Resilience Perspectives

Yacarantã, Brazil – The Democratization of an Agriculture in Favor of People and Nature

This story tells about the power of transformation based on collective actions in favor of a new agriculture that produces positive results for people and nature. This is one of the five winning stories from the Resilience Perspectives storytelling contest.

Written by: Heitor Dellasta
GRP Areas of work: Knowledge Theme: Agriculture, nutrition and food security

Located in Brazil, in the Atlantic Forest biome, the story follows  João, Yasmin and Heitor, a group of young people who seek to democratize access to syntropic agriculture and agroforestry systems. The challenge that at first seemed lonely and challenging, little by little grew and flourished  and now guarantees fruits for all living species.

Preparing the land for planting

Do you believe in the power of transformation? It’s the idea that a group of people in the right place at the right time can make a difference and transform the reality of a specific, social-ecological context? A young Brazilian, João, is attempting to prove just that through the democratization of access to syntropic agriculture and agroforestry systems. Syntropic agriculture, also known as biodiverse agroforestry systems, is a way of producing food in harmony with nature, as it allows for the cultivation of native trees, fruit trees, and abundant crops in the same space.

Located in the metropolitan region of Belo Horizonte, the capital city of the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil, is the town of Rio Manso. Like much of the state, Rio Manso is nestled among green hills and surrounded by numerous springs and water sources. Additionally, it is situated at the transition between the Atlantic Forest biome, a majestic tropical forest considered a biodiversity hotspot, with less than 2% of its original forest cover remaining, and the Cerrado biome, a unique vegetation formation often referred to as the Brazilian savanna.

The population of Rio Manso is primarily composed of people dedicated to a rural way of life. Agriculture is the main means of livelihood for numerous families. However, following the Green Revolution of the 1960s, in their quest to increase productivity and well-being, some farmers began adopting practices that, over time, disrupted the ecological balance of Rio Manso. Monoculture and the use of pesticides spread, replacing natural diversity with vast expanses of a single crop. The soil, exhausted from years of exploitation, yearned for rest and revitalization. The waters became contaminated with toxic residues, threatening both wildlife and human health.

Heitor Dellasta

When João arrived in the region in 2014 and heard this story, a thought crossed his mind: “One person must have started practicing monoculture and pesticide use, and now everyone is doing the same. Could it be possible that if another person starts producing in harmony with nature, it could serve as an example for a transformation in favor of both people and nature? What if I do things differently?” 

João was born in the metropolis of Belo Horizonte, but from an early age, he was filled with enthusiasm and love for nature. He was captivated by stories of the harmonious relationship that once existed between humans and nature. These narratives sparked his curiosity and the desire to reclaim that lost connection.

João traveled to different regions of Brazil, learning from indigenous peoples, local communities, and agroforestry masters about an alternative model of agriculture. It was during one of these journeys that he had the opportunity to meet Ernst Gotsch(, a renowned farmer and researcher dedicated to agroforestry. João was captivated by Gotsch’s revolutionary approach, which proposed agroforestry systems based on biodiversity, mimicking natural ecosystems. Agroforestry became a true passion for João, and he made the decision to bring this technique back to Rio Manso.

A first seed is germinated

In 2014, João began the journey of establishing a highly biodiverse agroforestry system on the Yacarantã Farm, an area that was previously occupied by a pasture that had degraded over time. The start of his journey was rather solitary. However, gradually, he started receiving curious visitors who wanted to witness the transformation taking place there. Over time, the interest of people grew, and individuals from all over Brazil and travelers from other countries came to learn and contribute to that transformation. Many people passed through the Yacarantã Farm as volunteers.

Heitor Dellasta

When people asked João about his goal, he would promptly reply, “It is to imitate nature. My objective is to ensure maximum biodiversity in one place.” The next question was almost always the same, inquiring about food production. His response would be, “Nature is incredibly generous. If you restore biodiversity, food production becomes the contribution of nature to people.”

The journey of Yacarantã Farm kept growing, and the agroforestry system continued to expand, attracting new people. Some people decided to stay. João met Yasmin, a young woman with a tremendous passion for transforming the food produced at Yacarantã Farm. If João had the ability to transform landscapes into areas of high biodiversity, Yasmin had the knack for ensuring that all the produced food was utilized in the best and most delicious way possible.

Between 2016 and 2018, João and Yasmin jointly organized the first phase of Yacarantã Farm, engaging in the commercialization of food and conducting courses and workshops on various topics related to living in harmony with nature. They offered over  20 different courses to more than 300 people, covering topics such as practicing agroforestry, food preparation, and techniques to enhance the longevity and value of food. While many individuals participated in these courses, they primarily consisted of people with better financial means, eager to get closer to nature. The local communities, although interested in alternative food production methods, remained somewhat distant from João and Yasmin. Likewise, João and Yasmin faced challenges in connecting with the local communities.

Heitor Dellasta

Some time later, another volunteer who passed through Yacarantã Farm decided to stay for a longer period. Heitor, a young economist who believed in transforming the economy through nature, joined the group. He brought with him the ability to mobilize financial and non-financial resources to generate positive impact for both people and nature.

In unity, starting from 2019, João, Yasmin, and Heitor embarked on a second phase to share their knowledge and ensure the democratization of agroforestry systems. At this point, Yacarantã Farm became known as the Yacarantã Collective. Their greatest ambition was to positively impact the vulnerable local communities in the region, who had limited access to courses and workshops. Working with these communities was a unique experience for the collective, as they were already rural producers with their own beliefs and skills. Therefore, engaging with the local communities required proposals that respected their connection to the land while seeking to contribute to changes in how they produced in harmony with nature.

Between 2019 and 2021, the Yacarantã Collective managed to inspire the emergence of small agroforests in the region. The agroforestry system at Yacarantã Farm continued to grow and now occupied more than two hectares of land. People who visited the farm, participated in the courses, and were captivated by the agroforestry production, started their own agroforestry gardens of various sizes at their homes. Furthermore, the local communities began to experience positive impacts and actively participate in the transformation process. Although it was just a seed, these activities brought a new dynamic to agriculture in the region.

Seeds begin to reproduce and produce

It was in 2019 that the metropolitan region of Belo Horizonte experienced a tragic event. The collapse of a mining dam had negative impacts on the local communities and natural ecosystems. Lives were lost, both human and animals. The rural communities were particularly affected as the mud from the dam breach reached a large part of the rural area. The local communities suffered a double blow with the destruction of crops and loss of equipment due to the flood of tailings. Another aspect of their livelihoods was affected as the blocked roads and fear of contamination led to the suspension of product sales to their previous buyers. Natural ecosystems were harmed by soil and water contamination, rendering the maintenance of terrestrial and aquatic life impossible.

It was during this challenging moment that the Yacarantã Collective began to reach out to the rural communities in the region, where over 400 socioeconomically impacted families lived. João, Yasmin, and Heitor pondered on how to approach those people, and finally, an idea emerged: “instead of going to the local communities, why not invite the people from those communities to come and see Yacarantã Farm and the transformation happening there?”. João was certain that when they saw the agroforestry system, they would be captivated. After all, so many people had already visited and undergone transformation there, it seemed impossible for someone to witness an agroforestry system without being completely transformed themselves. It was through demonstrating the practice of living in harmony with nature that João could win the minds and hearts of each individual.

Despite their fear that people might not show up, the collective organized the visit anyway. And in the end, the visit was a success. Over 30 people showed up and spent the whole day at Yacarantã Farm. Throughout the day, they learned about agroforestry systems from João, enjoyed agroforestry meals prepared by Yasmin, and listened to Heitor talk about a new economy in harmony with nature. Through this connection, the Yacarantã Collective managed to get closer and take significant steps towards building a community-based agroforestry system with the people from the local communities.

João, Yasmin, and Heitor started visiting the local communities more frequently, partnering with the Rural School to offer courses and experiences for adults attending evening classes. These classes covered various topics such as solidarity economy, regenerative economy, sustainable agriculture, step-by-step instructions for syntropic agriculture and agroforestry systems, as well as different food preparation techniques.

Heitor Dellasta

The classes were not just theoretical, but practical as well. João led a participatory construction process of the community-based agroforestry system, where many people participated, while Yasmin guided a food preparation process to ensure no food was wasted. Women took on leadership roles in agroforestry production in the region and decided on the key steps to be taken from then on. The group of women named themselves Margaridas, in honor of a beautiful white flower with a yellow center that symbolizes subtlety and resilience. Together, the women decided and communicated, “We want to ensure food sovereignty in our communities, and therefore, we want to guarantee high food production among native and fruit trees”. The formation of the Yacarantã Collective became focused on women, allowing them to gradually take on leadership roles and guide the agroforest with their own desires and ambitions.

The Margaridas’ agroforestry system occupied over two thousand square meters, with more than 400 seedlings of various native and fruit tree species and over 30 types of vegetables and greens. The agroforestry system became an example of collective work and yielded positive results for both people and nature, even being documented in a beautiful mini-documentary. ( ).

Heitor Dellasta

The seeds are spread

As agroforests expanded, the city of Rio Manso became a small seed of transformation in favor of a new way of producing food in harmony with nature. Yacarantã Collective became a symbol of perseverance and future vision, and his tireless work to democratize and popularize syntropic agriculture continues to thrive. Together, the efforts of João, Yasmin and Heitor never ceased to grow and expand, now with a focus on the entire Atlantic Forest biome.

Yes, it is possible to produce in harmony with nature. It is possible to restore degraded areas and make them beneficial for both people and nature. Above all, this story is an invitation to get to know the Yacarantã Collective and explore the diversity of biodiverse agroforestry systems emerging in Brazil and around the world. We are the generation of transformation, and we must find inspiration to guide it in a way that no species is left behind.