Members of the collective in the rainforest.

Image courtesy Carol Quintanilha/Instituto Socioambiental.

Reforesting Brazil’s Xingu River Basin

On any given morning, women from Brazil’s Moygu and Arayó villages can be found gathering baskets, bags and machetes. They pack water and beiju, a bread made from manioc flour, then gather the children and begin their walk into the forest for another day of collecting local seeds. Deep in the woods, their fingers graze the land, brushing fallen leaves to the side to reveal murici-da-mata, jatobá, leiteiro, carvoeiro, cafezinho do pasto, mamoninha, lobeira and other local seed species, which they collect while enjoying each other’s company beneath the thick canopy above.

When their baskets and bags are full, the group makes their way to the Yarang Women’s Movement Seed House, located between the Moygu and Arayó villages and home to the Ikpeng people of Mato Grosso state. The women finish processing the seeds using a sieve, then lay them out to dry before storing them until an order comes in. Six hours after leaving their villages for the daily seed-gathering walk, the women return home.

For more than 10 years, the 65 members of the Yarang Women’s Movement have steadfastly and meticulously combed the dense forest surrounding their villages for native seeds. The group’s name, yarang, means leafcutter ant in the local language and was chosen by Airé Ikpeng, a leader in the community. “We work like the leafcutter ants who work together, relish seeds, go into the forest, do the collecting. They work with seeds, always as a group,” said Kore Ikpeng, one of the seed collectors, in an August 2019 video produced by Instituto Socioambiental.

The women sell the collected seeds to nurseries, rural landowners, and other people and organizations for reforesting degraded land at the headwaters of the Xingu River. Some of these people also seek advice from the indigenous people about which seeds to use and how to plant them. 

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