The dry and lifeless scenery of an abandoned cashew farm in the city of Canto do Buriti, in the interior of the northeastern Brazilian state of PiauÀ, is starting to receive new contours. The green of castor plants, one of the varieties used in the production of biodiesel, has brought new color to the local scenery and happiness to some 700 families who live in the place.
This is Santa Clara farm, managed by company Brasil Ecodiesel, which took advantage of federal and state government incentives and is investing in the production of biodiesel in northeastern Brazil.
The area of around 18,000 hectares, according to André Luis Girdwood, a company director, belonged to the government of the state of Piauí and was given to Brasil Ecodiesel under the guarantee that the land would be shared with small farmers who would produce castor seeds for the production of biodiesel.
Girdwood explains that the families signed a contract in which they guarantee to plant castor plants for a period of ten years on the nine hectare plot of land that each one receives.
Of the total given to the farmer, one hectare is for personal use, it is a piece of land for the plantation of cassava, maize, etc. "The resident can do whatever he likes on that area," stated Girdwood.
On five hectares, the family has to plant castor plants and beans. On the other three hectares, the family only plants castor plants. Up to now, according to the executive, around 5,000 hectares are being grown on the farm. Annual revenues for each farmer vary from between US$ 1,100 and US$ 1,330.
The farmers also receive a brick house to live in, with electricity and plumbing. In ten years, if they comply with the contract they have with the company, the residents will receive the title deeds for the piece of land.
"The houses are built in circles called cells. There are currently 18 cells, each one with 35 families, on average, on Santa Clara", stated the executive. In the common area of the farm, there is also a mini hospital, with an ambulance, a school for the children, a cinema, an information technology center and a business center, which provides stores and services.
On Santa Clara, the soil is prepared with Brasil Ecodiesel machinery. The farmers also receive seeds and technical guidance for the cultivation. In the first harvest, which took place this year, some families harvested over one thousand kilograms per hectare.
"Castor seeds adapt well to the semi-arid climate, and few millimeters of rain are necessary each year for reasonable productivity," stated Girdwood.
Another advantage of the partnership is the guarantee of purchase of the crop. The Santa Clara production is being used by the new Brasil Ecodiesel mill, in the city of Floriano, also in Piauí. The factory, inaugurated in August this year, has a capacity for production of around 27,000 tons of biodiesel a year.
The group also operates the Rio Poty crushing mill, a mill in the Crateús region, 300 kilometers away from Fortaleza, capital of the northeastern state of Ceará, which processes castor seeds and produces vegetable oil. The factory can process 150 tons of castor seed a day and reach production of 60 tons of oil.
Apart from the work with farmers at the Santa Clara farm, Brasil Ecodiesel also has agreements with small farm owners that have no financial conditions for investment in productivity. In this case, the company offers machinery, seeds and also guarantees the purchase of the crop.
"We expect that 100,000 families should be participating in the program in 10 states in Brazil up to the end of this year," completed Girdwood. The target is to produce 300,000 tons of biodiesel a year up to 2007.
Another group that is investing in production of biodiesel through partnerships with small farmers is Agropalma. The company’s production units are in the Amazon region. In one of the programs, in the city of Moju, 50 kilometers away from Belém, the capital of the northern state of Pará, around 150 families work on the cultivation of oil palms. The pilot project has the support of the government of the state of Pará, of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) and of the Bank of the Amazon (BASA).
In Moju, each family receives 12 hectares. The land was given by the Pará State Land Institute (Iterpa). Agropalma supplies the saplings, the initial infrastructure and teaches techniques for cultivation of the palm. The company has also agreed to purchase the whole crop of small farmers at prices based on foreign market prices.
As the palm tree takes 36 months to produce fruit, the BASA is loaning farmers one minimum salary (around US$ 130,00) each month so that they may live on the farm and purchase the necessary inputs for the crop. The total value of the loan will be paid back with interest of 4% a year, with a grace period of seven years.
Edmilson Ferreira Barros, the head of the community and president of the Arauaí Association for Community Development, an organization that brings together farmers from Moju, explains that in the past most of the farmers produced rice and cassava for their own consumption.
"With the palm, we hope to improve income for the future, a better life for our families. Before it arrived, we had no development: we cut many trees down and harvested very little. Now we do not destroy the forests," stated Barros.
The area where the trees were knocked down – estimated at 5 million hectares in the northern region – can even be used for the cultivation of palms and may be reused by farmers. Pará is already the largest producer of the variety; the state cultivates 50,000 hectares and has annual production of 100,000 tons of palm oil.
So as to execute the partnerships with small farmers, companies Brasil Ecodiesel and Agropalma sought the support of the federal government program that created fiscal incentive policies for industries that process castor and palm oil in the poorest regions of the country – the North and Northeast – and support family farming. They do not pay the PIS (welfare tax) and Cofins (social security tax).
Another point of federal support is the contribution of institutions like the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), which researches varieties and methods to increase productivity. The state governments have also contributed, offering areas for the installation of the industries and land for the growing of the varieties.
This article appeared originally in Anba – www.anba.com.br.