Concrete Actions

Nurseries, and joint effort: how the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement intends to plant 100 million trees by 2030

Between 2020 and 2023, the MST planted 25 million trees and recovered 15,000 hectares of degraded land
Landless workers prepare bags full of seeds to be airdropped by a Federal Police helicopter in the Dom Tomás Balduíno pre-settlement in the state of Paraná, southern Brazil – Gabriela Moncau

By Gabriela Moncau
Translated by: Ana Paula Rocha
Brasil de Fato

From the air, in a Federal Police helicopter, 12,000 kilos of araucaria and juçara palm trees were airdropped in a legal reserve area of the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST, in Portuguese) in the state of Paraná, southern Brazil. The action, which took place in May, is part of an MST plan to plant 100 million trees by 2030 in Brazil.

Aerial sowing is the most massive method among several actions developed by the movement to reach its goal. The other measures include the implementation of agroforestry units in settlements and encampments, the distribution of seedlings in schools, plant nursery preparation and partnerships with universities and private and public entities.

The plan

The “National Plan for Planting Trees and Producing Healthy Food” was launched at the beginning of 2020 as constructive action to, according to Camilo Augusto, one of the plan’s coordinators, “project the MST, agrarian reform and agroecology as crucial in the development of alternatives to the environmental crisis.”

Following the beginning of the plan, the COVID-19 pandemic imposed restrictions, limiting the movement’s face-to-face events for two years. Even though, in December 2023, MST counted 25 million trees planted, 300 plant nurseries created and 15,000 hectares of degraded land recovered

Recovering areas destroyed by the mining company Vale

Of the reforested land, around a thousand hectares had been destroyed by the collapse of the Vale/Samarco dams in Brumadinho, Minas Gerais state. The 2019 tragedy killed at least 270 people. Among those affected, a thousand MST families are encamped near the Paraopeba River.

In the Paraopeba Basin, the MST planted 34 species of trees / Agatha Azevedo / Courtesy of MST- Minas Gerais

Years earlier, in 2015, the environmental disaster in Mariana, also in Minas Gerais, killed 19 people, affected 23 MST settlements in the Doce River Basin and was caused by the same mining company.

In 2016, the movement signed an agreement with the state government of Minas Gerais and the Renova Foundation, an NGO created by Samarco under a Transaction and Conduct Adjustment Agreement (TTAC, in Portuguese) to respond to the damage the tragedy caused. 

Through this project, settlers receive technical assistance to plan their plots to become agroforestry, to reforest 5,226 hectares, mainly in aquifer recharge zones. Nurseries have been built in the Estrela do Norte, Nova Conquista, Liberdade and Emiliano Zapata settlements. 

The experience inspired the recent one started in Brumadinho, where the “Planting Trees” project was launched exactly a year after the collapse of the dam, on January 19, 2020. On 10 hectares previously contaminated by tailings, 30,000 fruit tree seedlings of 34 different species were planted

According to the MST, in addition to the abovementioned actions in Minas Gerais, degraded areas are being recovered in the Chapada dos Guimarães National Park, as well as the natural regeneration of around a thousand hectares and the restoration of 100 hectares of permanent preservation areas (APP, in Portuguese) in the state of Pará, among others. 

Seedlings being prepared to be planted in the Mártires de Abril settlement, Pará / Carlinhos Luz / Courtesy of MST-Pará

Aerial sowing using a helicopter

The airdropping of tons of seeds at once is MST’s largest-scale reforestation action. The idea came up in a conversation between two residents of the Dom Tomás Balduíno pre-settlement, in Quedas do Iguaçu, Paraná.

Josué Evaristo Gomes, the son of settlers and a researcher dedicated to studying the juçara palm, became involved in the recovery of endangered species, and made the proposal to Tarcísio Leopoldo, from the state leadership of the MST in Paraná. The idea was “insane at first,” says Josué, but the movement embraced it. 

“Rural families here know the palm tree and how it behaves. That’s amazing,” says Tarcísio. “They were sowing the seeds by hand in the legal reserves near the plots of land and saw that they germinated easily and in large quantities. So, we were already sure of the success of aerial sowing before we did the first flight, last year.”

In fact, it’s working. In June 2023, the first experiment airdropped 4 tons of juçara palm seeds. This year, at the 2nd Nature’s Journey, not only did the movement triple the number of seeds airdropped, but the effectiveness of the previous experiment was also evaluated.

Around 10,000 juçara palm seedlings per hectare were spotted by the postgraduate group in Agroecology and Sustainable Rural Development at the Federal University of the Southern Frontier (UFFS, in Portuguese). In one year, they germinated and are, on average, 14 cm tall.  

A seedling of juçara palm tree spotted in the forest  / Photo: Gabriela Moncau

The aerial sowing action was made possible through a partnership between the MST and the Federal Highway Police, based on local efforts in Paraná. The joint action was sealed during last year’s Nature’s Journey, the first year that Fernando Cesar Borba de Oliveira was in charge of the agency’s superintendence in Paraná. 

With a degree in journalism and a post-graduate degree in political communication in Social Sciences from the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR, in Portuguese), Oliveira worked for Agência Brasil and trade unions before becoming a highway police officer in 2013.  


Partnerships with the Federal Highway Police, Ibama, the Federal University of the Southern Frontier and other entities involved in the MST’s Nature’s Journey are just some of the many alliances the MST has made to advance the “Planting Trees” plan.

“There is, for example, a need for some companies to provide environmental compensation for vehicle sales. We have managed to secure partnerships mediated by municipal environmental secretariats to plant a significant number of trees in the northern region of Paraná,” says João Flávio, an agronomist and member of the MST’s organization for the reforestation plan.

Another partnership is with nurseries run by Itaipu Binacional, the Water and Land Institute (IAT, in Portuguese), and other smaller ones in municipalities in Paraná. “We get a lot of seeds from extracting fruit pulp,” says Tarcísio, referring to species native to the Atlantic Forest, such as guabiroba, uvaia, plum, cherry and jabuticaba. “And we give them to nurseries in exchange for seedlings,” he explains.

“We have an activity at Dom Tomás Balduíno School that has won some awards. It consists of donating a large number of seedlings to students, who plant them in their homes and have them monitored,” says Leopoldo. At the Vagner Lopes Itinerant School alone, students have already received 15,000 tree seedlings.

In São Paulo, the MST got together with the Center to Support Culture and Extension in Education and Environmental Conservation run by the University of São Paulo (USP, in Portuguese) to carry out the Dandara Project: agro-ecological transition in agrarian reform territories.

Through it, 22 cooperative families from the Dandara and Reunidas settlements, in the town of Promissão, São Paulo, implemented 20 agroforestry systems on 13 hectares. In total, 18,800 seedlings of 81 different tree species were planted.

“The hardest challenge”

According to João Flávio, “there is a quite common idea that responsibility cannot be just on the shoulders of rural families. So we are constantly looking for public policies to put this plan forward.”

But “the hardest challenge”, says Bárbara Loureiro, who is also a member of the “National Plan for Planting Trees and Producing Healthy Food,” is to make it go beyond the numerical target.

The aim, she says, is for “this dimension of caring for nature’s common goods to give the conditions” for the popular agrarian reform advocated by the MST. And so, along with initiatives of great impact and visibility, it is also adopted as “everyday action.”

*Edited by Martina Medina