness companies, familiar agriculture on rural settlements, indigenous communities and their associations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and government representatives. Communities on rural settlements and indigenous territories act through the Xingu Seeds Network providing native seeds to the restoration projects. Rural settlers are involved in soil preparation, direct-seeding, monitoring and managing. They also help to develop the restoration technologies, as the seed collectors help to develop seed technologies. NGOs are involved in the organization and capacitation of seed collectors and in agroforestry projects in rural settlements and indigenous territories. The governmental sector helps keeping seed storage houses, nurseries and articulating with the rural sector.

How this project eliminated existing threats to the ecosystem:
Areas are fenced for cattle and cleaned for fire during the first 3 years of restoration.

How this project reinstated appropriate physical conditions (e.g. hydrology, substrate)",:
On a pasture with invasive grasses, we will first delimitate, spray glyphosate and plow the soil up to 3 times before planting.

How this project achieved a desirable species composition:
A carefully selected mix of seeds of crops, fruits, green manure (annual and sub-perennial legumes) and native forest species, known as “ muvuca de sementes ” (seed mix) is mixed with sandy soil for direct seeding. It is taken care that every Muvuca have a minimum of species of every different lifespan. Minimums: 3 species that live until 3 years old; 5 species that live until 30 years old; 10 species that live until 100 years old and 15 species that live more than 100 years old.

How this project reinstated structural diversity (e.g. strata, faunal food webs, spatial habitat diversity):
Total seeding density average 300,000 seeds per hectare: 200,000 seeds per hectare of trees, being circa 50% of short-lived tree species (i.e. 100 years), plus 100,000 seeds per hectare of annual and sub-perennial legumes; 3 seeds/m 2 of jack-beans ( Canavalia ensiformis (L.) DC.), 5 seeds/m 2 of Crotalaria spectabilis Roth, and 2 seeds/m 2 of pigeon peas ( Cajanus cajan (L.) Millsp.).

How this project recovered ecosystem functionality (e.g. nutrient cycling, plant-animal interactions, normal stressors):
Tree density in our direct seeding restoration areas range from 2,500 to 22,250 trees/hectare, which allows us to not control herbivory of ants or capibaras in most areas. Fast and multistratified canopy cover increase and early flower and fruit production of annual species help ecological dynamics to take part, while a rich litter is generated over the soil, contributing to soil life, humidity conservation and nutrient cycling dynamics.

How this project reestablished external exchanges with the surrounding landscape (e.g. migration, gene flow, hydrology):
Though the areas undergoing restoration are on riparian areas protected by law and tend to form ecological corridors, the areas are too small and young to contribute to external exchanges significantly.

Activities were undertaken to address any socio-economic aspects of the project:
We combine direct seeding techniques with modern or ancient crop planter machines and broadcasting machines and mixes of seeds (“ muvuca ”) collected by a network of Amazon communities that sell through a common association.

Ecological Outcomes Achieved

Eliminate existing threats to the ecosystem:
On most areas threats were controlled, but cattle and fires continue spreading on the surroundings.

Reinstate appropriate physical conditions",:
Planting 30 to 200 seeds for each expected native adult tree, using some fire-prone species, along with 10 green manure legume seeds per hectare, in high density and reseeding whenever necessary during the four first years are strategies to recover the soil.

Achieve a desirable species composition:
Tree density in our direct seeding restoration areas range from 2,500 to 22,250 trees/hectare, which allows us to not control herbivory of ants or capibaras in most areas. Fast and multistratified canopy cover increase and early flower and fruit production of annual species help ecological dynamics to take part, while a rich litter is generated over the soil, contributing to soil life, humidity conservation and nutrient cycling dynamics

Reinstate structural diversity:
All tree lifespan groups are present. Work or time must happen in order to include lianas and epiphytes.

Recover ecosystem functionality:
All tree groups are present, but full functionality may take longer.

Reestablish external exchanges with the surrounding landscape:
The areas are strategically positioned along rivers, but little effect can be seen at the landscape level.

Factors limiting recovery of the ecosystem:
Forest fires, hordes of herbivores, uncommon droughts and technical errors on seed production or direct seeding may jeopardize project goals.

Socio-Economic & Community Outcomes Achieved

Economic vitality and local livelihoods:
The Xingu Seed Network has been considered a model because it has facilitated, for already 10 years, the production and sale of a substantial volume of seeds (over 175 tons) and generated about one million US dollars for 450 households. This network now has a commercial production system (over 20 tons/year) through the Xingu Seed Network Association. It is capable of meeting regional market demand of native seeds while harnessing to help diversify household income sources and livelihoods. The community organization is a key element, especially for providing opportunities for empowering women and youth groups.

Provision of basic necessities such as food, water, timber, fiber, fuel, etc.:
The restored areas are mostly surrounding rivers and watersprings, contributing to water quality. Also, economically interesting native plant species are planted. The fruits, nuts and other products can enrich the family’s diet and also become a source of income, selling in street fairs, to markets, pulp factories and schools.

Cultural dimensions such as recreational, aesthetic and/or spiritual:
Indigenous people believe each plant species and animal has its spirit, so we plant spirits, not forests.

Regulation of climate, floods, disease, erosion, water quality, etc.:
The conversion of degraded pastures into perennial forests will result in the sequestration of tons of carbon from the atmosphere. Similar forest restoration projects in the region, monitored for carbon sequestration, expect an average 340 tons of carbon per hectare in 30 years. Everlastingly is a term hard to guarantee, but we try. In addition to selecting some interesting species with the owner, such as fruits and medicinal trees, avoiding forest fires and other factors of degradation, the country’s law and private contracts help protect the areas we select for forest restoration.

Has the project had any negative consequences for surrounding communities or given rise to new socio-economic or political challenges?:
No, but distribution of seed sources and commercial contracts between collectors must be widely spoken of and transparent.

Key Lessons Learned

  • For fair and good sourcing, previously establish clear agreements with the local communities, concerning how many, how much and what seeds or seedlings will be needed to buy and plant for the projects.
  • To use big seeding machines and broadcasting machines for direct seeding native species mixed with green manure
    (non-native leguminous herbs and shrubs) seeds, adjusting the amount of seeds/hectare is effective for obtaining high density and cover of trees at low cost.
  • A Native Seed Network of networks is on the way, with help of APPs and online systems linking directly the market with the seed sourcers, allowing collaboration with scientific researchers and seed labs.

Long-Term Management

ISA carries on a regular monitoring program of its restoration areas, including technical data collection and stakeholders’ observations in the field, which results in orientations for adaptive management actions that may be necessary. Areas undergoing restoration are managed by its landowners under orientation and in association with ISA during the first three years after planting. Two monitoring methodologies are used: permanent parcels and fast monitoring. Permanent parcels are set and monitored on a dozen of sampled areas for long-term studies. Fast monitoring accounts for site canopy cover, species diversity, grass cover and talks to the landowner on all areas undergoing restoration 2-3 times during the first year, 2 times on the second year and once every 3 years after the third year, until the vegetation reach minimum ecological parameters of density, cover and richness. Areas undergoing forest restoration turn into seed and fruit sources, contributing to economic interests that help keeping presence on sites.

Sources and Amounts of Funding

Total cost per hectare is circa R$ 7.000/hectare (US$2.000). Our primary source of funding now is “Amazonia Live”, sourced on donations for planting trees through “Rock in Rio” music festival. On our history, we have had support from many partners, such as European Community, USAID, Rainforest from Norway, Amazon Fund/BNDES (National Development Bank), Instituto Bacuri, Instituto Ecosocial, Manos Unidas, Natura, DOEN Foudation, Wizard, TFT, Iniciativa Verde, FNMA (National Fund for the Environment), PDA/PADEQ, INCRA (National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform), Instituto Ventura, Blue Moon Foudation, HSBC Solidariedade, Fundação Casa, among other institutions and the very landowners where the forests are planted.

Related Research

Two master degrees were just concluded on 80 direct seeded areas monitored between 1 and 11 years.

Primary Contact

Eduardo Malta Campos Filho

Instituto Socioambiental - ISA

São Paulo


Organizational Contact