SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

Micro Company Producing Cashew Nuts in the State of Ceará

Sunday 29 February 2004, by ALTERNATIVES

Context:

Drought is a regular and frequent occurrence in the North East of Brazil. For the inhabitants in the semi-arid areas of Brazil, droughts have brought a great deal of hardships, in particular by destroying local ecosystems causing the subsequent loss of biodiversity. At the economic and social level, the dryness has also had various societal effects. Small farmers who do not have the necessary large scale means of production do not succeed in meeting the needs of their family. These families migrate towards other areas of the country, which spawns other social problems: unemployment, misery, marginalisation, etc. The official actions undertaken until now privileged emergency intervention, strictly technical projects, or approaches focused on solely on assistance rather then development. These have contributed to the increased vulnerability of the population. It also supports the instability of a regional economy which hasn’t adapted to the environment it exists in.

The living conditions of farming families of the Brazilian North East show clearly that rural poverty is the result of a process of unsustainable development. The Report on Human Development (UNDP, 1996) reveals that the agricultural North East contains 63 % of the rural poverty in Brazil. The report states among the principal causes of the poverty in the North East: quality and access to land (the type of land and concentration of properties); seasons and unpredictability (climatic conditions); difficult access to technology ; trade and weak employment opportunities; low level of human investment (access to schooling).

In the State of Ceará, the economic model of development was inadequate for the area and caused the destruction of the primary ecosystem, the undergrowth. Nothing was done to educate farmers in order to help them towards a better use of land, water, and teach them the characteristics and the diversity of the environment (fauna, flora, climate).

Moreover, a large proportion of the women of the town of Marco, in the North East of Brazil work in the cajou (cashew nuts) industry. They cultivate them, collect them and sometimes process them, but this work hardly is any better then subsistence farming. Cajou production does not increase family incomes. Lack of knowledge and suitable technologies are the causes of the loss of an essential portion of the harvest.

The project:

In the face of such a situation, it is essential to encourage the initiatives that stimulate the local economy by encouraging the agricultural work of farmers and their families. These programs promote sustainable development by potentially generating additional income for agricultural families and thus creating a better quality of life and improved regional development. Alternatives, in collaboration with ONG Brazilian Terrazul are working on a project of creating a women’s run micro company to manufacture and to market products containing cajou. With this program, the participants are working towards a permanent, long term production site which can meet the basic needs of workers and their families.

The drought situation in Ceará does not prevent the realization of a sustainable development project, which will create jobs and an income for poorer populations, especially women farmers. It is completely necessary to indentify the characteristics of these semi-arid areas and to know how to benefit from them. These benefits may stem from improved public health, the increased abundance of plants that require little water but have high industrial value, the cultivating of valuable tropical products, and an increased diversity of agricultural and non-agricultural land use. Already people are using techniques that do not harm the environment without any technical and financial assistance.

The project will allow an already active group of women to start a micro company which will manufacture and market products containing cajou. The project, financed by Alternatives, aims to increase the participation of women in the cultivation and production of cajou and in return will contribute to improving the status of women both in their community as well as their family. The goal of the project is also to improve the quality of life of the inhabitants in the targeted rural areas.

Concretely, the project aims to train women, to be ecological participants in the local economy and to help develop sustainable agriculture.

Moreover, this project will grow through various networks and farming organizations, ecologists and communities through out Ceará and Brazil. These networks have been formalized through several regional and national projects, as well as work during the World Social Forum (WSF).

Also, Terrazul has supported the activities of a young group active in the Brazilian hip hop scene. Alternatives supported the participation of Terrazul in Porto Alegre at the time of the last World Social Forum.

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