Paula Costa and Valter Ziantoni, scaling agroforestry by complexifying growing systems using software

With Paula Costa and Valter Ziantoni of Pretaterra, an innovative way of thinking complex and regenerative ancestral production systems for a changing planet, we unpack the wonders of agroforestry, the opportunities, the challenges and why it is having its breakthrough now.

Pretaterra develops replicable designs of regenerative agroforestry systems, combining scientific data, empirical information and traditional knowledge with technological innovations, building a new productive paradigm that is sustainable, resilient and long-lasting


In this episode, Koen van Seijen, Paula Costa and Valter Ziantoni of Pretaterra talk about the wonders of agroforestry. They also discuss how to systemize agroforestry design, complexify growing systems, as well as the financial aspect of design planning.

From Small Scale to Large Scale

Agroforestry is a more natural way of harvesting crops. It has grown significantly compared to 30 to 40 years ago. It progressed from small scale to large scale farmers since it raises a lot of good points as a solution to a more ecological farming that appeals to bigger shareholders. 

“In the public policies, agroforestry was only focused on smallholder farmers. This is the first thing that has been changing in the last few years, because larger farmers are starting to take it seriously.” – Paula Costa

Systematize Agroforestry

Both Paula and Valter began as consultants with almost over 30 years of experience and from there, they met potential clients and started to systemize their own process. What they do is they research, gather knowledge, create system design for their clients and research to cater to their needs. They want to prioritize design specific for farmers and replace ancient practices with more sustainable ones. 

“We plan upon that a new agroforestry system that is adherent enough, that could work for what the company is trying to deliver. Not just a premium price for the products, but also a regenerative assistant, a model that the first independent people can use to improve their land while producing enough profit, to keep doing the kind of agriculture they do, but now improved. – Valter Ziantoni

Complexifying of Growing Systems

Complexity is the most difficult part of agroforestry. Complexifying products means understanding all the agronomic parts of one crop, from growing, timbering, to marketing. And growing two crops raises the complexity overall. With this knowledge, systemizing management and planning is a key to success. 

“What we did was to understand the system, complexity in a systematized way. The systemization for us is key, the most important thing. We have to plan every step, we have to understand all the crops involved. We have to understand all the management along the cycle.” – Paula Costa

Financial and Design Planning

There is a step by step process in systemizing the design for agroforestry and with that comes the financial side of management. It must predict the cost of implementation and, in an economical sense, the systemized design must predict if the model will be profitable.

“If you understand which are the management actions that you’re going to take, you can predict a little bit. Of course, you will have changes all along the way but, you can predict how much it is going to cost and if you know how much it’s going to cost, you can start modeling it financially.” – Paula Costa

Missing Data

In Fazenda da Toca, they used eucalyptus as a service species and they have to prune it every year. They had to research how much it would cost and understand the operations on how to prune it which they did not have data for. In instances like this, regardless of the location, they have to research again, study the crop and processes to look for the data needed for systematized planning. 

“There is no data, we have to produce this data (Paula).
Most of the data on agroforestry, there isn’t yet. I mean, as for machinery, we have a lot of machinery for agriculture and for forestry, but not agroforestry machinery. The same is for data, because you have one specific data, in one specific place in the world, with the specie and that, so when you try to complexify and use interactions between data, this big data of agroforestry is not there yet. But, what you can do is create those kinds of designs that are modular, replicable, and elastic.” – Valter Ziantoni

To learn more about Paula Costa and Valter Ziantoni of Preta Terra and the wonders of agroforestry, download and listen to this episode!

Guests Bio: 

Paula Costa 

Forest Engineer and Environmental Management Specialist from ESALQ – USP and Biologist from UNESP, awarded in 2016 by the Brazilian Silviculture Society. Passionate about the forest and complex production systems, Paula is a specialist and consultant in agroforestry systems and silviculture of native and exotic species. She worked in the coordination of the field team and in the development of research and innovation in the agroforestry production systems of Fazenda da Toca. She developed forest restoration projects, environmental adaptation, direct planting of forest seeds (muvuca), horticulture and agroforestry fruit. Participated in extension and technical assistance projects with farmers and sustainable communities in São Paulo, Mato Grosso and Amazonas.  Extensive experience in facilitating training courses and practical workshops in regenerative production systems. She was coordinator of the research and extension group on agroforestry systems at ESALQ – USP.

Valter Ziantoni

Forest Engineer from UFPR, specialist in Management from FGV and MSc. in Agroforestry by Bangor University.  Valter developed his master’s thesis at Lake Tanganyika (Zambia), working with local indigenous knowledge and applying systematic solutions to foster the success of sustainable projects.  More than 10 years of experience in the agroforestry field, including project management and coordination, native inventories and monitoring, classification of timber products and NTFP in the Amazon.  Extensive experience in rural economy and sustainable development models, with international experience (UNDP and FAO) in management and leadership positions. He developed several volunteer works, mainly in Africa and Asia. He coordinated research projects in the R&D section of Fazenda da Toca, helping to consolidate a pole of excellence in innovation in production processes and large-scale agroforestry projects. 



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