Restoring native forests yields biodiversity gains in zona da mata mineira
*** Christian Fonseca de Andrade - manager of Companhia Brasileira de Alumínio (CBA) Mining Units in Zona da Mata Mineira One of the major challenges that the mining sector is currently facing is revising its sustainability strategies. An Ernst & Young (EY) report on the risks and opportunities in the mining sector in 2022 highlighted three areas, with one of them being ESG, which mainly involves the impact of mining activities on communities and biodiversity. In recent years, CBA has been pursuing strategies that strengthen the culture permeating all levels of the company. The focus on ESG concept guides and structures CBA's actions and projects to ensure improved competitiveness and the generation of shared value for society, suppliers, customers, employees and stakeholders. 2022 brought positive results in terms of biodiversity and sustainability for CBA. In partnership with the Forest Restoration Laboratory at the Federal University of Viçosa (LARF/UFV), the Company has been conducting research and developing methodologies focused on planting native species of the Atlantic Forest biome, both in mined areas and in environmental offset areas. Forest restoration projects are essential for biodiversity conservation, mitigating the effects of climate change on the planet, promoting sustainability in bauxite mining, creating ecological corridors in the region, and raising awareness among landowners about the importance of reforestation and their legal obligations. One notable study in this area is the planting of tall seedlings, an innovative initiative in forest restoration projects developed by CBA in partnership with UFV and local nurseries in the Dona Eusébia region of Zona da Mata Mineira. Through this technique, tall seedlings have been planted in CBA's reforestation areas in Zona da Mata Mineira, with the aim of recovering flora faster and creating areas for attracting and conserving fauna. The process was developed based on one of the main challenges posed by nature: the competition between exotic grasses and native saplings. The race for water, light and nutrients triggers competition between seedlings and grass species such as brachiaria and molasses grasses. This causes devastation among the planted saplings. Moreover, tall seedlings - with an average height of 2 meters (four times taller than the conventional standard used in Atlantic Forest reforestation) - have larger, deeper rooting areas, efficiently absorbing water and nutrients. Their greater resilience increases their chances of survival and improves their development. During their growth, tall seedlings cast a larger shade area on the exotic grasses, helping weaken them and even eradicate them as the forest develops. A further benefit is that tall saplings require less fertilizer, crowning, and replanting as they are not in as much competition with grass. Birds can also use tall saplings as perches, which in turn helps with zoochory. These benefits arise because several species of tall saplings flower and give fruit early, attracting animals from the very first months of planting, such as aroeirinha (Schinus terebinthifolius) crindiúva (Trema micrantha) and pitanga (Eugenia uniflora), accelerating the restoration process. Simultaneously, the project opens up a new market for nurseries in the Dona Eusébia region, offering opportunities for increased production and marketing of tall seedlings of native Atlantic Forest species for other forest restoration projects. It is also important to highlight that all research related to the topic is public and compiled in the chapter "Reforestation with Tall Seedlings: an Innovation in Forest Restoration in Bauxite Mining in Minas Gerais," published in 2022 in the book "Engenharia Florestal" (Científica Digital). The tall seedlings project reinforces CBA's commitment to promoting actions that go beyond aluminum production and reflect its mission of manufacturing in a socially and environmentally responsible manner, structuring content with sustainability-based outlooks and promoting initiatives aligned with our strategy and pillars.