Family farming

The community in which we have been placed these three months, Poço do Serrote, is a settlement, formed 8 years ago under the land reform actions of the Lula government. The people living in this community, those who have been here since the beginning anyway, spent nearly two years living under plastic sheeting by the motorway entrance to the land, in protest to force the landowner (fazendeiro), a local Doctor, to sell the land to the Government. Finally, after nearly two years, this dream became a reality and the land was donated to the people by the Government. The settlement is formed by an Association, with a President, Secretary, Treasurer, and so on. It collectively has the title to the whole piece of land, but after 20 years, each person living here will be able to claim their own land deed. The Association decides who lives here and who doesn’t, who stays and who has to leave. It has been an interesting journey, and this learning process has nowhere near ended.

Before the settlement formed, many people here worked the land for the fazendeiro, either growing crops, or aiding in the care for the livestock. Cilene, one of the women we have been working with these three months, used to look after the sheep and goats. There were over 600 animals she was in charge of in this time. Her pay would consist of only half of what she made out of any food she could make out of milk, for example, and also a small wage. People growing crops for the fazendeiro would have to automatically give half of what they earned or produced – 2 sacks of beans would mean one for them, one for the fazendeiro.

Now all of the people here have their own land, their own house, things are better. However, with the drought, the first that the community are facing since the settlement was formed; things are becoming difficult. The drought has hardly even started. It is in the period of what is called the “green” drought – still technically at the end of the “rainy” season, the dry season has yet to kick in. Yet people are already without water, people are selling off their animals for rock bottom prices, some are even slaughtering already. We will be leaving before the drought really bites, but it is a grim thought.

One of the things that have changed since the times before the community is the use of agroecological farming techniques. This helps small scale farmers to not only give themselves a more diverse and nutritious diet, but also helps them to increase production and protect themselves better from poverty. As I have mentioned in other blogs, this is something we have been very involved in during our time here, and the weekly agroecological market is a weekly event we are very much involved in. There are also government initiatives in place now that should help farmers through this difficult time; I will go into more detail about these in a future blog.

Here are the accounts of some of the volunteers about their daily life in the settlement. Olly and Charles live with Deusalina and Fernandez and their two sons, Flávio and Fabio. They have only recently made the move to agroecological farming, and as such have not joined the market yet. They still plant on a monoculture field for income. In this case when we arrived, it was around time for onion harvesting time. Usually beans would be planted on this field in the time following this, but due to the drought, the land has been left fallow. Their vegetable garden, however, is starting to become fairly productive, with pumpkins, passion fruit, coriander, lettuce, chilli, already giving fruit, and a great number of other plants growing.
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Olly and Charles’ account of daily life with Fernandez and his family.

The days are quite varied but almost every day they go to a swampy area with an electric pump to get water for their shower and also for their plants. It is not as straightforward as it seems, as sometimes, in fact most of the time, as our stay is often prolonged by blockages in the pipes. It is a very precarious situation for them and they have to go through lengthy processes to unblock it.

Now farming has been very difficult for these people, particularly this year in the attempts to sustain and yield crops, producing the best crops possible because of the longest drought they have had for 30 years. The consequence of this is that the land has dried out dramatically and manual irrigation is a necessity on most days. The few crops they have are onions, which they get very little money for. We witnessed Fernandez sell a sack of onions probably weighing about 4kg for R$15. We were shocked and upset by this as we have experienced the hard work that led up to the bagging of the onions. All the hard work was worth much more than R$15 in our opinion. When suntan lotion costs R$40 we feel that the hard work of these people should yield more money for them.

This whole process is making us realise how privileged we are and how much we take things for granted in the UK. It is also giving us an insight into how people live in a different part of the world, which is building our character and increasing our passion to help people.

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