Reversing Deforestation in South America's Rainforest Lungs

Beatriz Ramirez and Tierra Martinez
Monday, 10th May 2021

Eco-Centro Madre Selva in Argentina is reducing the impacts of deforestation by educating local farmers in regenerative practices.

Eco-Centro Madre Selva is located in the heart of the Misiones Jungle, 4km from the Yabotí Biosphere Reserve (250,000 hectares) and 4 km from the Turvo State Park (Brazil, 50,000 hectares) in Argentina. The area, one of the most important lungs of South America, is being destoyed through forestry extraction and monoculture cropping.

The ecosystem here is the Subtropical Rainforest, with no dry season, although because of the destruction this is changing dramatically. 

The local population of more than 5000 families of subsistence farmers, survive on minimum wages through practices that are destroying their landscape.

Eco-Centro Madre Selva aims to reverse this deforestation and provide farmers with regenerative incomes that reduce impact on their environment.


Healthy and local food production © Tierra Martinez

Ná Lu'um Permaculture Institute

During the last 20 years, the Ná Lu'um Permaculture Institute has collaborated with the implementation of permaculture education centres in different climates, ecosystems and cultures. It has travelled and taken permaculture to many places, training thousands of students and providing opportunities for many people to experiment and take on regenerative processes. The purpose of all of this learning experience is the development of the Eco-Centro Madre Selva.

The project has been developed by the co-founders of the Ná Lu'um Permaculture Institute, through educational programmes that have been carried out since 2016. The funds for its implementation have been mostly generated by the Institute, with some support from donors and government programmes.

The implementation is being developed based on the local community and students from other places who visit the Eco-Centro. The project is beginning to generate resources based on its productive projects. There are 18 members of local families that work directly with the project.


An edible jungle replaces the destroyed landscape from deforestation. Here a diverse range of plants provide food, medicine and wildlife habitat. © Tierra Martinez

Eco-Centro Madre Selva

We seek to share the knowledge of permaculture as a basis for regenerating the forest and society in the area, providing tools in regenerative agriculture, water management, appropriate technologies and natural construction with local materials, positively impacting the surrounding population.

The project interacts in direct ways with the population given that many have chosen to work within the project due to the organic working style that respects life, the land and the people. This is our way of dispersing permaculture in the local community.


Working the mud for adobe walls © Tierra Martinez

Our organisational model invites us to work only that which is necessary (five hours a day in the field) so that the collaborators also have the opportunity to go and work on their own land to generate their food and improve their quality of life, and all along our teachings become real practice. 

We interact on the basis of mutual aid, where there is a win-win situation and we are all at ease with the contributions we offer. In this way our project and the life of all those who collaborate is prosperous and regenerative. Little by little with firm and organized steps as a living system we interrelate to take care of ourselves and our forest.

Our main focus is a profound work in Regenerative Education, which has helped us to bring the seed of permaculture over a large area. The process begins with the neighbours who collaborate in our work activities, and from there it gradually spreads to the colonia El Paraíso and other similar settlements.

  • Soil improvement

  • Crop diversification

  • Working with plant strata

  • Rescuing ancestral techniques 

  • Use of modern technology 

  • Planning and programming of production systems

  • Sample of other possibilities with subsistence crop varieties

  • Management of climate and energy transition groups

  • Rescue of traditional flavours

  • Use of natural building materials

  • Management of edges

  • Inclusion of animals in plant production systems

  • Development of complex systems

  • Creation of a seed bank

  • Participatory certification groups in Agroecology 

Within this we are taking small and slow steps, but with very interesting results. 

The initiatives

The Madre Selva project embraces six initiatives that form the General Design.

  • The School of Regenerative Permaculture

  • Diversified Production Projects

  • Natural Reserve

  • Ecobarrio (Eco-neighbourhood)

  • Cultural Centre

  • Natural Medicine Centre

One of the main objectives is to rescue the ancestral knowledge of the area. For this we collaborate with the elders who share their knowledge with us.

Apprenticeship programmes on offer

  • Regenerative Design Course in Permaculture

  • Practical Permaculture Apprenticeship Programme

  • Advanced Design Course in Regenerative Permaculture

  • Course on Design of Plant Production Systems

  • Diploma in Permaculture

  • Diploma in Bioconstruction

Diversified Production Projects (based on systems that imitate the natural environment)

We define the Production Projects as Simple Production or Refined Production. We produce a diversity of herbs and vegetables, annual dry farming crops, oleaginous crops, essences, melliferous varieties, fruit trees, wood, bamboo, diversity of tubers and diversity of animals.

Within the refined products we have yerba mate of different grindings, four types of sugar, granolas, seed mix, sprouts, curcuma powder, kefir, yogurt, cheese, butter, bath soaps, animal oil, essential oils, medicinal herbs, rapé, open-pollinated seeds, etc.

Our own products, which in the first instance feed the family, workers and participants of our educational programmes, we also sell or exchange as part of our financial support. We produce more than 150 species, although in our reserve we can observe 200 to 400 species depending on the sector.


We are the hosts of the 14th IPC (International Permaculture Convergence) and are preparing the space for its celebration. This event will help us to become known at a local and regional level in Argentina, encouraging more people to come and learn with our educational programmes and get to know our products. This is our greatest wish: that more people can have a healthier life. This, like other productive projects, helps us to continue to impact more local people.

Project Coordinators: Beatriz Ramirez and Tierra Martinez. Eco-Centro Madre Selva is one of the 20 finalists in the 2020 Permaculture Magazine Prize.

Useful links

Finalists for the 2020 Permaculture Magazine Prize announced