‘Passion Seeds’ Fertilize Brazil’s Semiarid Northeast

Ligoria Felipe dos Santos poses for a photo on her agroecological farm that mixes corn, squash, fruits, vegetables and medicinal herbs. She is part of the women's movement that is trying to prevent the installation of wind farms in the Borborema mountain range, in the northeastern Brazilian state of Paraíba. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

Ligoria Felipe dos Santos poses for a photo on her agroecological farm that mixes corn, squash, fruits, vegetables and medicinal herbs. She is part of the women’s movement that is trying to prevent the installation of wind farms in the Borborema mountain range, in the northeastern Brazilian state of Paraíba. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

By Mario Osava
ESPERANÇA, Brazil , Jul 14 2023 (IPS)

Zé Pequeno cried when he learned that the heirloom seeds he had inherited from his father were contaminated by the transgenic corn his neighbor had brought from the south. Fortunately, he was able to salvage the native seeds because he had shared them with other neighbors.


Euzébio Cavalcanti recalls this story from one of his colleagues to highlight the importance of “passion seeds” for family farming in Brazil’s semiarid low-rainfall ecoregion which extends over 1.1 million square kilometers, twice the size of France, in the northeastern interior of the country.”These are seeds adapted to the semiarid climate. They can withstand long droughts, without irrigation.” Euzébio Cavalcanti

Saving heirloom seeds is a peasant tradition, but two decades ago the Brazilian Semiarid Articulation (ASA), a network of 3,000 social organizations that emerged in the 1990s, named those who practice it as individual and community guardians of seeds. By September 2021, it had registered 859 banks of native seeds in the region.

Cavalcanti, a 56-year-old farmer with multiple skills such as poet, musician and radio broadcaster, coordinates the network of these banks in the Polo de Borborema, a joint action area of 14 rural workers’ unions and 150 community organizations in central-eastern Paraíba, one of the nine states of the Brazilian Northeast.

“These are seeds adapted to the semiarid climate. They can withstand long droughts, without irrigation, that is why they are so important,” he explained. They also preserve the genetic heritage of many local crop species and family history; they have sentimental value.

“Don’t plant transgenics, don’t erase my history”, is a slogan of the movement that promotes agroecological practices and is opposed to the expansion of genetically modified organisms in local agriculture. “Corn free of transgenics and agrotoxins (agrochemicals)” is the goal of their campaign.

In Paraíba, the name “passion seeds” has been adopted, instead of native or heirloom seeds, since 2003, when the state government announced that it would provide seeds from a specialized company to family farmers.

“If the government offers these seeds, I don’t want them. I have family seeds and I have passion for them,” reacted a farmer in a meeting with the authorities.

“‘Passion seeds’ spread throughout Paraíba. In other states they’re called ‘seeds of resistance’,” Cavalcanti said.

Agroecology is one of the banners of the Polo de Borborema, as it is for ASA in the entire semiarid ecosystem that covers most of the Northeast region and a northern strip of the southeastern state of Minas Gerais.

"Passion seeds," as heirloom seeds are known locally, ensure better harvests on semiarid lands, free of transgenics or "agricultural poisons," according to Euzébio Cavalcanti, a small farmer, poet and musician who helped lead the struggle for agrarian reform and cares for the seeds in the highlands of Borborema, in northeastern Brazil. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

“Passion seeds,” as heirloom seeds are known locally, ensure better harvests on semiarid lands, free of transgenics or “agricultural poisons,” according to Euzébio Cavalcanti, a small farmer, poet and musician who helped lead the struggle for agrarian reform and cares for the seeds in the highlands of Borborema, in northeastern Brazil. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

Learning to coexist with semiarid conditions

This approach arose from a change in the development strategy adopted on the part of local society, especially ASA, since the 1990s. “Coexisting with semiarid conditions” replaced the traditional, failed focus on “fighting the drought”.

Large dams and reservoirs, which only benefit large landowners and do not help the majority of small farmers, gave way to more than 1.2 million tanks for collecting rainwater from household or school rooftops and various ways of storing water for crops and livestock.

It is a process of decolonization of agriculture, education and science, which prioritizes knowledge of the climate and the regional biome, the Caatinga, characterized by low, twisted, drought-resilient vegetation. It also includes the abandonment of monoculture, with the implementation of traditional local horticultural and family farming techniques.

The Northeast, home to 26.9 percent of the national population, or 54.6 million inhabitants according to the 2022 demographic census, concentrates 47.2 percent of the country’s family farmers, according to the 2017 agricultural census. There are 1.84 million small farms worked mainly by family labor.

Brazil’s semiarid region is one of the rainiest in the world for this type of climate, with 200 to 800 millimeters of rain per year on average, although there are drier areas in the process of desertification.

A stand at the ecological market in the municipality of Esperança, in northeastern Brazil, is a link between urban consumers and family farmers opposed to agrochemicals, monoculture and transgenic products. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

A stand at the ecological market in the municipality of Esperança, in northeastern Brazil, is a link between urban consumers and family farmers opposed to agrochemicals, monoculture and transgenic products. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

Borborema, the name of a high plateau that obstructs the humidity coming from the sea, making the territory to its west drier, is the scene of various peasant struggles, such as the mobilization for agrarian reform since the 1980s and for small-scale agriculture “without poisons” or agrochemicals, of which the “seeds of passion” are a symbol.

Cavalcanti is a living memory of local history, also as a founder of the local Landless Workers Movement (MST) and an activist in the occupations of unproductive land to create rural settlements, on one of which he gained his own small farm where he grows beans, corn and, vegetables and has two rainwater collection tanks.

Women help drive the expansion of agroecology

Women have played a key role in the drive towards agroecology. The March for Women’s Lives and Agroecology is an annual demonstration that since 2010 has defended family farming and the right to a healthy life.

This year, on Mar. 16, 5,000 women gathered in Montadas, a municipality of 5,800 inhabitants, to block the creation of wind farms that have already caused damage to the health of small farmers by being installed near their homes.

Borborema is “a territory of resistance,” say the women. About 15 years ago, they succeeded in abolishing the cultivation of tobacco.

The president of the Union of Rural Workers of the municipality of Esperança, Alexandre Lira (C) and other leaders pose in front of a poster declaring the union's current goals: "Agroecological Borborema is no place for a wind farm," he says about this area in Brazil's semiarid Northeast region. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

The president of the Union of Rural Workers of the municipality of Esperança, Alexandre Lira (C) and other leaders pose in front of a poster declaring the union’s current goals: “Agroecological Borborema is no place for a wind farm,” he says about this area in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast region. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

When the citrus blackfly arrived, the government tried to combat it with pesticides, but “we resisted; we used natural products and solved the problem for our oranges and lemons,” said Ligoria Felipe dos Santos, a 54-year-old mother of three.

“That is agroecology, which is strengthened in the face of threats. Farmers are aware, they resort to alternative defenses, they know that it is imbalance that leads to pests,” she told IPS.

“Agroecology is a good banner for union activity,” said Lexandre Lira, 42, president of the Rural Workers Union of Esperança, a municipality of 31,000 people in the center of the Polo de Borborema.

It is also a factor in keeping farmers’ children on the farms, because it awakens the interest of young people in agriculture, said Edson Johny da Silva, 27, the union’s youth coordinator.

Maria das Graças Vicente and Givaldo Firmino dos Santos stand next to the machine they use for making pulp from native fruits little known outside Brazil, such as the umbu (Brazil plum), cajá (hog plum), acerola (Amazon or Barbados cherry), along with cashews, mangos, and guava. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

Maria das Graças Vicente and Givaldo Firmino dos Santos stand next to the machine they use for making pulp from native fruits little known outside Brazil, such as the umbu (Brazil plum), cajá (hog plum), acerola (Amazon or Barbados cherry), along with cashews, mangos, and guava. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

Pulp, added value

Maria das Graças Vicente, known as Nina, 51, along with her husband Givaldo Firmino dos Santos, 52, is an example of agroecological productivity. On 1.25 hectares of land they produce citrus fruits, passion fruit, acerola (Amazon or Barbados cherry), mango and other fruits, as well as sugar cane, corn, beans and other vegetables.

Grafted fruit tree seedlings are another of the products they use to expand their income, as IPS was shown during a visit to their farm.

Using their own harvest and fruit they buy from neighbors, they make pulp in a small shed separate from their home, with a small machine purchased with the support of the Advisory and Services to Projects in Alternative Agriculture (AS-PTA), a non-governmental organization that supports farmers in Borborema and other parts of Brazil.

“Luckily we have a microclimate in the valley, where it rains more than in the surrounding areas. Everything grows here,” Santos told IPS.

But the couple created three reservoirs to collect rainwater and withstand droughts: a 16,000-liter water tank for household use, another that collects water on the paved ground for irrigation, and a small lagoon dug in the lower part of the farm.

But in 2016 the lagoon dried up, because of the “great drought” that lasted from 2012 to 2017, Vicente said.

The fruit pulp factory has grown in recent years and now has seven small freezers to store fruit and pulp for sale to the town’s stores and restaurants. The couple decided to purchase a cold room with the capacity of 30 freezers.

“I work in the mornings on the land, in the afternoons I make pulp and my husband is in charge of the sales,” she said.

Hiring workers from outside the family to reduce the workload costs too much and “we try to save as much as possible on everything, to sell the pulp at a fair price,” Santos said.

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Biodigesters Boost Family Farming in Brazil

Lucineide Cordeiro loads manure from her two oxen and two calves into the "sertanejo" biodigester that produces biogas for cooking and biofertilizer for her varied crops on the one-hectare agroecological farm she manages on her own in the rural municipality of Afogados da Ingazeira, in the semiarid ecoregion of northeastern Brazil. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

Lucineide Cordeiro loads manure from her two oxen and two calves into the “sertanejo” biodigester that produces biogas for cooking and biofertilizer for her varied crops on the one-hectare agroecological farm she manages on her own in the rural municipality of Afogados da Ingazeira, in the semiarid ecoregion of northeastern Brazil. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

By Mario Osava
AFOGADOS DA INGAZEIRA, Brazil , Jun 24 2023 (IPS)

“The biodigester really gives a huge boost to those who have the courage to do things,” said Maria das Dores Alves da Silva, based on her own experience as a 63-year-old small farmer.


She did not hesitate to accept the offer of Diaconia, a social organization of Protestant churches in Brazil, to acquire the equipment to produce biogas on her farm in the rural area of Afogados da Ingazeira, a municipality of 38,000 people in the state of Pernambuco in the Northeast region of Brazil.”We seek to promote energy, food and water autonomy to maintain more resilient agroecosystems, to coexist with climate change, strengthening community self-management with a special focus on the lives of women.” — Ita Porto

At first she did not have the cattle whose manure she needed to produce biogas, that enables her to save on liquefied petroleum gas, which costs 95 reais (20 dollars) for a 13-kg cylinder – a significant cost for poor families.

She brought manure from a neighboring farm that gave it to her for free, in an hour-long trip with her wheelbarrow, until she was able to buy her first cow and then another with loans from the state-owned Banco del Nordeste.

“Now I have more than enough manure,” she said happily as she welcomed IPS to her four-hectare farm where she and her husband have lived alone since their two children became independent.

Das Dores, as she is known, is an example among the 163 families who have benefited from the “sertanejos biodigesters” distributed by Diaconia in the sertão of Pajeú, a semiarid micro-region of 17 municipalities and 13,350 square kilometers in the center-north of Pernambuco.

Farmer Maria das Dores Alves da Silva stands between the manure pit and the "sertanejo" biodigester designed by Diaconia, a social organization of Protestant churches in Brazil, which has already installed 713 biogas production plants in eight of Brazil's 26 states. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

Farmer Maria das Dores Alves da Silva stands between the manure pit and the “sertanejo” biodigester designed by Diaconia, a social organization of Protestant churches in Brazil, which has already installed 713 biogas production plants in eight of Brazil’s 26 states. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

Biofertilizer

In addition to using the biogas, she sells the manure after it has been subjected to anaerobic biodigestion that extracts the gases – the so-called digestate, a biofertilizer that she packages in one-kilo plastic bags, after drying and shredding it.

Every Saturday, she sells 30 bags at the agroecological market in the town of Afogados da Ingazeira, the municipal seat. At two reais (40 cents) a bag, she earns an extra income of 60 reais (12.50 dollars), on top of her sales of the various sweet cakes she bakes at home, at a cost reduced by the biogas, and of the seedlings she also produces.

The seedlings provided her with a new business opportunity. “The customers asked me if I didn’t also have fertilizer,” she said. The biodigester produces enough fertilizer to sell at the market and to fertilize the farm’s crops of beans, corn, fruit trees, flowers and different vegetables.

This diversity is common in family farming in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast, but even more so in the agroecological techniques that have expanded in this territory of one million square kilometers in the northeastern interior of the country, which has an arid biome highly vulnerable to climate change, subject to frequent droughts, and where there are areas in the process of desertification.

The Pajeú river basin is the micro-region chosen by Diaconia as a priority for its social and environmental actions.

On Lucineide Cordeiro's small farm, cotton, corn, sesame, sunflower, cassava and fruit trees are alternated in the fields, as recommended by agroecology, which is on the rise on family farms in Brazil's semiarid Northeast, which is threatened by longer and more severe droughts due to the climate crisis. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

On Lucineide Cordeiro’s small farm, cotton, corn, sesame, sunflower, cassava and fruit trees are alternated in the fields, as recommended by agroecology, which is on the rise on family farms in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast, which is threatened by longer and more severe droughts due to the climate crisis. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

Energy and food security

“We seek to promote energy, food and water autonomy to maintain more resilient agroecosystems, to coexist with climate change, strengthening community self-management with a special focus on the lives of women,” Ita Porto, Diaconia’s coordinator in the Pajeu ecoregion, told IPS.

“The production of biogas on a rural family scale fulfills the needs of energy for cooking, sanitary disposal and treatment of animal waste and reduction of deforestation, in addition to increasing food productivity, with organic fertilizer, while bolstering human health,” said the 48-year-old agronomist.

More than 713 units of the “sertanejo biodigester”, a model developed by Diaconia 15 years ago, have been installed in Brazil. In addition to the 163 in the sertão do Pajeú, there are 150 in the neighboring state of Rio Grande do Norte and another 400 distributed in six other Brazilian states, financed by the Caixa Econômica Federal, a government bank focused on social questions.

“Hopefully the government will make it a public policy, as it has already done with the rainwater harvesting tanks in the semarid Northeast,” said Porto.

More than 1.3 million rainwater harvesting tanks for drinking water have already been built, but some 350,000 are still needed to make them universal in rural areas, according to the Articulation of the Semi-Arid (Asa), a network of 3,000 social organizations that spearheaded the transformative program.

Maria Das Dores examines the biofertilizer that comes out of the biodigester, without the gases from the animal manure. She sells this by-product at the agroecological market in the town of Afogados da Ingazeira, the seat of the municipality where her four-hectare farm is located, which earns her an average extra income of 12.5 dollars a week. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

The value of manure

“One cow is enough to produce the biogas consumed in our stove,” said Lucineide Cordeiro, on her one-hectare farm where she grows cotton, corn, sesame seeds and fruit, in an interconnected agroecological system, along with chickens, pigs and fish in a pond.

She also has two oxen and two calves, which she proudly showed to IPS during the visit to her farm.

“Pig manure produces biogas more quickly, but I don’t like the stench,” the 37-year-old farmer who is the director of Women’s Policies at the Afogados da Ingazeira Rural Workers Union told IPS.

The difference in the crops before and after fertilization by the biodigester by-product is remarkable, according to her and other farmers in the municipality.

She tends to her many crops on her own, although she is sometimes helped by friends, and has several pieces of equipment such as a brushcutter and a micro-tractor.

"It's the best invention," says Lucineide Cordeiro, as she shows IPS the seeder created by the Japanese for small-scale farming, which allows her to sow in half a day the land that used to take her two days to plant, on her one-hectare farm in Afogados da Ingazeira, in Brazil's semiarid Northeast. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

“It’s the best invention,” says Lucineide Cordeiro, as she shows IPS the seeder created by the Japanese for small-scale farming, which allows her to sow in half a day the land that used to take her two days to plant, on her one-hectare farm in Afogados da Ingazeira, in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

“But the seeder is the best invention that changed my life, it was invented by the Japanese. Planting the seeds, which used to take me two days of work, I can now do in half a day,” Cordeiro said.

The seeder is a small machine pushed by the farmer, with a wheel filled with seeds that has 12 nozzles that can be opened or closed, according to the distance needed to sow each seed.

The emergence of appropriate equipment for family farming is recent, in a sector that has favored large farmers in Brazil.

Female protagonism clashes with male chauvinist violence

For the success of local family farming, the support of the Pajeú Agroecological Association (Asap), of which Cordeiro is a member and a “multiplier”, as the women farmers who are an example to others of good practices are called, is important.

In family farming the empowerment of women stands out, which in many cases was a response to sexist violence or oppression.

 Blue flames emerge from the burners of Maria Das Dores' biogas stove at her home in Afogados da Ingazeira, in Brazil's semiarid Northeast region. A single ox or cow produces enough manure to generate more biogas than a family requires for its domestic needs. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

Blue flames emerge from the burners of Maria Das Dores’ biogas stove at her home in Afogados da Ingazeira, in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast region. A single ox or cow produces enough manure to generate more biogas than a family requires for its domestic needs. CREDIT: Mario Osava / IPS

“The first violence I suffered was from my father who did not let me study. I only studied up to fourth grade of primary school, in the rural school. To continue, I would have had to go to the city, which my father did not allow. I got married to escape my father’s oppression,” said Cordeiro, who also separated from her first husband because he was violent.

After living in a big city with the father of her two daughters, she separated and returned to the countryside in 2019. “I was reborn” by becoming a farmer, she said, faced with the challenge of taking on that activity against the idea, even from her family, that a woman on her own could not possibly manage the demands of agricultural production.

Organic cotton, promoted and acquired in the region by Vert, a French-Brazilian company that produces footwear and clothing with organic inputs, has once again expanded in the Brazilian Northeast, after the crop was almost extinct due to the boll weevil plague in the 1990s.

In the case of Das Dores, a small, energetic, active woman, she has a good relationship with her husband, but she runs her own business initiatives. Thanks to what she earns she was able to buy a small pickup truck, but it is driven by her husband, who has a job but helps her on the farm in his free time.

“He drives because he refuses to teach me how, so I can’t go out alone with the vehicle and drive around everywhere,” she joked.

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Solar Energy Useless Without Good Batteries in Brazil’s Amazon Jungle

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Climate Action, Climate Change, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Energy, Environment, Green Economy, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, Latin America & the Caribbean, Projects, Regional Categories

Energy

Solar panels with a capacity to generate 30 kilowatts no longer work in the Darora Community of the Macuxi people, an indigenous group from Roraima, a state in the far north of Brazil. The batteries only worked for a month before they were damaged because they could not withstand the charge. CREDIT: Boa Vista City Hall

Solar panels with a capacity to generate 30 kilowatts no longer work in the Darora Community of the Macuxi people, an indigenous group from Roraima, a state in the far north of Brazil. The batteries only worked for a month before they were damaged because they could not withstand the charge. CREDIT: Boa Vista City Hall

BOA VISTA, Brazil, Jan 25 2023 (IPS) – “Our electric power is of bad quality, it ruins electrical appliances,” complained Jesus Mota, 63. “In other places it works well, not here. Just because we are indigenous,” protested his wife, Adélia Augusto da Silva, of the same age.


The Darora Community of the Macuxi indigenous people illustrates the struggle for electricity by towns and isolated villages in the Amazon rainforest. Most get it from generators that run on diesel, a fuel that is polluting and expensive since it is transported from far away, by boats that travel on rivers for days.

Located 88 kilometers from the city of Boa Vista, capital of the state of Roraima, in the far north of Brazil, Darora celebrated the inauguration of its solar power plant, installed by the municipal government, in March 2017. It represented modernity in the form of a clean, stable source of energy.

A 600-meter network of poles and cables made it possible to light up the “center” of the community and to distribute electricity to its 48 families.

But “it only lasted a month, the batteries broke down,” Tuxaua (chief) Lindomar da Silva Homero, 43, a school bus driver, told IPS during a visit to the community. The village had to go back to the noisy and unreliable diesel generator, which only supplies a few hours of electricity a day.

“The solar panels were left here, useless. We want to reactivate them, it would be really good. We need more powerful batteries, like the ones they put in the bus terminal in Boa Vista.” — Lindomar da Silva Homero

Fortunately, about four months later, the Boa Vista electricity distribution company laid its cables to Darora, making it part of its grid.

“The solar panels were left here, useless. We want to reactivate them, it would be really good. We need more powerful batteries, like the ones they put in the bus terminal in Boa Vista,” said Homero, referring to one of the many solar plants that the city government installed in the capital.

Tuxaua (chief) Lindomar Homero of the Darora Community is calling for new adequate batteries to reactivate the solar power plant, because the electricity they receive from the national grid is too expensive for the local indigenous people. Behind him stands his predecessor, former tuxaua Jesus Mota. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

Tuxaua (chief) Lindomar Homero of the Darora Community is calling for new adequate batteries to reactivate the solar power plant, because the electricity they receive from the national grid is too expensive for the local indigenous people. Behind him stands his predecessor, former tuxaua Jesus Mota. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

Expensive energy

But indigenous people can’t afford the electricity from the distributor Roraima Energía, he said. On average, each family pays between 100 and 150 reais (20 to 30 dollars) a month, he estimated.

Besides, there are unpleasant surprises. “My November bill climbed to 649 reais” (130 dollars), without any explanation,” Homero complained. The solar energy was free.

“If you don’t pay, they cut off your power,” said Mota, who was tuxaua from 1990 to 2020.”In addition, the electricity from the grid fails a lot,” which is why the equipment is damaged.

Apart from the unreliable supply and frequent blackouts, there is not enough energy for the irrigation of agriculture, the community’s main source of income. “We can do it with diesel pumps, but it’s expensive; selling watermelons at the current price does not cover the cost,” he said.

“In 2022, it rained a lot, but there are dry summers that require irrigation for our corn, bean, squash, potato, and cassava crops. The energy we receive is not enough to operate the pump,” said Mota.

A photo of the three water tanks in the village of Darora, one of which holds water that is made potable by chemical treatment. The largest and longest building is the secondary school that serves the Macuxi indigenous community that lives in Roraima, in northern Brazil. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

A photo of the three water tanks in the village of Darora, one of which holds water that is made potable by chemical treatment. The largest and longest building is the secondary school that serves the Macuxi indigenous community that lives in Roraima, in northern Brazil. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

Achilles’ heel

Batteries still apparently limit the efficiency of solar energy in isolated or autonomous off-grid systems, with which the government and various private initiatives are attempting to make the supply of electricity universal and replace diesel generators.

Homero said that some of the Darora families who live outside the “center” of the village and have solar panels also had problems with the batteries.

Besides the 48 families in the village “center” there are 18 rural families, bringing the community’s total population to 265.

A solar plant was also installed in another community made up of 22 indigenous families of the Warao people, immigrants from Venezuela, called Warao a Janoko, 30 kilometers from Boa Vista.

But of the plant’s eight batteries, two have already stopped working after only a few months of use. And electricity is only guaranteed until 8:00 p.m.

“Batteries have gotten a lot better in the last decade, but they are still the weak link in solar power,” Aurelio Souza, a consultant who specializes in this question, told IPS from the city of São Paulo. “Poor sizing and the low quality of electronic charging control equipment aggravate this situation and reduce the useful life of the batteries.”

The low quality of the electricity supplied to Darora is due to the discrimination suffered by indigenous people, according to Adélia Augusto da Silva. The water they used to drink was also dirty and caused illnesses, especially in children, until the indigenous health service began to chemically treat their drinking water. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

The low quality of the electricity supplied to Darora is due to the discrimination suffered by indigenous people, according to Adélia Augusto da Silva. The water they used to drink was also dirty and caused illnesses, especially in children, until the indigenous health service began to chemically treat their drinking water. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

In Brazil’s Amazon jungle, close to a million people live without electricity, according to the Institute of Energy and the Environment, a non-governmental organization based in São Paulo. More precisely, its 2019 study identified 990,103 people in that situation.

Another three million inhabitants of the region, including the 650,000 people in Roraima, are outside the National Interconnected Electricity System. Their energy therefore depends mostly on diesel fuel transported from other regions, at a cost that affects all Brazilians.

The government decided to subsidize this fossil fuel so that the cost of electricity is not prohibitive in the Amazon region.

This subsidy is paid by other consumers, which contributes to making Brazilian electricity one of the most expensive in the world, despite the low cost of its main source, hydropower, which accounts for about 60 of the country’s electricity.

Solar energy became a viable alternative as the parts became cheaper. Initiatives to bring electricity to remote communities and reduce diesel consumption mushroomed.

But in remote plants outside the reach of the grid, good batteries are needed to store energy for the nighttime hours.

Part of the so-called "downtown" in Darora, which has lamp posts, houses, a soccer field and a shed where the community meets. A larger community center is needed, says the leader of the Macuxi village located near Boa Vista, the capital of the northern Brazilian state of Roraima. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

Part of the so-called “downtown” in Darora, which has lamp posts, houses, a soccer field and a shed where the community meets. A larger community center is needed, says
the leader of the Macuxi village located near Boa Vista, the capital of the northern Brazilian state of Roraima. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

A unique case

Darora is not a typical case. It is part of the municipality of Boa Vista, which has a population of 437,000 inhabitants and good resources, it is close to a paved road and is within a savannah ecosystem called “lavrado”.

It is at the southern end of the São Marcos indigenous territory, where many Macuxi indigenous people live but fewer than in Raposa Serra do Sol, Roraima’s other large native reserve. According to the Special Secretariat for Indigenous Health (Sesai), there were 33,603 Macuxi Indians living in Roraima in 2014.

The Macuxi people also live in the neighboring country of Guyana, where there are a similar number to that of Roraima. Their language is part of the Karib family.

Although there are no large forests in the surrounding area, Darora takes its name from a tree, which offers “very resistant wood that is good for building houses,” Homero explained.

The community emerged in 1944, founded by a patriarch who lived to be 93 years old and attracted other Macuxi people to the area.

The progress they have made especially stands out in the secondary school in the village “center”, which currently has 89 students and 32 employees, “all from Darora, except for three teachers from outside,” Homero said proudly.

A new, larger elementary and middle school for students in the first to ninth grades was built a few years ago about 500 meters from the community.

Water used to be a serious problem. “We drank dirty, red water, children died of diarrhea. But now we have good, treated water,” said Adélia da Silva.

“We dug three artesian wells, but the water was useless, it was salty. The solution was brought by a Sesai technician, who used a chemical substance to make the water from the lagoon drinkable,” Homero said.

The community has three elevated water tanks, two for water used for bathing and cleaning and one for drinking water. There are no more health problems caused by water, the tuxaua said.

His current concern is to find new sources of income for the community. Tourism is one alternative. “We have the Tacutu river beach 300 meters away, great fruit production, handicrafts and typical local gastronomy based on corn and cassava,” he said, listing attractions for visitors.

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Latin America Sets an Example in Welcoming Displaced Venezuelans

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Migration & Refugees

A Venezuelan family carrying a few belongings crosses the Simon Bolivar Bridge at the border into Colombia. Over the years, the migration flow has grown due to increasing numbers of people with unsatisfied basic needs. CREDIT: Siegfried Modola/UNHCR

A Venezuelan family carrying a few belongings crosses the Simon Bolivar Bridge at the border into Colombia. Over the years, the migration flow has grown due to increasing numbers of people with unsatisfied basic needs. CREDIT: Siegfried Modola/UNHCR

CARACAS, Jul 26 2021 (IPS) – The exodus of more than five million Venezuelans in the last six years has led countries in the developing South, Venezuela’s neighbours, to set an example with respect to welcoming and integrating displaced populations, with shared benefits for the new arrivals and the nations that receive them.


In this region “there is a living laboratory, where insertion and absorption efforts are working. The new arrivals are turning what was seen as a burden into a contribution to the host communities and nations,” Eduardo Stein, head of the largest assistance programme for displaced Venezuelans, told IPS.

According to figures from the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 5,650,000 people have left Venezuela, mainly crossing into neighbouring countries, as migrants, displaced persons or refugees, as of July 2021.

“This is the largest migration crisis in the history of Latin America,” Stein said by phone from his Guatemala City office in the Interagency Coordination Platform for Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants (R4V), created by the UNHCR and IOM in partnership with 159 other diverse entities working throughout the region.

“This region is a living laboratory, where insertion and absorption efforts are working. The new arrivals are turning what was seen as a burden into a contribution to the host communities and nations.” — Eduardo Stein

Colombia, the neighbour with the most intense historical relationship, stands out for receiving daily flows of hundreds and even thousands of Venezuelans, who already number almost 1.8 million in the country, and for providing them with Temporary Protection Status that grants them documentation and access to jobs, services and other rights.

Colombia’s Fundación Renacer, which has assisted thousands of child and adolescent survivors of commercial sexual exploitation and other types of sexual and gender-based violence, is a model for how to welcome and help displaced persons.

Renacer, staffed by activists such as Mayerlin Vergara, 2020 winner of the UNHCR’s annual Nansen Refugee Award for outstanding aid workers who help refugees, displaced and stateless people, rescues girls and young women from places like brothels and bars where they are forced into sexual or labour exploitation, often by trafficking networks that capture the most vulnerable migrants.

“In Colombian society as a whole there has been a process of understanding, after the phenomenon was the other way around for several decades in the 20th century, of people displaced by the violence and crisis in Colombia being welcomed in Venezuela,” Camilo González, president of the Colombian Institute for Development and Peace Studies, told IPS.

When the great migratory wave began in 2014-2015, “many Venezuelans were taken on as half-price cheap labour by businesses, such as coffee harvesters and others in the big cities, but that situation has improved, even despite the slowdown of the pandemic,” said González.

Stein mentioned the positive example set by Colombia’s flower exporters, which employed many Venezuelan women in cutting and packaging, a task that did not require extensive training.

The head of the R4V, who was vice-president of Guatemala between 2004 and 2008 and has held various international positions, noted that in the first phase, the receiving countries appreciated the arrival of “highly prepared Venezuelans, very well trained professionals.”

Yukpa Indians from Venezuela register upon arrival at a border post in Colombia. The legalisation and documentation of migrants arranged by the Colombian government allows migrants to access services and exercise rights in the neighbouring country. CREDIT: Johanna Reina/UNHCR

Yukpa Indians from Venezuela register upon arrival at a border post in Colombia. The legalisation and documentation of migrants arranged by the Colombian government allows migrants to access services and exercise rights in the neighbouring country. CREDIT: Johanna Reina/UNHCR

“One example would be the thousands of Venezuelan engineers who arrived in Argentina and were integrated into productive activities in a matter of weeks,” he said.

But, Stein pointed out, “the following wave of Venezuelans leaving their country was not made up of professionals; the profile changed to people with huge unsatisfied basic needs, without a great deal of training but with basic skills, and nevertheless the borders remained open, and they received very generous responses.”

But, he acknowledged, in some cases “the arrival of this irregular, undocumented migration was linked to acts of violence and violations of the law, which created internal tension.”

Iván Briscoe, regional head of the Brussels-based conflict observatory International Crisis Group, told IPS that in the case of Colombia, “it has been impressive to receive almost two million Venezuelans, in a country of 50 million inhabitants, 40 percent of whom live in poverty.”

Colombia continues to be plagued by social problems, as shown by the street protests raging since April, “and therefore the temporary protection status, a generous measure by President Iván Duque’s government, does not guarantee that Venezuelan migrants will have access to the social services they may demand,” Briscoe said.

The large number of Venezuelans “means an additional cost of 100 million dollars per year for the health services alone,” said González, who spoke to IPS by telephone from the Colombian capital.

Against this backdrop, there have been expressions of xenophobia, as various media outlets interpreted statements by Bogotá Mayor Claudia López, who after a crime committed by a Venezuelan, suggested the deportation of “undesirable” nationals from that country.

There were also demonstrations against the influx of Venezuelans in Ecuador and Panama, as well as Peru, where the policy of President-elect Pedro Castillo towards the one million Venezuelan immigrants is still unclear, as well as deportations from Chile and Trinidad and Tobago, and new obstacles to their arrival in the neighbouring Dutch islands.

“Not everything has been rosy,” Stein admitted, “as there are still very complex problems, such as the risks that, between expressions of xenophobia and the danger of trafficking, the most vulnerable migrant girls and young women face.”

However, the head of the R4V considered that “we have entered a new phase, beyond the immediate assistance that can and should be provided to those who have just arrived, and that is the insertion and productive or educational integration in the communities.”

Migrants who have benefited from Operation Welcome in Brazil, where there are more than 260,000 Venezuelans, shop at a market in the largest city in the country, São Paulo. CREDIT: Mauro Vieira/MDS-UNHCR

Migrants who have benefited from Operation Welcome in Brazil, where there are more than 260,000 Venezuelans, shop at a market in the largest city in the country, São Paulo. CREDIT: Mauro Vieira/MDS-UNHCR

Throughout the region “there are places that have seen that immigrants represent an attraction for investment and labour and productive opportunities for the host communities themselves.”

Another example is provided by Brazil, with its Operação Acolhida (Operation Welcome), which includes a programme to disperse throughout its vast territory Venezuelans who came in through the northern border and first settled, precariously, in cities in the state of Amazonas.

More than 260,000 Venezuelans have arrived in Brazil – among them some 5,000 indigenous Waraos, from the Orinoco delta, and a similar number of Pemon Indians, close to the border – and some 50,000 have been recognised as refugees by the Brazilian government.

Brazil has the seventh largest Venezuelan community, after Colombia, Peru, the United States, Chile, Ecuador and Spain. It is followed by Argentina, Panama, the Dominican Republic and Mexico.

Throughout the region, organisations have mushroomed, not only to provide relief but also to actively seek the insertion of Venezuelans, in some cases headed by Venezuelans themselves, as in the case of the Fundacolven foundation in Bogota.

“We are active on two fronts, because first we motivate companies to take on workers who, as immigrants, are willing to go the ‘extra mile’,” said Venezuelan Mario Camejo, one of the directors of Fundacolven.

As for the immigrants, “we help them prepare and polish their skills so that they can successfully search for and find stable employment, if they have already ‘burned their bridges’ and do not plan to return,” he added.

On this point, Stein commented that the growing insertion of Venezuelans “shows how this crisis can evolve without implying an internal solution in Venezuela,” a country whose projected population according to the census of 10 years ago should have been 32.9 million and is instead around 28 million.

Based on surveys carried out in several countries, the head of R4V indicated that “the majority of Venezuelans who have migrated and settled in these host countries are not interested in going back in the short term.”

Julio Meléndez is a young Venezuelan who has found employment in food distribution at a hospital in Cali, in western Colombia. Labour insertion is key for the integration of migrants in host communities. CREDIT: Laura Cruz Cañón/UNHCR

Julio Meléndez is a young Venezuelan who has found employment in food distribution at a hospital in Cali, in western Colombia. Labour insertion is key for the integration of migrants in host communities. CREDIT: Laura Cruz Cañón/UNHCR

According to Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, they have benefited from the fact that the countries of the region “are an example, and the rest of the world can learn a lot about the inclusion and integration of refugees in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

In the north of the region, Mexico is dealing with a migration phenomenon on four fronts. On one hand, 12 million Mexicans live in the United States. And on the other, every year hundreds of thousands of migrants make their way through the country, mainly Central Americans and in recent years also people from the Caribbean, Venezuelans and Africans.

In addition, the United States sends back to Mexico hundreds of thousands of people who cross its southern border without the required documents. And in fourth place, the least well-known aspect: Mexico is home to more than one million migrants and refugees who have chosen to make their home in that country.

Major recipients of refugees and asylum seekers in other regions are Turkey, in the eastern Mediterranean, hosting 3.7 million (92 percent Syrians), and, with 1.4 million displaced persons each, Pakistan (which has received a massive influx of people from Afghanistan) and Uganda (refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo and other neighbouring countries).

In Sudan there are one million refugees, Bangladesh, Iran and Lebanon host 900,000 each, while in the industrialised North the cases of Germany, which received 1.2 million refugees from the Middle East, and the United States, which has 300,000 refugees and one million asylum seekers in its territory, stand out.

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Semiarid Regions of Latin America Cooperate to Adapt to Climate

Civil Society, Combating Desertification and Drought, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Green Economy, Headlines, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, Latin America & the Caribbean, Projects, Regional Categories, South-South, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation

Combating Desertification and Drought

A rural settlement in the state of Pernambuco, in Brazil's semiarid ecoregion. Tanks that collect rainwater from rooftops for drinking water and household usage have changed life in this parched land, where 1.1 million 16,000-litre tanks have been installed so far. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

A rural settlement in the state of Pernambuco, in Brazil’s semiarid ecoregion. Tanks that collect rainwater from rooftops for drinking water and household usage have changed life in this parched land, where 1.1 million 16,000-litre tanks have been installed so far. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 27 2020 (IPS) – After centuries of poverty, marginalisation from national development policies and a lack of support for positive local practices and projects, the semiarid regions of Latin America are preparing to forge their own agricultural paths by sharing knowledge, in a new and unprecedented initiative.


In Brazil’s semiarid Northeast, the Gran Chaco Americano, which is shared by Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay, and the Central American Dry Corridor (CADC), successful local practices will be identified, evaluated and documented to support the design of policies that promote climate change-resilient agriculture in the three ecoregions.

This is the objective of DAKI-Semiárido Vivo, an initiative financed by the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and implemented by the Brazilian Semiarid Articulation (ASA), the Argentinean Foundation for Development in Justice and Peace (Fundapaz) and the National Development Foundation (Funde) of El Salvador.

DAKI stands for Dryland Adaptation Knowledge Initiative.

The project, launched on Aug. 18 in a special webinar where some of its creators were speakers, will last four years and involve 2,000 people, including public officials, rural extension agents, researchers and small farmers. Indirectly, 6,000 people will benefit from the training.

“The aim is to incorporate public officials from this field with the intention to influence the government’s actions,” said Antonio Barbosa, coordinator of DAKI-Semiárido Vivo and one of the leaders of the Brazilian organisation ASA.

The idea is to promote programmes that could benefit the three semiarid regions, which are home to at least 37 million people – more than the total populations of Chile, Ecuador and Peru combined.

The residents of semiarid regions, especially those who live in rural areas, face water scarcity aggravated by climate change, which affects their food security and quality of life.

Zulema Burneo, International Land Coalition coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean and moderator of the webinar that launched the project, stressed that the initiative was aimed at “amplifying and strengthening” isolated efforts and a few longstanding collectives working on practices to improve life in semiarid areas.

Abel Manto, an inventor of technologies that he uses on his small farm in the state of Bahia, in Brazil's semiarid ecoregion, holds up a watermelon while standing among the bean crop he is growing on top of an underground dam. The soil is on a waterproof plastic tarp that keeps near the surface the water that is retained by an underground dam. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

Abel Manto, an inventor of technologies that he uses on his small farm in the state of Bahia, in Brazil’s semiarid ecoregion, holds up a watermelon while standing among the bean crop he is growing on top of an underground dam. The soil is on a waterproof plastic tarp that keeps near the surface the water that is retained by an underground dam. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

The practices that represent the best knowledge of living in the drylands will be selected not so much for their technical aspects, but for the results achieved in terms of economic, ecological and social development, Barbosa explained to IPS in a telephone interview from the northeastern Brazilian city of Recife, where the headquarters of ASA are located.

After the process of systematisation of the best practices in each region is completed, harnessing traditional knowledge through exchanges between technicians and farmers, the next step will be “to build a methodology and the pedagogical content to be used in the training,” he said.

One result will be a platform for distance learning. The Federal Rural University of Pernambuco, also in Recife, will help with this.

Decentralised family or community water supply infrastructure, developed and disseminated by ASA, a network of 3,000 social organisations scattered throughout the Brazilian Northeast, is a key experience in this process.

In the 1.03 million square kilometres of drylands where 22 million Brazilians live, 38 percent in rural areas according to the 2010 census, 1.1 million rainwater harvesting tanks have been built so far for human consumption.

An estimated 350,000 more are needed to bring water to the entire rural population in the semiarid Northeast, said Barbosa.

But the most important aspect for agricultural development involves eight “technologies” for obtaining and storing water for crops and livestock. ASA, created in 1999, has helped install this infrastructure on 205,000 farms for this purpose and estimates that another 800 peasant families still need it.

There are farms that are too small to install the infrastructure, or that have other limitations, said Barbosa, who coordinates ASA’s One Land and Two Waters and native seed programmes.

The “calçadão” technique, where water runs down a sloping concrete terrace or even a road into a tank that has a capacity to hold 52,000 litres, is the most widely used system for irrigating vegetables.

A group of peasant farmers from El Salvador stand in front of one of the two rainwater tanks built in their village, La Colmena, in the municipality of Candelaria de la Frontera. The pond is part of a climate change adaptation project in the Central American Dry Corridor. Central American farmers like these and others from Brazil's semiarid Northeast have exchanged experiences on solutions for living with lengthy droughts. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

A group of peasant farmers from El Salvador stand in front of one of the two rainwater tanks built in their village, La Colmena, in the municipality of Candelaria de la Frontera. The pond is part of a climate change adaptation project in the Central American Dry Corridor. Central American farmers like these and others from Brazil’s semiarid Northeast have exchanged experiences on solutions for living with lengthy droughts. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

And in Argentina’s Chaco region, 16,000-litre drinking water tanks are mushrooming.

But tanks for intensive and small farming irrigation are not suitable for the dry Chaco, where livestock is raised on large estates of hundreds of hectares, said Gabriel Seghezzo, executive director of Fundapaz, in an interview by phone with IPS from the city of Salta, capital of the province of the same name, one of those that make up Argentina’s Gran Chaco region.

“Here we need dams in the natural shallows and very deep wells; we have a serious water problem,” he said. “The groundwater is generally of poor quality, very salty or very deep.”

First, peasants and indigenous people face the problem of formalising ownership of their land, due to the lack of land titles. Then comes the challenge of access to water, both for household consumption and agricultural production.

“In some cases there is the possibility of diverting rivers. The Bermejo River overflows up to 60 km from its bed,” he said.

Currently there is an intense local drought, which seems to indicate a deterioration of the climate, urgently requiring adaptation and mitigation responses.

Reforestation and silvopastoral systems are good alternatives, in an area where deforestation is “the main conflict, due to the pressure of the advance of soy and corn monoculture and corporate cattle farming,” he said.

Mariano Barraza of the Wichí indigenous community (L) and Enzo Romero, a technician from the Fundapaz organisation, stand next to the tank built to store rainwater in an indigenous community in the province of Salta, in the Chaco ecoregion of northern Argentina, where there are six months of drought every year. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Mariano Barraza of the Wichí indigenous community (L) and Enzo Romero, a technician from the Fundapaz organisation, stand next to the tank built to store rainwater in an indigenous community in the province of Salta, in the Chaco ecoregion of northern Argentina, where there are six months of drought every year. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

More forests would be beneficial for the water, reducing evaporation that is intense due to the heat and hot wind, he added.

Of the “technologies” developed in Brazil, one of the most useful for other semiarid regions is the “underground dam,” Claus Reiner, manager of IFAD programmes in Brazil, told IPS by phone from Brasilia.

The underground dam keeps the surrounding soil moist. It requires a certain amount of work to dig a long, deep trench along the drainage route of rainwater, where a plastic tarp is placed vertically, causing the water to pool during rainy periods. A location is chosen where the natural layer makes the dam impermeable from below.

This principle is important for the Central American Dry Corridor, where “the great challenge is how to infiltrate rainwater into the soil, in addition to collecting it for irrigation and human consumption,” said Ismael Merlos of El Salvador, founder of Funde and director of its Territorial Development Area.

The CADC, which cuts north to south through Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, is defined not as semiarid, but as a sub-humid region, because it rains slightly more there, although in an increasingly irregular manner.

Some solutions are not viable because “75 percent of the farming areas in the Corridor are sloping land, unprotected by organic material, which makes the water run off more quickly into the rivers,” Merlos told IPS by phone from San Salvador.

“In addition, the large irrigation systems that we’re familiar with are not accessible for the poor because of their high cost and the expensive energy for the extraction and pumping of water, from declining sources,” he said.

The most viable alternative, he added, is making better use of rainwater, by building tanks, or through techniques to retain moisture in the soil, such as reforestation and leaving straw and other harvest waste on the ground rather than burning it as peasant farmers continue to do.

“Harmful weather events, which four decades ago occurred one to three times a year, now happen 10 or more times a year, and their effects are more severe in the Dry Zone,” Merlos pointed out.

Funde is a Salvadoran centre for development research and policy formulation that together with Fundapaz, four Brazilian organisations forming part of the ASA network and seven other Latin American groups had been cooperating since 2013, when they created the Latin American Semiarid Platform.

The Platform paved the way for the DAKI-Semiárido Vivo which, using 78 percent of its two million dollar budget, opened up new horizons for synergy among Latin America’s semiarid ecoregions. To this end, said Burneo, it should create a virtuous alliance of “good practices and public policies.”

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Water Is Worth More than Milk in Extrema, Brazil

Biodiversity, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Green Economy, Headlines, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, Latin America & the Caribbean, Projects, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation

Water & Sanitation

Elias Cardoso is proud of the restored forests on his 67-hectare farm, where he has protected and reforested a dozen springs as well as streams. "I was a guinea pig for the Water Conservator project, they called me crazy," when the mayor's office was not yet paying for it in Extrema, a municipality in southeastern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Elias Cardoso is proud of the restored forests on his 67-hectare farm, where he has protected and reforested a dozen springs as well as streams. “I was a guinea pig for the Water Conservator project, they called me crazy,” when the mayor’s office was not yet paying for it in Extrema, a municipality in southeastern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

EXTREMA, Brazil, Nov 29 2019 (IPS) – “They called me crazy” for fencing in the area where the cows went to drink water, said Elias Cardoso, on his 67-hectare farm in Extrema, a municipality 110 km from São Paulo, Brazil’s largest metropolis.


“I realized the water was going to run out, with cattle trampling the spring. Then I fenced in the springs and streams,” said the 60-year-old rancher. “But I left gates to the livestock drinking areas.”

Cardoso was a pioneer, getting the jump on the Water Conservancy Project, launched by the local government in 2005 with the support of the international environmental organisation The Nature Conservancy and the Forest Institute of the southeastern state of Minas Gerais, where Extrema, population 36,000, is located at the southern tip.

The project follows the fundamentals of the National Water Agency‘s Water Producer Programme, which focuses on different ways to preserve water resources and improve their quality, such as measures to conserve soil, preventing sedimentation of rivers and lakes.

But at the core of the project is the Payments for Environmental Services (PES), which in the case of Extrema compensate rural landowners for land they no longer use for crops or livestock, to restore forests or protect with fences.

The “Water Conservator” (Conservador das Águas) began operating in 2007, with contracts offered by the PES to farmers who reforest and protect springs, riverbanks and hilltops, which are numerous in Extrema because it is located in the Sierra de Mantiqueira, a chain of mountains that extends for about 100,000 square km.

“Then everyone jumped on board,” Cardoso said, referring to the project in the Arroyo das Posses basin, where he lives and where the environmental and water initiative began and had the biggest impact.

View of the new landscape in the hilly area around Extrema, after the reforestation of thousands of hectares in three basins in this municipality in southeastern Brazil, where the local government has fomented the process of recovery by paying landowners for environmental services. The priority is to restore the forests at the headwaters of the rivers and on hilltops and protect them with cattle fences. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

View of the new landscape in the hilly area around Extrema, after the reforestation of thousands of hectares in three basins in this municipality in southeastern Brazil, where the local government has fomented the process of recovery by paying landowners for environmental services. The priority is to restore the forests at the headwaters of the rivers and on hilltops and protect them with cattle fences. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

In the 14 years since it was launched, the project has only worked fully in three basins, where two million trees were planted and close to 500 springs were protected. It is now being extended to seven other watersheds.

“The goal is to reach 40 percent of forest cover with native species” in the municipality and “so far we already have 25 percent covered, and 10 percent is thanks to the Water Conservator,” said Paulo Henrique Pereira, promoter of the project as Environment Secretary in Extrema since 1995.

“Planting trees is easy, creating a forest is more complex,” the 50-year-old biologist told IPS, stressing that it’s not just about planting trees to “produce” and conserve water.

The project began with the prospecting of areas and the training of technicians, after the approval of a municipal PES statute, since there is no national law on remunerated environmental services.

“The bottleneck is that there is no skilled workforce” to reforest and implement water conservation measures, Pereira said.

The project now has its own nursery for the large-scale production of seedlings of native tree species, to avoid the past dependence on external acquisitions or donations, which drove up costs and made planning more complex.

Since 2005 Paulo Henrique Pereira, Secretary of Environment in Extrema since 1995, has promoted the Water Conservator Project, which has won national and international awards for its success in recovering and preserving springs and streams, by paying for environmental services to rural landowners who reforest in this municipality in southeastern Brazil. "Planting trees is easy, creating a forest is more complex," he says. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Since 2005 Paulo Henrique Pereira, Secretary of Environment in Extrema since 1995, has promoted the Water Conservator Project, which has won national and international awards for its success in recovering and preserving springs and streams, by paying for environmental services to rural landowners who reforest in this municipality in southeastern Brazil. “Planting trees is easy, creating a forest is more complex,” he says. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The success of Extrema’s project, which has won dozens of national and international good practice awards, “is due to good management, which does not depend on the continuity of government,” said the biologist, although he admitted that it helped that he had been in the local Secretariat of the Environment for 24 years and that the mayors were of the same political orientation.

“It is a well-established project that is not likely to suffer setbacks,” he said.

The fact that the project offers both environmental and economic benefits helps keep it alive.

“My grandfather, who spent his life deforesting his property, initially rejected the project. It didn’t make sense to him to plant the same trees he had felled to make pasture for cattle,” said Aline Oliveira, a 19-year-old engineering student who is proud of the quality of life achieved in Extrema.

“When I was a girl, I didn’t accept the idea of protecting springs to preserve water either. I thought it was absurd to plant trees to increase water, because planting 200 or 300 trees would consume a lot of water. That was how I used to think, but then in practice I saw that springs survived in intact forest areas,” she said.

Later, when the PES arrived in the area, her grandfather gave in and more than 10 springs on the 112-hectare farm were reforested and protected. The payment is 100 municipal monetary units per hectare each year, currently equivalent to about 68 dollars.

Aline Oliveira studies engineering and lives on her family's farm in southeastern Brazil. She is proud of the way life has improved in Extrema, a process that began with the establishment of the Payments for Environmental Services system, which guarantees income to farmers and ranchers for reforesting watersheds. It is a secure income at a time of falling milk prices and in a town far from the dairy processing plants. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Aline Oliveira studies engineering and lives on her family’s farm in southeastern Brazil. She is proud of the way life has improved in Extrema, a process that began with the establishment of the Payments for Environmental Services system, which guarantees income to farmers and ranchers for reforesting watersheds. It is a secure income at a time of falling milk prices and in a town far from the dairy processing plants. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“The PES is a secure income, while milk prices have dropped, and everything has become more expensive than milk in the last 10 years. In addition, there were losses due to lack of transportation, since there is no major dairy processing plant within 50 km,” she told IPS.

Thanks to the municipal payments, “we were able to invest in cows with better genetics, buy a milking parlor and improve health care for the cattle, thus increasing productivity,” which compensated for the reduction in pastures, added the student, who works for the project.

The programme coincided with a major improvement in the economy and quality of life in Extrema. “I was born in Joanópolis, where there were better hospitals than in Extrema. But now it’s the other way around” and people from there come to Extrema, 20 km away, for heath care, Oliveira said.

This is also due to the industrialisation experienced by Extrema in recent decades, which becomes evident during a walk around the town, where many new industrial plants can be seen.

The water conservation project has also contributed to the water supply for a huge population in the surrounding area.

Arlindo Cortês, head of environmental management at Extrema's Secretariat of the Environment, stands in the nursery where seedlings are grown for reforestation in this municipality in southeastern Brazil. "Building reservoirs does not ensure water supply if the watershed is deforested, degraded, sedimented. There will be floods and water shortages because the rainwater doesn't infiltrate the soil," he explains. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Arlindo Cortês, head of environmental management at Extrema’s Secretariat of the Environment, stands in the nursery where seedlings are grown for reforestation in this municipality in southeastern Brazil. “Building reservoirs does not ensure water supply if the watershed is deforested, degraded, sedimented. There will be floods and water shortages because the rainwater doesn’t infiltrate the soil,” he explains. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Jaguari River, which crosses Extrema, receives water from fortified streams and increases the capacity of the Jaguari reservoir, part of the Cantareira system, which supplies 7.5 million people in greater São Paulo, one-third of the total population of the metropolis.

“If the watersheds are deforested, degraded and sedimented, merely building reservoirs solves nothing,” said Arlindo Cortês, the head of environmental management at Extrema’s Secretariat of the Environment.

Extrema’s efforts have translated into local benefits, but contributed little to the water supply in São Paulo, partly because it is over 100 km away, said Marco Antonio Lopez Barros, superintendent of Water Production for the Metropolitan Region at the local Sanitation Company, Sabesp.

“No increase in the capacity of the Cantareira System has been identified since the 1970s,” he said in an interview with IPS.

“Thousands of similar initiatives will be necessary” to actually have an impact in São Paulo, because of the level of consumption by its 22 million inhabitants, he said, adding that improvements in basic sanitation in cities have greater effects.

São Paulo experienced a water crisis, with periods of rationing, after the 2014 drought in south-central Brazil, and faces new threats this year, as it has rained less than average.

Extrema also felt the shortage. “Since 2014 we have only had weak rains,” said Cardoso. The problem is the destruction of forests by the expansion of cattle ranching in the last three decades.

“The creek where I used to swim has lost 90 percent of its water. The recovery will take 50 years, the benefits will only be felt by our children,” he said.

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