Over the course of the last three months, Jarrod Russell, associate researcher at the University of California San Diego, participated in a series of programs connected to our project, Adapta Sertao. Here is the testimony of his experiences:
“I had the privilege of working within a collaborative that increases the climate resilience of subsistence farming communities in the Northeast of Brazil.
Pintadas is a small town in the state of Bahia, surrounded by smallholder subsistence farmers. This is naturally a dry land, located in the seemingly endless semi-arid region of Brazil - the Sertão. In an already difficult land, times are especially worrying given the crippling impacts of a lingering drought that arrived in late 2010 and has yet to subside. In addition, over the last 50 years, climate change research - including our own - shows that regional average temperature rose by 1.75 degrees Celsius and annual precipitation fell by 30%. However, despite its humble appearance and tough circumstances, social and environmental innovation is abuzz in the small town of Pintadas.
This past week, Pintadas hosted an event that made it the focal point of agricultural cooperativism for the surrounding territory of the Jacuípe Basin. The event organizer was Adapta Sertão, a coalition of research institutions and NGOs, which has worked in the region since 2006, and is now entering a new stage of project implementation. Adapta Sertão’s goals are timely, as they have the potential to increase the climate resilience of subsistence farmers in the region. This is being achieved through technological innovation (high-efficiency drip irrigation, balanced animal feed, and innovative crop varieties) as well as social innovation vis-à-vis the strengthening of local cooperatives as the hubs of best agricultural practices and the catalysts of community-level adaptations. Now, Adapta Sertão is expanding its irrigation initiative to include 300 subsistence farmers across the 14 municipalities of the Jacuípe Basin, and that is why I am here today.
The event was simple: a 3-day capacity-building session to coordinate the process of identifying and monitoring farmers that are to participate in Adapta Sertão’s new irrigation initiative. As a collaborative, we aim to measure smallholder farmers’ benefits from using these systems while simultaneously strengthening cooperativism in the region. A team needed to be assembled. A diverse group of 18 people from every corner of the Basin came together. They included youth just out of high school, cooperative leaders, and a secretary of agriculture. Their different life stories converged on one issue: we need to work together if we are to overcome the ever-increasing challenges of the semi-arid environment in which we all live in and depend upon.
All participants were immediately struck by the format of the event, which was interactive and inclusive, rather than a read-this-manual and lecture format. We worked as a team to contextualize our efforts and identify our dreams. We contextualized our efforts within the challenges of an unpredictable climate being exacerbated by local deforestation and global climate. We identified our dream as the development of flourishing communities resilient to – even reversing – the aforementioned climatic impacts.
As the event came to a close, the sense of partnership and collective action we cultivated was readily apparent in the exchanges of our concluding remarks. In the spirit of collaboration, we built a team. This team, I am confident, has been empowered with a vision to strengthen their communities and build resilient livelihoods, within and beyond the confines of this project. I was lucky to be a part of the process. Therefore, I encourage you to support this team’s efforts, as your contributions will make a lasting positive impact on the lives of countless subsistence farming families in the region.”
The semi arid region of Brazil today is affected by the worst drought in 40 years. In many regions, there has been no rainfall at all for over 9 months. In other regions, rainfall has reach minimum level of 200 mm over the past year compared to long-term average of 600 to 800 mm/year. Over 500 municipalities have declared “state of calamity” and started receiving government subsidies after an in-situ evaluation from government officials. The subsidies are used mostly to distribute water coming from areas very far away through trucks and to distribute food to the population and for the animal. Cattle is dying very quickly and farmers are loosing a lot of money - 100% of their harvest is gone this year. So the situation is very critical. People started moving out of the region, at least temporarily, looking for jobs in urban areas. Some assessments point out that this could just be the beginning because to get out of this emergency state, the region needs quiet a lot of heavy rains to fill up the reservoirs. This is something that happens over months or years. Today finding solutions to limit the socioeconomic impacts of the drought in the semi-arid region of Brazil has become a key priority for all 9 states that compose the semi-arid region (Alagoas, Bahia, Ceará, Maranhão, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Piauí, Rio Grande do Norte e Sergipe). Apparently the state that is most hit by the drought is Bahia, where the Adapta Sertao project is located. Many news and videos can be found (in Portuguese) on the web through search engines using the following keywords “seca nordeste 2012”
Adapta Sertao has organized a Civil Society Forum - Water Forum, Pintadas, 24th and 25th of May 2012:
Objective of the meeting: about 150 participants were invited to participate in a Water Forum to discuss the heavy drought that is affecting the region and try to find political support to develop long-term solutions. It was clear from the discussions that climate change is not included at all in the policy making mechanisms. Unfortunately policy makers seem to focus on the situation only in periods of calamities and find solutions that are not structural. A main concerned that was expressed during the forum is that when eventually the situation goes back to normality, also the policy making engine turns off and gets again disconnected from the reality. The key point is that the situation that today is affecting the region could become the baseline scenario by the end of the century due to climate change. The result would be an aridification of the region that from semi-arid would become arid or even desert in some parts.
The water forum was organized to identify specific requests from civil society and local farmers and community organizations of the Bacia do jacuipe county where Pintadas is located (250,000 people). The objective was to bring these requests to policy makers of the Bahia state in July of 2012.
The main objetive of Adapta Sertao is to help small farmers to cope with droughts in the semi-arid regions of Brazil. The project landed at 4 elementary schools in the municipality of Pintadas. The objective was to help children strengthening the connection with the environment in which they live. It was also to improve their diet and love for what the earth can provide them. The action consisted in creating vegetable gardens at the schools and help the teachers to associate the work in the garden with the content of the disciplines such as language, geography, science and maths.
The result of the action was very encouraging as children , teachers and parents got involved with the installation of irrigation systems as well as the planting of vegetables and harverting.
In 2012 we hope to get funding to do the vegetable gardens in at least 5 more schools. Any amount given will be used for that purpose, that ultimately will improve nutrition.
The III Fórum Adapta Sertão (October 7th to 9th) was titled “Reflexion dialogue: climate change and food production – Innovative public policies for small farmers in the Brazilian semi arid”. It was conceived as a dialogue opportunity to discuss five themes that are central to the development of the Bacia de Jacuipe county, state of Bahia, where Adapta Sertao is mostly working. The Bacia do Jacuipe county has a total population of 250,000 and it is fairly representative of the whole semi-arid region of Brazil in terms of socio-economical structure and environmental settings. All themes were approached from a climate change adaptation perspective that represented the cross-cutting theme. The five themes that were discussed were.• Access to technology, technical assistance and knowledge• Research and technical development• Commercialization programs• Access to credit • Infrastructure (focus on water infrastructures)To facilitate the discussion, each theme was discussed initially through two or three presentations by relevant experts and/or representatives of key regional organizations in the field. Each presenter was asked to focus his/her presentation on key questions and barriers, looking especially at the policy framework and where possible changes should have occurred. The objective of this forum was therefore to:1. Get to know initiatives, technologies and projects related to the production of food within the Bacia do Jacuipe, that can be considered as a reference to guarantee food security of the local population2. Identify limitations e barriers for a n effective dissemination of the most promising initiatives, technologies and projects3. Elaborate ideas and proposals for public policies for a better integration of issues related to food production and food security in the context of an intensification of climate variability During the second day, each theme was discussed in more details to elaborate possible proposals that could be eventually taken to policy makers in the state of Bahia.
During the discussions it emerged the difficulty to elaborate key proposals in an integrated way for a number of different reasons. Many of these issues are well known also by government officials. However it seems that the process of making changes in the legislations has very complex dynamics that go beyond the presentation of good proposals and ideas and have different levels of complexity. It was very difficult to identify one or two themes to develop specific proposals, as each group had its own expertise in specific themes, and it was very difficult to identify a issue that could be considered objectively more relevant than any other one by all participants.
In the next forum in March 2012, the Adapta Sertao technical and coordination team will go to Brasilia to propose to work with state and federal government on a possible integration of existing policies and take Adapta Sertao experience as a common ground for testing such integration.
The key barriers/issues that were identified by were:ACCESS TO TECHNOLOGY AND TECHNICA ASSISTENCE + RESEARCHo Small farmers already struggle. They perceive small changes already on a yearly basis and it is necessary to have technology and knowledge to help them adapto Better education in childhood/primary and secondary school. The education system in the region seems to be fairly poor and farmers today have serious difficulties to assimilate innovations and knowledge because they have not been prepared to deal with changes and incorporate innovations rapidly in their life.o Decentralize technical assistance. It is important for the federal and state governments to allow cooperatives and farmers associations access financial resources to provide technical assistance. Technical assistance provided mostly by federal and state entities show to be often poor and inefficient. o It is necessary to identify specific technologies that respond to the farmers’ needs and develop dissemination mechanisms. These are technologies that have to be adapted to the reality of the farmers and not vice-versa• FINANCINGo The federal micro-credit system PRONAF is providing good conditions (2% annual interest rates) for farmers. However there are some serious limitations that need to be overcome: Famers do not need to present real guarantee to take the loan. This is a risk for the financial institutions that if a financial crisis occurs (example of Europe), then several financial institutions can go bankrupt; PRONAF is not equally distributed across Brazil. In terms of density, the semi-arid region should receive at least the double of what it is receiving now; A lot of bureaucracy to get the loan; Better monitoring on where the resources are allocated: some farmers access much more financial resources than other farmers but on which basis?• COMMERCIALIZATION o PAA is the federal school feeding program, where all schools have to provide to the students at least one meal per day. Since 2009, at least 30% of the food has to be purchased by small farmers (the PAA program). The PAA is providing a crucial market access opportunity for small farmers in the region. It shows to be an important instrument for capacity building. It is also promoting various changes in farmers’ production and organizational processes such as creating structures and cooperatives and employing better production methodso PAA has also strengthened farmers’ organizations because it requires food purchase to be done from formal groups. o The values offered by PAA are used by farmers as a reference price in negotiations with middlemen. This is increasing the selling power of farmerso It is important to complement the commercialization opportunity with further support to farmers’ production and organizational process. This means to improve the way in which technical assistance is given. There is a clear need of technical assistance services especially for production planning, which is a major factor to be improved in the PAA• WATER INFRASTRUCTURES o Today water infrastructures have improved a lot the reality of the local population. In 1993, farmers had to walk over 2 km to harvest water. Today they are not doing it as much because local water infrastructures (rainwater harvesting systems and small earth dams) that have been constructed by NGOs and governments, improving local access to watero Farmers have also learnt how to adapt themselves to water scarcity and they are open to adopt water conservation technologies. However, from a animal breeding erspective, it is essencial to improve the production system for example by disseminating plants that store water like “palma forrageira” or by having a more adequate management of the local water resources. o There are several low cost strategies that can be implemented but farmers do not have money to do them, also because their pay back is uncertain in specific conditions. It seems that government subsidies are here important: the government needs to invest much more money to improve water infrastrctures but in a decentralized way
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