Ecological farming in Brazil

A livelihood from ecological farming

Young people work together in the fields
Small farming families in Brazil are in a very difficult situation because of the unequal distribution of land and an export-focused agricultural policy. Young people see no future in rural areas and migrate to the cities. Our partner organisation ASSEMA is working to improve the living conditions of small farming families and encourage economic initiatives by young people in rural areas.
In the state of Maranhão there are particularly high numbers of people suffering from the unequal distribution of land. There is a shortage of land because 80% of the land that can be used for farming belongs to a few large landowners. The remaining 20% is farmed by about 4 million small farming families. Because the prices for agricultural products are low, they are unable to make a living. Most of them have had no training in agriculture, and chemical-based methods of cultivation have impoverished the soil. Young people in particular see no prospects for the future. Dreaming of a better life, they migrate to the cities, where they end up unemployed in the poorest districts. Others toil away in difficult conditions on the large sugar and soya plantations for a starvation wage.

Secure income and healthy food
The organisation ASSEMA is promoting land management on ecological principles in the state of Maranhão. A team of experts advises the small farmers free of charge. Ecological farming and mixed production guarantee these small farming families a secure income and a healthy diet. By selling products made from the nuts of the babaçu palm (e.g. cooking oil, flour and soap), small farmers can considerably boost the family's income.

Encouraging and supporting youth groups
To counteract the rural exodus of young people, ASSEMA has been encouraging political organisation among rural youth since 1998. Young people come together on various committees to share their experiences and develop joint political strategies. One important aim is to set up youth councils in the local administration authorities of their communities.
Each year, the youth groups organise a social forum. In 2010, 130 youth groups took part. The young people discussed subjects such as the rural exodus, the search for an identity, nutrition and new media in workshops. There is also the opportunity to take further training courses in resource procurement and how to write a project proposal. Often the young people are bursting with ideas, but they do not have the concrete resources to put them into effect. By providing advice on project development and ways of financing projects, ASSEMA makes an important contribution to the long-term independence of youth groups.

Networks of youth groups
The importance of networking for youth groups can be seen in the example of the São Manoel youth group. These young people wanted to open an ice-cream bar and through their contacts with other youth groups, they obtained the refrigerators they needed. Now, the ice-cream bar has become the most popular meeting-place for young people in the area. Other youth groups have also developed initiatives which earn them an income. In the community of Lago de Junco, the local youth group set up a centre for arts and crafts. There, the young people produce jewellery and decorative items made from the babaçu palm. Last year, this group made a profit of about 1,500 Swiss francs. They invested this money in new tools.

Our partner organisation
ASSEMA (Associação em Áreas de Assentamento no Estado do Maranhão) is a cooperative association of small farmers in the state of Maranhão. Twenty-six experts work at ASSEMA, including some in the fields of ecological farming and marketing. One important priority for our partners is to promote political organisation among rural youth. Today, there are already three regional networks of up to twelve youth groups. Altogether, about 685 young people in six communities are involved. terre des hommes schweiz has been supporting ASSEMA for 25 years.

There are close links between the youth groups and they share information regularly. The young people are no longer ashamed of where they come from but are proud of their culture and their region. In the community of Lago do Junco, with the support of ASSEMA, young people have succeeded in persuading the local council to approve the setting up of a legally established youth council. However, this decision has not yet been put into effect, so the local youth group has submitted a complaint to the public prosecutor's office.
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