São Paulo state in Brazil contains some of the last vestiges of the Atlantic Rainforest, which lined the coast of Brazil and extended into Paraguay and Argentina 500 years ago. Today, only 7 percent of the rainforest remains. Most of the rainforest was razed to produce sugar cane, a crop that also requires the burning of thousands of miles of land every year. As sugar cane exhausts the soil, cattle ranchers move in. Cattle create significant erosion and further degrade the land. As a result, springs dry up, soil washes away, agricultural production falls, and plant and animal species disappear. Environmental degradation is one of two main issues our program aims to combat in the area of Marilia in the state of São Paulo.
The second is the challenges that the rural poor face, such as malnutrition and decreased living standards due to the large disparity between the wealthy and the poor. In 1999, the top 1% of Brazilian people received 13.31% of the total income, which was more than the income for the bottom 50% combined. The wealthiest landowners have large tracts of land that are typically poorly managed, degraded and mostly unused by the owner. Due to this situation, the Landless Rural Workers Movement, a social movement focused on agrarian reform has been active in the area of Marilia, with increased activity since the early 2000s. The Brazilian constitution requires that land serve a social function, therefore under law, this movement helps landless workers occupy unused land until they are legally given a lot to farm. Often, by the time the land is divided among a new community to be farmed it is practically treeless and degraded. Having gone through a long period of time, typically seven years, of hard work and minimal living conditions to acquire the land, the communities are in need of support, especially nutrition for their children.
What We've Done
We have initiated a long-term program to reduce low agricultural production, rural poverty, and environmental destruction. Historically, the greatest impediment to sustainable land management has been the lack of local capacity to solve agricultural and environmental problems. Our program focuses on teaching community members how to use agroforestry to minimize wind erosion, reestablish tree cover and replenish soil fertility, while protecting and feeding livestock to increase the living conditions of the families. In addition, we work specifically with schools through our Moringa program. Moringa oleifera is a fast-growing tree with high nutritional properties that our program incorporates into school lunches. A powder is produced from the seeds that helps purify drinking water increasing overall community health from waterborne illnesses. The program has been so successful our country coordinator, Fernanda Redondo Peixoto has created a blog that explains the program to the public, lists the lessons that are used so that other teachers can get involved and lists plenty of additional resources that school programs can use for environmental education. The blog is currently only available in Portuguese. We have had a great response to the article about our Brazil program in the June 14, 2011 global edition of Farming Matters magazine, and are excited about the continued expansion of our network in Brazil.
List of Partnering Organizations
Amor de Mae, Marília, São Paulo
Asilo São Vincente Londrina, Paraná
Assentados Paraná State, Alvorada do Sul, Ortigueira, Sao Jeronimo da Serra, Paraná
Assentados São Paulo State, Guaranta, São Paulo
Association of Small Farmers, Marília, São Paulo
Cooperativa Sul Brasil, Marília, São Paulo
Oriente Bee Association, Oriente, São Paulo
UEL - Universidade Estadual de Londrina, Londrina, Paraná