When young Crauzimiro José Barbosa, 23, arrived at home talking about new
sheep-raising techniques, in late 2005, Antônio José Barbosa, 63, the
youngster’s father, found it odd. An inhabitant of the interior of Santa
Filomena, a city in the northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco, Antônio did
not quite believe his son, who was talking about feeding silage and a so-called
proteinated salt to the sheep on the property.
But he let the young man carry on with those ideas, and in the second half of last year, during the dry season in the region they live in, in the semiarid of Pernambuco, the sheep did not lose 40% of their weight as they had in previous years.
Crauzimiro is part of a new generation of farmers who are trying to improve agriculture and cattle raising in the Brazilian semiarid. What happened with the youngster was that, between 2005 and 2006, he participated in a program of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) entitled Agents for Sustainable Development.
The project trains local farmers to propagate, in their own environment, agricultural techniques that help improve productive performance in the region. Crauzimiro is putting the newly acquired knowledge to use on his family’s property, but he is also passing them on to farmers and raisers in the community he lives in.
Silage, for instance, is something Crauzimiro has helped put in practice in other properties in the region. It was carried out jointly by a group of twenty farmers. Crauzimiro’s father, as well as the other farmers, who are older, started believing in the new techniques as they saw the results.
“My father always did everything the way he saw my grandfather do, but little by little I give proofs, and I convince him,” says Crauzimiro. The young man believes that the semiarid can produce more and better.
That is why he did not skip school, as an adolescent, even though he had to be transported in “paus de arara” – trucks that carry people – and now he wants to go to college.
“I want to study something linked to agriculture and cattle raising,” he says. Crauzimiro believes that the new technologies may help him produce more and better, and thus he will be able to pay for the college course he intends to take.
The sustainable development agents project started taking shape, in the semiarid, in 2004. The first class graduated last year. According to Cândido Roberto de Araújo, the coordinator for the Piauí and Pernambuco Savannah Territory at the Family Agroecology Program (Proaf), the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), and the center de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (Cirad), from Montpellier, France, by the end of the current year, 93 farmers will have been trained.
The experience lasts for seven months and is offered to farmers in the municipalities of Acauã, Paulistana, and Jacobina, in Piauí, and Afrânio, Dormentes, Santa Filomena, and Petrolina, in Pernambuco. The training consists of two days at the headquarters, in the borrowed premises of “Antonio Cavalcante Filho” state school, in Afrânio, plus fifteen days at home.
During the training, technicians and professionals at education and research institutes and organizations in the region teach lessons on themes such as citizenship, beekeeping, sheep and goat raising, soil management and fodder conservation. Participants also bring problems from plantations and cattle farms in their communities in order to discuss possible solutions.
“The sustainable development agents function as a mirror for the remaining producers,” says the manager of the Afrânio branch of the Bank of Brazil, Pedro Gomes.
Farmer Magerlândio Reis de Souza, 30 years old, who lives in the interior of the municipality of Dormentes, is one example of someone who changed his approach to local cattle raising after receiving training.
Before he concluded his training, in June last year, Magerlândio, who raises 30 sheep and two milk cows on his property, had no idea what breed his sheep belonged to. Halfway through last year, though, he introduced sheep of the Santa Inês and Bergamasco breeds into the herd. “I bought a good reproducer and replaced some matrixes,” he says.
Souza explains that now he manages his property in a planned fashion. “I did not select the animals, I did not maintain sanitary control. Now I am investing in genetics. I want to improve my herd. I have no means of increasing it, therefore I will keep the same number of animals, only with higher quality,” he claims.
In the past, young raisers would only feed buffel grass to sheep and cattle. Now he makes fodder using maniçoba, a native plant that was formerly not used by raisers and silage with cassava, as well as other food supplements for feeding animals during the drought.
Souza worked so hard on learning new techniques that he was hired by the Cooperative of General Activity Professionals (Coopagel) to give training courses at a camp of the Brazilian Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST).
Besides taking to the semiarid technologies that fit the region’s climate and soil conditions, the sustainable development agents also have the job of instructing farmers on how to formulate projects for the National Program for Strengthening Family Farming (Pronaf).
The government has resources available for financing small-sized farming, but in order to receive them, farmers must present their projects, specifying the way in which they will use the resources.
“We help elaborate Pronafs. Due to lack of knowledge, many farmers would apply the funds to the best of their knowledge, which would not develop farming, and would also leave them indebted,” says young Crauzimiro. The agents work for the Pronaf resources to be put to better use in the semiarid.
In the rural area of Petrolina and surroundings, everyone knows the ADSs, as the sustainable development agents are known. Their presence created in the region a circulation of information about managing farming and cattle raising.
“There were lots of people suffering from not knowing how to manage things. Now, there is a lot of exchange going on. One sees what the other is doing, and then he does it too,” says farmer José Leonardo de Macedo, 28. Macedo did not undergo training, but his brother is an ADS and he passes knowledge on to him.
Farmers trained as sustainable development agents in the interior of the states of Piauí and Pernambuco, in the Brazilian Northeast, are helping their colleagues produce and make better use of the resources that the federal government is making available for family farming. And the government is also placing more money on the market for small rural properties.
This harvest, in the period between 2007 and 2008, the Ministry for Agrarian Development has made available a record value of US$ 12 billion. The value will be used as credit for funding, investment and trade of the crop. According to figures supplied by the Ministry, the value should benefit 2.2 million families and is US$ 2 billion greater than the funding of the previous crop.
Family farming, according to government figures, includes 4.1 million families in Brazil and answers to 77% of the jobs generated in the country. The National Program for Strengthening Family Farming (Pronaf) credit includes lower interest than market rates, between 0.5% and 5.5% a year.
Anba – www.anba.com.br