Bob's Blog

Bob Thomas is the volunteer project manager for South America for the S.H.A.R.E. Agriculture Foundation. He works with southern partners to identify new projects and monitors ongoing and past projects. Bob also consults with the SHARE Project Committee and Board of Directors to consider each proposal, analyze project budgets and to track the sustainability of ongoing projects.

As Bob travels on his monitoring trips he writes about the results of SHARE’s project work.

How long can Pass-On continue?

“It was a bold venture for a newly-organized group” stated Hugh Beaty.

In his historical booklet MORE THAN A VISION, Hugh outlines the many challenges facing SHARE’s first project in 1977 of sending 41 Holstein heifers by plane to ESAM, an agricultural college in Mossoro, an impoverished area in arid northeast Brazil. Lack of protein was resulting in high infant mortality among poor families in the area. David Armstrong had heard about this problem from a presentation by Heifer International and many local Ontario dairy farmers joined in the “leap of faith” to make SHARE’s first project a reality.

During Hugh & Melba Beaty’s two years in Mossoro coordinating the project, they met Sister Ellen by chance at a bus station and learned how this German Franciscan nun had come to Mossoro to help homeless streetkids. Hugh arranged for some milk from the SHARE cows to go to Ellen’s Lar da Crianca Pobre do Mossoro every day to assist in her program. Offsping from the herd are auctioned every year which also raises funds to maintain the herd. “Bulls are in high demand for crossbreeding” stated University personnel “and can reach up to R$ 4500 (CDN$ 1800) but heifers normally sell for R$ 1000 and calves for R$ 750”. Due to the five year drought in northeast Brazil, water must be purchased for the herd so a reduction sale was held last year but 65 head remain.

It was a highlight of our 2018 Brazil monitoring trip to again meet with Ellen and see the descendants of this project. “We are still getting 8 - 10 litres of milk from these cows every day” stated Ellen……… amazing testament to the sustainability of SHARE’s first project. The ESAM campus was being crowded by the expanding city of Mossoro. So in 2014, the university campus moved and is now called UFERSA, a university with 11,000 students. The livestock research farm is located about 30 minutes away.

Ellen, and her birth sister, Cristina (also a Franciscan nun) continue their work in Mossoro. Cristina, a medical doctor, operates a health clinic for poor families.  The 17 schools for favela children have been reduced to 6 due to decreased funding from overseas Ellen receives no support from the Brazilian government, but local businesses and private benefactors have stepped up to provide food, clothing and needed items to her cause.  About 250 poor families come bi-weekly for a container of food, and clothing donations are passed out four times per year to 1,000 poor families living on the streets. About 15 homeless come every day for 3 meals. They can also spend the night in individual cabins at the Lar.  Skills training and education of the children and youth are done with 70 employees, and 12 social workers visit the poor, provide necessities to prisoners and care for the elderly in hospitals who have no relatives to care for them. Many of Ellen’s support staff of 170 employees have come through the Lar and are now helping others in need.  Oh………one more thing.  Ellen also cares for numerous stray dogs, cats and abandoned donkeys in the “true spirit of St Francis”. When asked how many animals she feeds daily, she replies “I really don’t know……….it is not many”.

Since 1977, SHARE has continued its journey to improve the lives of impoverished rural families in Brazil and to support the vision established more than 40 years ago by a small group of farmers in Peel and Halton counties.

In 2017, SHARE projects provided financial support and hope through several initiatives across Brazil as outlined below.  These projects provide a “hand up” so rural families with limited means can help each other and continue to improve their lives in years to come.

  • 60 sweet breads, 40 loaves of bread, 10 kg of cookies and 10 cakes on average baked by women’s group during weekly meetings with a new community from oven from SHARE in Morro Azul of 230 families. Empowers women in rural areas to provide for their families and communities
  • 22 workshops/ events convened by women in the Morro Azul area on various subject matters enabling them to utilize 66 medicinal plants in the production of 28 extracts, 8 ointments and syrups, which are available weekly free of charge to needy families.
  • 5 tobacco farmers participated in a pilot program to diversify their production away from tobacco to sustainable regional fruit and vegetable production
  • 6,000 yam seed cuttings produced and planted in the Assentamento Serrinha, in the municipality of Ribeirao, to support sustainable local agriculture production
  • 8 – 10 litres of milk delivered daily from the original SHARE herd (established approximately 40 years ago) continues to feed street children at Sister Ellen’s schools –a wonderful SHARE “pass on” legacy
  • 11 lactating cows, 1 bull, and young calves from the original SHARE herd continue to support Agri research and education at the UFERSA university
  • 144 m2 greenhouse constructed to support vegetable production for 50 men recovering from crack addiction in the Fortaleza - Ceará region
  • 75 + rural enterprises supported through microcredit loans in the Ceara region and Santa Cruz do Capibaribe regions
  • 17 Assentamento & rural community students transported to the EFA Agriculture School at Independencia CE (350 km each way from student homes)
  • 120 participants at a peer-to-peer agri-skills learning forum provided a venue – particularly for youth – to enhance their skills in food security and diversify their farming enterprises
  • 3 meetings with potential SHARE partners to support small scale rural farmers and make a difference in their quality of life

Want to get involved with a “life changing” experience?  Come with us and see firsthand what positive changes SHARE is making in the lives of Brazil’s less fortunate rural families.

Give me a call:    Bob Thomas, Project Manager (Brazil)
                            Ph 519 633 2390

2017 Brazil Monitoring Report

Ask any Brazilian for directions and you might hear “Go to the second trevo (cloverleaf / roundabout) and turn at the palm tree. It is very close” (lie!). Friendly people.........but definitely map-challenged. So when I picked up the rental car in Florianopolis, I was delighted to see it had a GPS. Input the hotel directions and follow the arrows.....nao problemo. But, after following GPS for more than 1 hour, it told me I had arrived. Nothing nearby resembled a hotel; only houses for sale or in need of repair. So I found a congenial man who phoned the hotel and I learned that there are two streets with a similar name and Google chose the wrong one. Now the verbal directions were “go back where you came from but stay right at the trevo. Watch for the signs. It is very close”. Another hour later, I arrived at the location...........a bit tired because I had been up at 3AM to catch the shuttle and endured three flights and a 3 hr time change.

Following a right wing “coup” in May 2016, elected Braziliian President Dilma was impeached on questionable charges and President Michel Temer of the right wing PMDB party is now slashing social programs. He has eliminated the ministries of Human Rights, Women & Racial Equality, Culture (later reversed), and MDA (small farmer ag dept) was combined with the Ministry of Social Development. The programs remaining are undergoing ridiculous bureaucratic audit, stalling techniques and cutbacks. For instance, our partner CEPAGRO is now struggling with staff reduced to 5 fullltime and they are reaching out to Foundations & NGO’s for support. A 3 year, U$ 340,000 appeal to IAF (Inter American Foundation) was recently approved. A new proposal to SHARE will follow. The present SHARE project with CEPAGRO is on track following many meetings with 15 tobacco growers interested in diversifying. Six of these are all that can be supported with the present funds from SHARE and following the completion of their present tobacco harvest, they will start growing beets, carrots, cucumbers and string beans in September to supply the Wil Cannery which is now bringing in some of these vegetables from as far as 2 states away to supply their expanding market for jams, pickles, canned vegetables, etc. to supermarkets, local markets & also supplying school lunches under the PNAE federal program (not yet cancelled by the Feds) which requires local schools to purchase 30% of their food needs from local small farmers. t’s a win/win. Three SHARE-supported training meetings have already occurred to improve sanitary and processing techniques at the cannery and contracts are in place with the farmers seeking to diversify. Two CEPAGRO ag techs (Gisa Garcia & Francys Pacheco) meet 2 days/week with about 6 – 8 tobacco farmers who have expressed interest in diversification in the communities of Rio Veado, Trombudo & Três Barras in the município of Nova Trento. Over 100 more farmers are pending. But don’t expect an immediate exit from tobacco as these growers are locked in to very unfair contracts with the tobacco companies.

We met with some of the farmers planning change. Like Saul Jatczczak who started tobacco in 2010 with a $38,000 Reais loan from the tobacco company to build kilns, etc. Following a 3 year grace period, he is now obligated to repay $R10,000/year for the next 7 years totalling $R70,000. The contracts are reportedly written in small print and may be 9 or 10 pages long. Some of the older growers who signed these biased deals are in fact illiterate. Crop insurance is available to be purchased for hail or kiln fires, but nothing covers drought or other causes of crop the debt is compounded into the next crop. In some cases, inputs like spray & fertilizer must also be purchased through the tobacco company who deducts these costs from crop proceeds. It is perhaps a mixed blessing, but this year’s crop looks good and the price of $1.70 R/aroba (15 kg) for B01 (top grade) is good. But remember, the tobacco company also grades the tobacco after it is delivered to their factory and costs of chemicals and inputs are rising. All planting, harvesting, etc. is manual on steep hillsides so growers work together on alternate days to assist each other. And “green tobacco disease” causing headache, nausea and vomiting from excessive absorption of nicotine through the skin in a hot climate is a constant threat. So this CEPAGRO/SHARE project represents a small but worthwhile step towards diversification. See: Youtube: Diversificação Produtiva (English subtitles) This first monitoring day which started at 7:30 AM finished at 10:30 PM when I find my way back to the hotel and a welcoming bed. The next day, I met with Eliziana (former coordinator of SHARE projects), Charles Lamb (CEPAGRO director), Caru CEPAGRO journalist/translator, and Gisa (CEPAGRO ag tech) for a meeting to discuss future alternatives and proposals to come. I departed from Florianopolis the next morning.

In Pernambuco, Steve & Shelley Craig joined the monitoring trip with Betty Szylassy and me which began with a visit to the Brejo honey house. There are 160 beekeepers in the Agreste region of which 50 are in the Brejo area. Honey production to Brazil’s small farmers is similar to “egg money” to our forefathers; a low input source of additional income.This is one of the reasons that S.H.A.R.E. has a long history with honey projects. Here, it began in 2008, and until 2011 averaged 1000 kg annually but has decreased since then due to a 4 year drought considered to be the worst of this century. The municipality pays security staff, water, hydro and some other costs as this facility is also home to fruit processors and a community centre for various meetings of associations. CONDESB, our partner, will meet soon to decide the allocation of the $C 3500 donation to this project from the Krueger Foundation. There still remains a shortfall of $C1600 to complete the renovations at this site, and $C 1900 at the partially completed honey house at Assentamento Fazenda Barauna; home to 100 land reform families.

Next we visited Fazenda Fiera near Santa Cruz Do
Caparibe, Pernambuco which has been providing tech advice, workshops & courses for local farmers & students since 1995. In 2015, 3500 students from lower public school grades to university level visited the location for training & info sessions. Leader Paulo Andres Dias de Silva has rudimentary onsite rooms (where we stayed overnight) and facilities for food preparation. The local judge provided funds for training ex-prisoners here. Paulo would like to provide 20 programs / month for local farmers & students and may submit a SHARE proposal for this cause.

The organic market in Santa Cruz Do Caparibe has reduced vendors due to drought causing negligible vegetable production, but vendors of chicken, cheese, baking, yogurt, etc. continue to be sold out nearly every Saturday morning. To sustain goat & cow feeding needs, bagasse (a low nutrient by-product of sugar cane processing) is being trucked in from the Recife area & selling for $8R / 20 kg. And grass from places which have received some rain is also sold roadside at $7R / 12 kg. There are understandably a few delayed payments in the micro credit fund which has $R 4,705 outstanding and has a residue of $1,870 R. We visited Vanonido who is milking 9 of his 20 goats & using the daily 20 litres of milk to produce 3 types of cheese and yogurt which he sells through the market. Solenge, a woman farmer, is purchasing 100 chicks with a microcredit loan to expand chicken sales at the market. And another local farmer is building a chicken processing facility on his farm with capacity of slaughtering up to 200 chickens from within the community. The optimism of these people always recharges my own batteries and I am grateful to SHARE for the opportunities to share the struggles of these strong people and offer “a hand up”.

The final state visited was Ceara where Adrienne Margie joined us. We visited sites of SHARE projects: biodigesters, goats, the new well at Ebenezer rehab centre and talked with EFA students. But the activities in Ceara centred around the three day EPOXVI Encontro do Produtores Organicos (organic meeting) with a total of 80 participants from the states of Ceara, Bahia & Pernambuco at the Uruanan Assentamento where 900 families will eventually be settled under Land Reform. These families have been living under black plastic for over 2 years waiting to gain access to land and some are still in adobe huts as pictured here. As SHARE no longer supports this project, this organic meeting was enabled by a grant of $R 6,000 for food & expenses from IDACE, the state administrator of land reform, who also paid for buses for site visits. Speeches by Amorim, state ag secretary, and Eduardo Barbosa from IDACE were well presented with tables & data on the general Brazilian economy which is sliding backwards under the new right wing federal government. Also more proposals will be forthcoming to SHARE for additional funds for micro credit which has a backlog of 40 farmers waiting for loans, more biodigesters for 6 communities, support for 17 students to attend EFA ag school and a meeting with reps from the 3 states wanting to continue with future EPO meetings, but lacking funding. More details on the above will be forthcoming in the proposals.

A highlight was the inauguration at the Ebenezer rehab centre of the new 130 metre well supported by SHARE which is producing 500 litres / hr of potable water. Leader Romul said he had a surprise for us which was two 6,000 litre tanks each holding 500 tilapia fingerlings which will be sold in 3 months at 700 gm live weight. Most of the construction of the tanks was from donated materials from demolished buildings in Fortaleza. Water from the new well enabled this project and is filtered after leaving the tanks with fish waste being diverted to fruit trees as fertilizer as well as a hydroponic setup for cherry tomatoes grown in donated 20 litre plastic pails. Romul has a fish expert friend and similar technology may be applied to Assentamento Agroverde where their new well built by a state program is producing 1600 litres / hr but it is salty & suitable only for fish. Ebenezer is also submitting a proposal for a shade house to produce organic kale. Romul’s strong leadership and dedication make any Ebenezer proposals very feasible.

My final meeting was in Salvador with Sonia Moto, Executive Secretary; Dimas Galvao, Project Coordinator; Olga Mates, Assesoria to projects; and Lewana Alemdia, Communcator from CESE ( This is a follow up to a 2016 exploratory meeting to discuss possible SHARE/CESE joint projects. CESE receives limited funding from the E.U. and German churches, but nothing from the Brazil government. Founded 40 years ago by combining efforts of 5 Church denominations, their record of accomplishment is impressive. They have completed 1,282 projects in northern Brazil, 5,894 in the northeast, 4,419 in central, 1,284 in southeast and 1,244 in the south of which 42% are agricultural. They receive approximately 600 proposal requests annually but can only finance 200 – 300 of these. Their mission is to strengthen civil society economically and socially with sustainable projects promoting democracy and justice. Beneficiaries are social movements, indigenous groups, racial & gender equality as well as projects for training, commercialization & value added to agricultural products, biodiversity, native seeds, etc. I examined some of their current project reports and found that they mirrored SHARE’s monitoring requirements. It was decided that CESE will submit a cluster of ag proposals to SHARE primarily in areas where SHARE is presently working. Incidentally, Eliziana will be doing workshops with CESE in mid March and can provide insight into SHARE for CESE. An important benefit of SHARE projects in Brazil which may not be evident in the foregoing is that they encourage families to stay on the land rather than migrating to the urban favellas where despair and drugs become the way of life for youth in particular.

Bob Thomas, Project Manager Brazil March 2017

2016 Brazil Monitoring Report

When the going gets tough...............

As I head to the Salvador airport by taxi, there’s music, street parades & happy faces everywhere. It’s Carnaval time and perhaps the Brazilians need these few days of respite from a crumbling economy. Just a few years ago, this resource rich country had a bright future. Now, it suffers from a prolonged recession and the income gap is growing larger again. The currency (Real) has dropped from US$ .65 U$ to US$ .26 and the official unemployment rate is rising from 4.5% to nearly reality I think it is much higher. The interest rate is 14.5% and inflation is reportedly over 11%, but probably it is also actually higher too. Petrobras, the huge petroleum conglomerate partially owned by the federal government, is struggling under falling world oil prices as well as an internal corruption scandal that is threatening to pull the government down. The collapse of the Rio Doce dam in south-eastern Brazil in November has leached toxic mining tailings and destroyed communities for 300 miles to the sea. And if the economic problems are not enough, the northeast is dealing with a 4 year drought. Saving scarce water in open containers is partially blamed for the rise of the mosquito born Zika virus which is blamed for 4000 Brazilian babies being born with microcephaly (under developed brains). Then there are Chikungunya and Dengue viruses which are also on the rise. My taxi stops at a stoplight. Street vendors quickly come to each car selling towels, cold drinks, tacky plastic toys, and anything else to raise some money. There are 3 kids juggling balls in front of the cars and then they quickly approach for some coins before the light turns green. Yes, perhaps Brazil really does need a few days away from reality. But these are tough people who have endured hardships before. Looking back over my 25 years of monitoring SHARE projects here, I can’t help but believe that their spirit of hope will win out in the end.

Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina states

Mike Intven and I begin in southern Brazil with a dinner at the home of Rogerio & Eliziana in Florianopolis. What better way to introduce Brazilian culture than a moqueca supper with warm conversation? Eliziana had managed SHARE’s CIDA project in Brazil and is responsible for connecting us with two partners in these states, as well as CESE in Bahia state. Rede Ecovida de Agroecologia is an Association started in 1998 and has membership of 26 Brazilian NGO’s promoting agro ecology, assisting in marketing / production / training, etc in the southern states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Parana and boasts a membership of 3000 families who pay an annual fee to EcoVida of 100 Reais. EcoVida is also the body which certifies Organic production. Director Ana Meirelles is preparing a proposal based on the two sites that we visited. Filhas da Terra is a group of 20 women, 12 men and 20 youth who primarily produce medicinal plants, have a central meeting house, medicinal garden and network with 18 similar groups in a 50 km radius. They are part of the international peasant movement, Via Campesina, which started in 1998 and now spans 73 countries.

Marco Azul is a nearby community with a group of 14 women representing 125 families who market produce in weekly markets and an ecological co-op up to 200 km away. They also have medicinal herbs available which they supply on a donation basis. They would like a commercial oven to expand bakery products to include organic breads. The federal programs of PAA (Programa de Aquisicao de Alimentos) and PNAE (Nacional de Alimentasias Escolar) purchase 30% of their needs from local small producers and are a guaranteed market for local production.

CEPAGRO (Centro de Extensão e Pesquisa Agropecuária) is a Santa Catarina association with 20 employees that started in 1990 with funds from state fines levied on corporations for environmental infractions. Its mandate is ecology, environmental enhancement, tobacco diversification, etc. Enroute to the proposal site, the pavement turned to gravel and then mud. We navigated most of the hills & washouts until our rental car sank and we required a pull by tractor. The site of this proposal can only be described as “beyond the end of the road”! However, time was not wasted as we updated our notes from hosts Caru Dionisio and Charles Lamb from CEPAGRO.. There are 2 techs who work with 100 families wanting to diversify out of tobacco and adapt alternative crops & soils to tropical conditions. Their approach involves farm visits 2 or 3 times weekly as well as workshops. And with hard work, success is being achieved. For example, the Alcides & Celia Will family grew tobacco for 30 years but now have 2 shade houses on their 29 ha farm of which 8 ha is producing vegetables that are marketed twice weekly in towns up to 130 km away….a 3 hr trip each way. Together with other families they have built a processing facility for carrots, strawberries, onions, cucumber pickles, pineapple & other fruits. They wholesale to 60 places and sales can reach 30,000 Reais / month. The 7 families involved expect 5 more families to join this year and a side benefit is the employment provided to keep young people in the community. The fledgling group would like SHARE support for training (available from SC state university), some equipment and needed repairs to their facility.

Pernambuco state

Betty Szilassy meets us in Recife where we overnighted and then on to Riberao to meet with the Yam producers. She has volunteered the use of her employer’s car to save SHARE on rental costs. Here no rains until Dec 20 have delayed this project but the components are in place......pending moisture. There are springs in the area but no pumps or pipes to get the water to fields which have been prepared & hilled ready to be planted which normally would start in January. These two Assentamento communities exist amid sugarcane plantations. Águas Claras has 30 families and Serrinha has 100 families. Low pH and infertile soils need lime and manure which is available prior to the anticipated planting in April. These improved yams will sell for 8 Reais / kg which is twice the price of common yams.

We next head to Santa Cruz do Capibaribe which we discover is the centre of the Zika and Chikungunya virus infestations. The inhabitants say that virtually everyone in the town has had the virus at some time and Betty succumbs to it as well. We have a bedside meeting at the hotel that evening with Sister Tereza and Ajosiene Ramos who manage the microcredit fund. Next day, Mike and I wear long sleeved shirts and insect spray during our visit Saturday morning to their Organic market and I take over the wheel of the car while Betty convalesces in the back seat. The “Fundo Solidario” is doing well. Loan size varies with each family’s needs and repayment is flexible based on their market sales. The interest rate is zero but they have had fund raising activities and donations to keep the fund growing ahead of inflation. As money is repaid weekly, it is loaned out to the waiting list on the same day (usually market days) so there is no residue in the bank. There are 20 market stands from 10 communities and sales have been growing. Training courses in hygiene, processing, etc. are offered by government bodies of SENAR and SEBRAE. Many of the women were stuck in low paying home sewing for the wholesale garment industry and are now able to make better income through valueadded. We next spend some time with the beekeepers on Assentamento Fazenda Baraunas. 35 families have been here for 10 years and native bees are an added source of family income. The honey house is partially completed but has waited 5 years for Prorural (state) funds to be completed. Bees are now returning as rains augment. But there is a pressing need to complete the honey house.

Ceara State

We fly to Fortaleza and then drive to Chorozinho about 70 km inland. Next day, everyone assembles at the house of Raimunda on Assentamento Denir for our meetings. It is a happy occasion including a lunch of local produce and caipira chicken (free range). But about 10 years ago this was the site of a landless struggle which resulted in the killing of leader Denir after whom the Assentamento is now named. The main attraction here is the biodigester which utilizes manure readily available from cattle & goats to convert to methane to be used a cooking fuel. Josimar (one of the EFA students supported by SHARE) and the COPASAT ag techs have built this 1000 litre prototype and the proposal is to build more. Purchased butane costs about 60 Reais / month so the savings per family are significant. A 50/50 mixture of manure & water can supply a family with methane which burns 5 degrees hotter than purchased butane and also has the advantage of providing compost as well. The plan has been refined by COPASAT (ag tech division) of INCRA (national land reform agency). The EFA ag school already uses two larger units of 3000 litres which are functioning well. Manure from 1 cow is sufficient to keep the unit functioning continually. We next meet with the very grateful students whom SHARE’s transportation funding has allowed them to attend the EFA ag school (Escola Família Agrícola de Independência). 12 students are planning to attend EFA in 2016 and need SHARE support. 7 of these are in 3rd (final) year of which 4 are from Assentamentos & 3 from rural communities. They are eligible after completing 9 years at public school. The 3 year EFA program involves 12 days at school and 18 days at home (while others attend on rotation). They sometimes stay at the school longer to work on projects or care for EFA livestock & crops. The term runs from Feb 1 to December with holidays in July. After graduation, many return to home communities, go on to university studies and two of the present girls completing their final year want to become veterinarians. Without SHARE support, their families could not afford to send them to EFA…………despite fundraising activities like bingo, raffles, etc. The students must each complete 400 hours of volunteer community service before graduation.
Last year, I met with Marcos Giotto who coordinates South American projects for the Syngenta Foundation. I introduced him to the Uruanan Assentamento near Ocara with the objective of investigating the feasibility of organic certification for the cashew produced by the 900 families living here. Marco was not able to meet us in Ceara this year, but sent Fernando Gomes and Luiz Henrichsen, two associates from IBS. IBS (Instituto BioSistemico) was founded 10 years ago by 6 individuals, 5 of whom are organic producers. It now employees 150 techs in South America who oversee milk quality, rural extension, genetic & biotech developments, plant cloning, ecological & environmental certification, and corporate social responsibility policies. At a meeting of leaders from the 19 Agrovilas representing the 900 families of Uruanan Assentamento, the two IBS reps outlined procedures necessary to obtain organic certification. Both properties where the products are grown as well as the processing site must be certified. The land title transfer on this new Assentamento has not yet taken place so certification is not yet possible.............although it appears that the title will transfer during 2016. Certified organic cashews can command up to double the price, particularly in Europe.

The 20 families in the Uruanan Goat project at Pau Pereira that SHARE supports were enthusiastically waiting when we arrived. Ten families of the group each received 2 goats last October and will pass on two offspring to the remaining families. Manoel has conducted courses on management & nutrition as well as the guidelines for association members. The goats are vaccinated, ear tagged and raised collectively in pens abandoned by Fazenda Uruanan. Local tamarindo tree forage + purchased corn are the main diet. Milk and cheese have ready markets locally. Six females already have offspring and all are pregnant by the Saanen buck. This breed is superior for milk production. The families are now each contributing funds to build a milking shed. Incidentally, Manoel who was SHARE’s ag tech during our CIDA project now works as an Ag Tech for the Brazilian NGO CETRA and has been invaluable in assisting families & SHARE projects in this area during his spare time.
Assentamento Agroverde is a 447 ha settlement which qualified for Land Reform due to bankruptcy of the owner. It was established Aug 1, 2013 following 2 years of encampment under black plastic on the main highway from Fortaleza. Presently the 20 families individually have 5 ha + 6 ha each in a common area + 2 ha in Reserve. They received 400 cashew seedlings from Emater (national ag dept), but only 250 have survived the drought. In August 2015, INCRA contracted to build permanent homes for them, but as yet they have not started. So they remain in black plastic tents. The abandoned former owner’s house is the only electricity onsite so they each have refrigerators there and share the energy costs. None have cisterns or water and each day the donkey & water cart supply the families from the only well on the site. We enquired of the backgrounds of these families & where they were prior to coming here: most were farm laborers, some now retired, two are bricklayers, one makes clay pots to sell, another sells trinkets, some have beehives to sell honey, etc. We then discussed how SHARE can help. They would like a goat project (similar to the Pau Pereira project). And they are also very interested in a micro credit fund at some time in the future. Maria, an EFA student supported by SHARE, is doing her school volunteer project here which is to diagnose each family’s property and recommend what to grow & sell............not an easy project when you look at the meagre arid landscape.

A sign on the wall at Ebenezer Rehab House reads: “Até aqui nos ajudou o Senhor” ......”Up to now, the Lord has helped us” true it is ! Due to lack of water at Uruanan, the rehab inhabitants have relocated to Aquiraz, closer to Fortaleza, which is the city from which most of them have come. There are now 53 recovering male addicts here of varying ages. The house was started in 2011 by Romulo, aged 50, who was himself a crack addict until age 30. The down payment on this property came from 25 supporters each donating 1000 Reais. Instalments of the balance finished in 2015. The property is well laid out with poultry, goats, cattle, vegetables and fruit trees which supply their needs as well as some for sale. EFA grad, Gadelha (who resides 40 km away) continues to volunteer here twice weekly providing technical advice. Building materials have been donated from demolished buildings in Fortaleza. The inhabitants have a rigorous timetable starting at 4 AM prayers, followed by duties on each enterprise and bedtime at 10 PM. No tobacco or drugs are allowed on the property and they are free to leave if they do not adhere to the regimen. To date, over 500 attendees have been helped. One of the boys presently wants to attend EFA ag school in 2017. Average stay is 3 months. With the 2800 Reais from SHARE, they were able to construct pens & shade cover & purchased 60 birds. The flock has now reached 150. Eggs are sold at 20 R/30 eggs, as well as consumed for their own use. Chickens reach 1.8 kg at 3 months and are fed macaxeira (manioc) leaves which are 16% protein + some grain. Ebenezer House is in need of a new well as they now make 6 trips daily of 1 km each way in order to transport water to supply the house & stock.

Last year, I was unable to schedule a meeting with CESE (Coordenadoria Ecumênica de Serviço). This year I made a trip to Salvador to discuss partnerships with SHARE in their projects throughout Brazil. Formed in the 1970’s by six Brazilian Church denominations, it is nondenominational and its priorities are populist social movements, associations, unions, grassroots groups, cooperatives, forums and coalitions, NGO’s, etc. with emphasis on training and small project management. Funding has come from Europe but is much reduced at present. There are 3 ½ Project Managers as well as support staff. Many of their projects are with PAA & PNAE groups which is parallel to what SHARE is doing in many areas.

In 2015, they issued a call for proposals and received 600 but were only able to support 320 of these......mostly in the Northeast. During our meeting with Executive Director, Sonia, Accountant Daniel, and Project Manager Olga, they expressed particular interest in Micro Credit and Rotating Funds. They differentiate these: a Micro Credit involves a loan to be repaid, whereas a Rotating Fund provides funds which are repaid through pass-on of an item (i.e. Goat, calf, etc.). This is perhaps totally consistent with SHARE’s mandate and I anticipate further proposals & dialogue with CESE in the future. In conclusion, the 2016 Brazil trip successfully achieve the objective of monitoring ongoing SHARE projects, as well as firming relations with some new partners & proposals. I was particularly pleased to have Mike Intven, PC member along as well.

Bob Thomas - February, 2016


2015 Brazil Monitoring Report

In an effort to increase SHARE partnership relationships, I first met with Eliziana Vieira de Araújo who formerly coordinated SHARE projects in Brazil. She is now working freelance with various Foundations, NGO’s, government and
other groups (primarily involving small farmer groups and assentamentos). To gain her opinion of which of these might
be interested in joint ag projects with SHARE in Brazil, I have requested that she review an extensive list of over 200 Foundations and other groups (including EcoVida & CESE) that provide support within Brazil.  Husband Rogerio Rosa
is manager of ag techs in MS through SEBRAE (a federal government support body) and is also well positioned to provide similar linkages.  Next, I met with Marco Giotto who is South American Consultant to the Syngenta Foundation.

This meeting was a follow-up to my meeting in Basel, Switzerland last September with Robert Berlin who coordinates
this Foundation’s ag projects worldwide. This was my first meeting with Marco who is well-connected to various Brazilian government support agencies and other organizations; .....particularly in the area of organics (he also operates an organic family farm in Parana state).  I feel that this contact is very promising and he is of similar philosophy to SHARE in providing “hand up” support and has many connections of value in coordinating small producers to buyers & markets.  I have more recently had follow-up communication with Marco re organic cashew production from the Uruanan Assentamento (see below).

A very full agenda on Jan 16 began with a 3AM wakeup in order to fly to Recife where I picked up the rental car for the
2 hr inland trip to meet Betty Szilassy. . This area of Brazil is renown for clothing and many of these women have been stuck in home-based sewing which generates about $13.50CDN / day for 500 items which are sold to middlemen & finally marketed at large weekly markets where small store buyers come from all over northeast Brazil.  Here, the proposal Santa Cruz do Capibaribe Farmers’ Market Infrastucture is supported by Lenildo (local ag tech with Sec. Agri), Sr Teresa (Rural Pastorate), and Silvio (IPA: Pernambuco Ag Extension). The Farm Womens Small Livestock Association
consists of 60 small farmers of which 28 families are participating as an organic marketing group and began Nov 15, 2014 with a farmers’ organic market every Saturday morning in the town of Santa Cruz do Capibaribe. Training from SENAR in husbandry, hygiene, retail marketing, accounting, etc. motivated them to begin this organic market.  Success has exceeded expectations with weekly sales reaching $10,000 reais (360 R/family = $160Cdn) of eggs, goat milk & cheese, poultry, preserves, baking, etc The group needs containers, scales, tables, etc. ($C 4,400) with the group contributing tents / kiosks ($C 2,800).  Pass-On will be assistance to new families entering the market. 

But this accounted for only part of Friday.  I accompanied Betty to the inauguration of natural rock water reservoirs led by the local priest, attended by an estimated 500 locals and followed by lunch.  Then there was inspection of various viaduct bridges being constructed over dry riverbeds because, when the rains finally arrive, these roads are impassable; visits to locally built honey houses, a new assentamento where wells are being built, other meetings & supper with families, and finally overnight at the farm home of one of the above group farmer members who market goat cheese & milk.  I then learned that the family awakes at 2AM to milk the goats & we all had to depart at 4:30 AM for market. 

Saturday also included elections of the Sindicato executive and these results were not announced until about 9 PM followed by celebrations (which I skipped).  Who said SHARE volunteers should be prepared for 20 hour days? Oh well, today is Sunday and all we have scheduled is to help repair the roof of another honey house, more visits, and a 3 hr drive to the Organic Meeting (EPO) in Ribeiro, Pernambuco.

This 15th annual EPO event continues to gather support with over 100 attendees; many for the first time. Location was the FETAPE dormitory / meeting hall in the town of Ribeiro.  In addition to SHARE, the organizing group in Pernambuco obtained support from 11 NGO’s, Foundations, Banks & Government organizations  Although, in typical Brazilian style, most of the funds had not yet arrived, so Betty is doing some personal bridge financing.   Seminar topics covered in Monday’s program included PRORURAL (state organization funded by World Bank), Organic certification, Agroecology, Environmental issues, Agrofloresta, PRONAF federal loans program and more.  A “fair” of products from the communities followed. 

On Tuesday, the 5 concurrent site visits included Fruit Pulp production (used for juice), Honey, Environmental sites and Agrofloresta (which I attended).  This area of Pernambuco is predominantly sugarcane monoculture (hand harvested due
to the hilly terrain). Prior to colonization, it had been covered by Mata Atlantica forest.  Engenho Aguas Claras is part
of an assentamento of 30 families and Pedro Santos & son Erivan are one of the families who have re-forested their 5 has  
into Agrofloresta including bananas, acai, coconuts, graviola, passion fruit, caju, caja, oranges, ascerola, yams and more. Following centuries of sugarcane, this eroded clay began transition in 2003 to a virtual forest of symbiotic fruit production.  The natural springs have been harnessed for irrigation as well as a swimming area for agri-tourism which attracts up to
500 visitors annually. It is a miracle of environmental reversal in a short 12 years, as well as providing a significant income for this family of nine. 

Visits in Ceara state were next on the agenda. We flew to Fortaleza and then drove inland to stay at the Pousada operated
by Raimundao, but to our surprise upon arrival, we were billeted in the former owner’s house of Fazenda Uruanan (Google it). Owner Jamie Tomas (no relation) is now 91 and his wife is in ill health. They had no children so this 10,000 ha cashew plantation is being purchased by the government for $30 million Reais as part of land reform.  900 families will eventually
be settled here in 19 agro-villas.  There are 500 worker houses on the property and more to be built.  It was once a model cashew fazenda with pictures in the main house of visits by many previous government officials, and the streets within the compound carry their political names dating back to the military regime of the 1960’s.  We later learned that this is only 1 of
5 properties that he owns totaling 100,000 ha. Undoubtedly, political connections paid off for him in the past.

Since March 2014, this land reform occupation has been coordinated by Raimundao.  This massive organizational structuring with landless people is probably the largest assentamento in Brazil.  Each family will receive approximately 11 ha of cashews + some land adjacent to their homes (called a “quintal”) to grow veggies, fruit, goats, a home garden, etc. The family plots valued at 30,000 – 48,000 reais (depending on what already exists there) must be repaid over 17 years following a 3 yr
grace period.  Although not part of the government purchase, there is also a modern cashew processing facility onsite which stopped processing in 2010 when cashews were sent to CIONE factory (also owned by Jamie Tomas) in Fortaleza. There is
a strong export demand for cashews, but the trees on this plantation are in decline, are suffering from the 4 year drought and should be replaced by semi-dwarf trees.  Cashews receive no chemicals although the production is not certified organic.  I later contacted Marco Giotto about this operation as the linkage could be beneficial.  Organic cashews demand up to 100% more in price than conventional.

Under a state BIOMA program, 11 ag techs will be working with the families to assist the development and submit proposals. We met with the 10 families approved by SHARE for a goat project here involving 20 female & 2 male goats and discussed implementation. The preferred breed will be Anglo Nubian noted for superior milk production. Technical support will be from Manoel and the EFA students.  First female offspring is to be passed on to a family selected by the group.  Surplus milk & cheese will be sold to the PNAE school lunch program.  It is interesting to note that goat cheese sells for 35 R/kg and 7 lt
of goat milk will produce 1 kg of cheese compare to 8 lt required of cow’s milk for 1 kg of cheese.  The goats will be kept collectively with families taking turns to care for them in a fenced area already present on Uruanan, and profits will be shared equally by the 10 families.

Under a state BIOMA program, 11 ag techs will be working with the families to assist the development and submit proposals. We met with the 10 families approved by SHARE for a goat project here involving 20 female & 2 male goats and discussed implementation. The preferred breed will be Anglo Nubian noted for superior milk production. Technical support will be from Manoel and the EFA students.  First female offspring is to be passed on to a family selected by the group.  Surplus milk
& cheese will be sold to the PNAE school lunch program.  It is interesting to note that goat cheese sells for 35 R/kg and 7 lt
of goat milk will produce 1 kg of cheese compare to 8 lt required of cow’s milk for 1 kg of cheese.  The goats will be kept collectively with families taking turns to care for them in a fenced area already present on Uruanan, and profits will be shared equally by the 10 families.

Nearby we visited Pau Pereira which is small but mighty.  The 11 adult offspring of Angelica and Francisco and their families are the main inhabitants of the 86 ha assentamento which started in 1996. Angelica was blinded at age 22 due to
a wrong eye medication applied by a doctor, but functions extremely well and the family took out a micro credit loan for goats which has since been repaid.  Ceara micro credit loans are for 1000 Reais for 12 months with 4 repayments of 265 R during the last 4 months.  There is strong demand for these loans administered by the local IDF committee.  A report on the 37 families who have borrowed and a proposal for additional SHARE support will be forthcoming.

Next a meeting with AGROPOLIS President Leonildo Peixoto Faria & others in Fortaleza with me, Betty, Manoel, Luzinha (CPT) Marillio (Varzea Alegre) completed the Ceara visits.  This organization funded by the World Bank is aimed at rural development and managed by an elected BOD.  The SHARE DVD was shown and positive collaboration with SHARE is highly likely for the 2016 Organic meeting, student support for EFA school, micro credit, etc.

Finally, in Sao Paulo, I met with Ana Lucia, coordinator of the Yamana Foundation which has projects in Brazil, Chile, Argentina & Central America at locations of their mines. This is a follow-up to talking with them last April at the Yamana annual meeting in Toronto.  At present, the only overlapping location with SHARE projects is in Santaluz, Bahia, where the Foundation has supported STRAF projects in the past.  After a mine is successfully producing, Yamana’s protocol is to call for proposals from organized groups within that area.  The initial support is for 50% (U$ 25,000) of a maximum of a U$ 50,000 proposal. If that goes well, Yamana will support 30% (max of U$15,000) of a 2nd proposal, and 20% (U$ 10,000) of a 3rd proposal. Proposals are selected by a committee of 1 local rep & 2 Yamana reps and projects are monitored closely.

In conclusion, the SHARE projects in Brazil are “on track” and benefits to recipient families are much appreciated. The four year drought continues to hamper progress but their innovative methods of combating this problem are remarkable.  Proposals will be forthcoming for ongoing SHARE support.

Bob Thomas - Feb 1, 2015


Agroflorest: What’s that?

Agrofloresta..........what does that mean to you?  Probably not much.  With our Canadian winter, there is not much growing in our forests. But in tropical countries like Brazil, Agrofloresta is becoming an increasingly popular commitment for many small farmers. 

The eastern coast of Brazil was once covered with dense Mata Atlantica forest.......a wide variety of trees and plants growing symbiotically together producing a plethora of fruits, nuts and other food crops. But along came sugarcane and most of the area was cleared by the sweat of a slave trade supported by land barons. 

Centuries of monoculture on hilly areas has resulted in erosion and loss of most organic matter.  Don’t confuse this with the Cerrado.... that interior 250 million hectare area being cleared of scrub brush, adjusted for pH and developed into soybean and cotton fields. No, agrofloresta was never an option there.

Not too farm from the town of Ribeirão in Pernambuco state in northeast Brazil lives Pedro and son Erivan Santos.  This was a hilly part of a large sugarcane plantation that qualified for land reform and was settled by 30 families in 1993.  In 2003, they started developing Agrofloresta on his 5 hectare plot named Engenho Aguas Claras.  

Spring water was channelled into drip irrigation for rowcrops and also to 4 ponds producing tilapia of  which  he sells 300 kg month at $C2.50 /kg.  Banana and coconut trees were planted in the natural forest and other exotic fruits like açaí, cajá and jambo have been lucrative sales items at the weekly organic market in town.  

Brazilians have a growing curiosity about Agrofloresta, so Pedro established a cabin for overnight guests and added
a swimming pool fed by natural springs, a sports area, and do agro-tours for up to 500 guests annually.  PRONAF, the
federal loan program for small farmers has now added an ECO plan for those with Agrofloresta and Agroecology and
is providing loans up to 20 year terms.

So the next time you drink a glass of noni juice, or boost your Vitamin C level with a taste of Ascerola, think about the small farmers in northeast Brazil who have learned to live with nature and earn a decent living at the same time.

Bob Thomas - February 2015

"They called me crazy"

40 year old Abel did not get past grade 4. But today his 10 hectare family farm in the very dry interior of Bahia state is generating about than R$ 2,000 / month.........more than 3 times the Minimum Wage of Brazil. And small farmers are curious to see how he does it. “When my neighbors’ cisterns ran dry” he states “I had surplus water to give to them”. He has built capacity to store 2 million litres which is sufficient reserve to last 6 years of drought.

His secret involves many unique methods. Berms of soil slow runoff when the scarce but heavy rains do occur. This forces water down into the parched soil to raise the water table. And underground dams were a novel innovation that I had not seen before. After digging down 3 meters, a black plastic tarp about 50 meters long, blocks the underground seepage of water through the porous soil..............just the way an above ground dam stops water flow. Fruit trees (mango, bananas, oranges and noni) are planted upstream from the dam so roots can access the higher water table provided by underground dam. From a dug well he can monitor the level of the underground water table.

Forty-three goats are raised with a ration grown on the farm. Leguminous trees like Gliricidia provide leaves for forage with 20% protein. Sunflowers are grown for another protein source so that no purchased feeds are needed. Some goats are sold, while 1 kid is slaughtered each month for family needs and 2 goats produce sufficient milk for the family’s daily needs. The pond is covered with Iko, an aquatic plant which is also harvested for goat feed.

Native trees are multiplied in a shaded nursery. Excess seedlings are being sold but they are primarily used to reforest the desert-like landscape. Corn and leguminous plants are grown symbiotically. Palma is being planted at experimental row widths and populations. This cactus-like forage sustains animals during prolonged drought.

Abel has developed a unique hand pump for irrigating plants up to 600 metres away. The hand operated system is capable of transferring 1,300 litres / hour. And he now makes these pumps for sale at a cost of $C 32 each. A series of micro-sprinklers along the plastic irrigation line are innovatively made with a hollow Bic pen and a nail and work amazingly well. He also makes these to sell at $C 2.40 each and manufactured 3,000 of these simple sprinklers last year.

Yes.............they called him crazy................but not anymore.

Bob Thomas
January 2014

The Aymara families on Lake Titicaca.

The meeting with the Aymara families at Santiago de Okola proved no less interesting than I had anticipated. Although agreement had already been reached on how the U$12,000 from SHARE and the U$7,600 from the Municipality of Puerto Mayor Carabuco would be allocated for the irrigation project, this public meeting was a “formal uniting” between the Mayor and SHARE.........complete with legal document containing various stamps and signatures. I am discovering that everything in Bolivia must be formalized this way. And while the beaurocracy slows the process, it seems to be necessary so that all parties involved are “on the same page”. This same mindset is perhaps the reason why their reporting on projects is the most comprehensive of any which I normally receive from other partners in South American countries

In the situation here at Santiago de Okola, there are 50 families in one area (where SHARE funded a well), with two other groups of 18 & 12 families in nearby locations. The municipality governs all 3 areas so its contribution to completing this irrigation project must be fair to all 80 families. The 2 smaller communities have small dams which trap mountain streams & springs. Their dilapidated ditch systems for irrigating their crops is in need of improvement. A previous meeting among the three groups had decided that U$10,000 of SHARE funds should be used for tanks, plastic lines, etc. for the 50 families where the well is located, and U$4800 would be needed for tank enlarging and installing plastic lines at the other two communities. However, they were concerned that SHARE would not endorse this plan, as we had not previously been involved with the two smaller communities. They were relieved when I stated that we would be much happier to improve irrigation for 80 families with our contribution and that we encouraged cooperation among the groups rather than resentment that one group and not all were benefitting. Hence my presence along with the Mayor solidified this agreement with speeches, music, adornment of key personnel with streamers & confetti, etc.

It was also at this location that I decided to overnight at one of their homes. Tomas (no relation), my host, aged 75, was raised in this community and had 6 children now married & living in cities. His wife had died a few years ago. He was chairman of the “agri-tourism” association of 10 families in the community who have each opened one bedroom in their home to guests. On checking the guest book, I saw signatures & benevolent comments from Germany, France, Britain, USA and guests from many other countries. It was a rustic experience with outdoor facilities, but warm hospitality on the shoreline of Lake Titicaca. The altitude here is about 3800 metres and evenings can be chilly. So I piled on five of the heavy alpaca woven blankets that night. Cost for three meals and overnight accommodation runs about $15.

There are about 2 million Aymaras in Bolivia and 500,000 in Peru as well as about 20,000 in Chile. Native to the high antiplano region, in 1570 they were decreed by the Spanish conquistadors to work in the silver mines around Potosi where millions perished under harsh conditions. Although Christianity was introduced, native beliefs in the power of spirits in the mountains, sky, or natural forces (like lightning) remain strong. The god Tunupa is the creator of the universe. But the most sacred deity is Pachamama who has the power to make soil fertile & ensure a good crop. Most communities are agricultural, producing mostly potatoes, corn, quinoa, and various types of tubers and beans. They herd llamas, alpaca, cows, pigs and sheep. They are a hard working people, very artistic and highly skilled at weaving using llama, alpaca vicuña and rabbit fibers tinted with natural dyes; colorful and very intricate basket weaving, pottery, sculpturing and painting. They create the haunting, Andean music with unusual instruments and their dances are all historically based. The Aymara are a proud culture and, to this day, have retained many of their traditions, especially their natural medicines, certain cultural rites, and their native dress. With the 1952 Land Reform in Bolivia, the Aymara gained access to national political institutions at the same time that reforms gave them a greater measure of control over their lives. Whole communities gained access to consumer goods, governmental services, and educational opportunities unavailable a generation earlier. The Aymaras have become a powerful social group, demanding and working hard to ensure changes and improvements to their living conditions, and opportunities for education and health care. President Juan Evo Morales is the first indigenous Aymara to be elected in December 2005 and re-elected for a second term in 2009.

Bob Thomas
February 2012

Ushering in the Lenten season...Bolivian style

My SHARE monitoring mission has led me from Cochabamba to LaPaz during this season of Lent. And while the celebrations in Bolivia may lack the slick, plastic glitz of their counterparts in Brazil, there is no absence of earthy appeal and religious symbolism. There are colourful streamers and balloons (many now deflated) attached to trucks, taxi mirrors, store signs & virtually everywhere............even on me; perhaps reminding us that we all need a breath of fresh air from time to time. Then there’s the pair of dogs yielding to hormonal urges in the centre of the street ahead of the parade...........unquestionably a symbol of Procreativity. There are overweight ladies wearing undersized bikinis marching down main street to remind us of the beauty of the human body. A favourite prank of young children is to bombard passersby with water bombs; reminiscent of Baptism? And don’t forget the out of tune bands marching out of synch and playing religious favourites like “New York, New York, It’s a helluva town!” Yes, I wish I could also convey to you the smells of sidewalk vendors, and sounds of this annual event; but perhaps your imagination will kick in. Actually, to see Christian symbols everywhere is a refreshing alternative from North American “political correctness”. Whoops; I mentioned the “C” word!

When not dodging water bombs or backed up in traffic, I am usually getting “high”. I was at 4000 metre altitude a couple of days ago where these pix were taken among the clouds. This group of 85 Quechua families is growing seed potatoes and SHARE advanced U$3200 for a grading table, scale & storage building. Last year, they planted 1.5 hectares & retained most for seed. In October 2012, they planted 4 hectares and, when harvested in May, they will be able to realize a price for seed potatoes of $300 Bol ($C43) per 50 kg sack.......double the price of commercial potatoes.

At a similar dizzying height in the Andes, 25 families growing quinoa have benefitted from 7 metal storage tanks, improvements to the storage building, scales and a cleaner / sorter for their quinoa. This time, the families contributed 20% of the cost, SHARE gave 40% and GIZ (a foreign aid arm of the German government) added the remaining 40%. Quinoa price is volatile so these grading & storage facilities will enable them to secure improved grade for their harvest & to await better prices. This is the first time I have run across GIZ, but they are also improving electricity supply in rural areas, as well as other development projects in Bolivia.

Last year, I linked CESO (Canadian Executive Services Overseas) to PROINPA, our Bolivian partner. Today I learned that a fungal & bacterial scientist from Canada has been here helping to develop improved disease control among crops. And CESO has plans to send more specialists here, as well as linking all Canadian NGO’s in an informal network of co-operation of efforts in Bolivia which is a preferred country for CIDA support.

Bob Thomas
SHARE Project Manager for South America
February 2012

Vanobio and the Giant Chicken

“Nao existe,” I kept telling him. But he refused to accept this. He had heard that there were chickens one metre high in Pernambuco and he wanted to see them. It was the evening of the second last day of the12th Organic Growers’ Meeting in the interior of Brazil. This annual event had attracted a record number of 140 small farmers and assentados (land reform inhabitants) for 3 days of sharing agri-production techniques, marketing, policy, and more, followed by on-site visits to rural communities on the second day. It was during one of these farm visits that Vanobio had been told by the local farmer that the state of Pernambuco had a producer raising “gallinas giganticas” and Vanobio wanted me to drive there with him to see them. “Think about it,” he insisted. “I could maybe take one back to my state of Bahia to cross with local birds. SHARE would be helping us to improve and to increase production,” he added enthusiastically. But my opinion was somewhat different. How would I explain the extra mileage charges to SHARE that I had gone on an expedition in search of the elusive giant chicken?

Vanobio is one of the ag technicians supported by SHARE at the Santaluz Sindicato in the semi-arid interior of Bahia state in northeast Brazil. That area has long been reliant on the volatile low priced mono culture of sisal. The 2 ag techs there have made major strides in introducing the small farmers to alternative crops, researching the feed value of indigenous plants, testing goats for parasites, implementing a micro-credit program and supporting youth and women in many aspects. Some of these loans were for small, backyard chicken enterprises and it was perhaps these farmers whom Vanobio envisioned as benefitting from crossing with the giant chickens.

So, he borrowed a local car and, with a small group, set off to find the elusive Giant Chicken A few hours later he returned. “Come and look,” he invited excitedly. He had purchased 3 young pullets and 2 cockerels he found at Fazenda California in Pernambuco, where the Indian Giant had been hybridized from several breeds: Malay, Shamo, Cornish & Carijos. An “easy keeper” it can grow to one metre in height and to a mature weight of 6 kg. A rapid grower, it is capable of attaining 3 kg in 120 days. Mature hens average 230 eggs annually and these rustic birds are noted for surviving on minimum care.

Perhaps Vanobio is onto something. I look forward to seeing what crossbreeding has accomplished during my next visit to this remote area of Bahia state in northeast Brazil.


Bob Thomas
Project Manager South America
January 2012

Bolivia's Biodiversity Contrasts with a Stark Landscape - Bob Thomas

A couple of years ago, the S.H.A.R.E. Agriculture Foundation decided to expand support efforts into Bolivia. In Human Development Index, this country ranks 114 of 177 countries, and average salary is 177th lowest in the world. About 40% of the 9.7 million inhabitants are rural and over ¾ of them are from indigenous Aymara or Quechua origins. For past decades, Bolivia has experienced inflation, political instability and poverty. But in 2003, the election of Evo Morales on the first ballot as Latin America’s first indigenous president rocketed this landlocked country into the world spotlight. Now serving his second term, his leftwing policies are credited with improving income levels, introducing health clinics into remote areas, and implementing a new constitution..... although not without criticism.But politics cannot solve all problems. 41% of the area is considered in a desertification process due to climate change and unsustainable land use practices; erosion runs rampant. Normally the rainy season runs from November to May, although this time frame is shortening. But the landscape is a sharp contrast to the rich biodiversity hidden within Bolivia. I visited a remote Quechua community which recently won an award for having over 200 varieties of potatoes. They combined their prize money with a UN grant to build a local processing facility and now are packaging grains and crops to sell to the school lunch programme........job creation and income generation at its finest. With only 10% of the cultivated land irrigated, vast areas of the antiplano remain drought stricken for many months of the year. So it was perhaps to be expected that S.H.A.R.E.’s Bolivian partner, PROINPA ( ), a national organization promoting biodiversity and ag extension, suggested an irrigation project as S.H.A.R.E.’s first Bolivian project to assist the 50 Aymara families in the remote community of Santiago de Okola on the shore of Lake Titicaca. The 65 metre well is now completed and generates 15 litres/minute of potable water from 5 underground veins. Phase II will be to determine the best method of irrigating their crops of quinua, kenoa, potatoes, grains, and sheep / cattle pastures. At the time of my visit on August 3, 2011, their grateful exuberance was a sharp contrast to the dry parched fields. The S.H.A.R.E. investment of U$5,350 combined with U$2,500 from the local municipality will facilitate year round cropping. And with the cooperation of Pachamama (Mother Earth), it will perhaps make a small dent in the drought and slightly reduce the vast areas relegated to subsistence for many months of the year.

The Bridge to Sustainability - Bob Thomas

Gerivaldi is quitting his day job. Manual labour in sisal harvest pays about $R18 (approx $C 12) per day. His new chicken enterprise generates $R 900 ($C 600) per month. In March 2010 he borrowed $R 1000 from the Santaluz Micro Credit fund and built a shed, bought 50 chickens + feed and converted 300 square meters of his back yard into a quintal or “profit centre”. He is now on his third batch of chickens and can’t keep up to demand. He was sold out at Christmas and has also added a flock of 70 egg layers and sells 4 dozen eggs daily. With advice from the 2 STRAF Ag techs he makes use of local plants for feed and has reduced his feed costs from $R1.10 to $R0.30 per kg. “Actually” he says “the income from the eggs pays the total feed bill so the meat bird sales are really all profit”.

Gerifaldi is one of 25 men and 29 women who have received a “hand up” thanks to SHARE’s support of the Microcredit fund which now totals $R 27,000. Originally loans were for $R 500 but have now increased to $R 1000 which is repayable at the rate of $R 540 each year for the next two years. The defaults are nil and usually the recipients can then go on to expand their micro-enterprises without the need of further credit. The repayment includes 3% annual interest and 2% for technical assistance. There is a contract with the borrower and a committee must approve all loans. Anyone with a “bad reputation” is rejected, and all loans are supervised by the agriculture technicians.

There is a waiting list of qualified applications for 7 chicken, 5 sheep, 3 cow, 3 milk goat, and 1 garden project totaling $R 18,000 requirement in new loans. Many women’s groups which are producing processed foods for the school lunch program could also utilize an additional $R10,000 in loans but the fund is fully loaned out at present. Yes, the STRAF micro-credit fund is functioning well and is a vital bridge to sustainability for many campesinos who would otherwise be condemned to a life of sporadic day labour and continuing poverty.

Yamana and a golden success story Bob Thomas

Yamana Gold is a Canadian company with mines in Central and South America. By chance, a few years ago, I met some Yamana personnel at Santaluz, Bahia, where they are developing a mine 42 km from Santaluz. They are hiring 700 during the construction phase and then 300 to run the mine................a huge employment boost to the local economy. Previous connections to access their foundation were not fruitful but this time things were different.

Leanna lives in the tiny, remote community of Ferreuris. She is one of 30 students who travel daily by bus to study Agriculture at nights in the Santaluz School. When she learned of the Yamana Foundation’s support for community projects, she and some others applied and received $R10,000 for food processing equipment to supply baked goods to sell to a federal food welfare program for poor families. In fact, based on a point system for income generation, health, etc. her group was the best of 6 groups who applied for Yamana’s total annual grant of $R60,000.

Kind of makes you feel good about “corporate Canada” doesn’t it? Yamana also has an Integration Program that includes medical exams, environment education and completion of legal documents (a huge problem to Brazilians who lack birth certificates and other documents so cannot qualify for many government programs). This situation is improving but still 1/6 adults in Bahia are illiterate.

But back to Leanna. She & her brother also took out a Micro Credit loan for $R1000 from the Sindicato to start a chicken project. They are on their second group of 50 chickens which they purchased for $R2 and sell in 90 days for $R20 each through the Co-Op store started by Pele. Thanks to technical support from the Sindicato ag techs, they have reduced their feed cost by 50% from $1.20 /kg for purchased feed by supplementing with sisal residue and other local plants. On the first year anniversary of their loan, they will repay $R580 and the same amount on the second year if the loan. It’s a success story with a touch of gold.

Varzea Alegre Means "Joyful Floodplain" - Bob Thomas

It’s well named. This community 300 km inland from Fortaleza, Ceara, is the site of a 2010 project to purchase 34 goats for 8 families. Under the guidance of super enthusiastic Marcilio Feitosa, they were actually able to build fences & shelter and purchase 40 dual purpose goats with SHARE’s $3700 Cdn and now have 13 kids. Each family has agreed to pass on 5 female goats to others in need and 9 families are already on the waiting list for ‘pass-ons’ but must first go through a 40 hour training program in husbandry. Jose and his wife are one of these original recipient families. Although now retired, he worked for many years manually in the local brick factory and raised 8 children.

Four years ago, Marcilio also initiated a monthly vegetable & fruit market for 13 families. Sales are around $4500 Cdn weekly which equates to over 4 times the minimum salary in Brazil..........good money. On the first Sunday in July, the market expands into a “festa” which attracted 6,000 people in 2010. And not satisfied to sit back, Marcilio has initiated a unique ‘adoption’ program: “I invite city families to a dinner to meet some poorer rural families,” he said. Dinner features a popular local dish called Sarapatel made from cattle internal organs and who knows what else? “Then after a few beers, they agree to purchase 50 chickens and 20 kg of feed for each of the poor families. It works! Maybe SHARE should adopt this technique,” he chides with a chuckle.

So SHARE……….get ready……….maybe we need a dinner of Sarapatel and beer to generate funds.

Caatinga Country, Brazil Bob Thomas

As we drove down the rutted dirt road trying to steer around innumerable potholes, I queried about several shrubs that still retained green leaves in this semi-arid region of northeast Brazil known as the Sertao. “Those are INCO shrubs. They are leguminous and the leaves are 8% protein. The burros & goats love them,” replied Evandro, the ag tech who was accompanying me on this SHARE monitoring trip. “Do you have INCO in Canada?” he joked. I’m sure he thought I was suffering from too much sun when I replied that indeed we did have INCO in Canada....... but it was a mining company.

We were travelling through Bahia state’s Caatinga country........a Tupi name meaning “white vegetation” which covers 10% of Brazil’s land area in the northeast. Typically during droughts scrub brush lose their leaves and appear dead, but can green up within a day or two following sporadic rains. There are few sources of potable water here, but this area remains home to about 15 million tough survivors who store scarce rainfall from the tile roofs of their humble homes in cement cisterns. With skin like leather and an even tougher spirit, they have learned to live with the many droughts that plague this region at the whim of El Nino in the Pacific ocean.

Evandro continued, “In 2010 we received 660 mm during the ‘rainy season’ of January, but then nothing more until November”. Last year must have been a good year, because the first time I visited this region they had not received significant rainfall in over two years. Once only beans and corn were cultivated here, and prolonged droughts resulting in harvest failures sent many to the cities in a futile attempt to find work that often augmented the favelas (slums) and increased the drug and street kid problems. But SHARE-supported ag techs like Evandro are changing that scenario. He and the new ag tech, Vanobio, are analyzing native vegetation for feed values and also testing goats & sheep for internal parasite problems. The previously wasted outer covering of the sisal leaf is 8% protein and can be ensiled in plastic bags for goat & sheep feed during drought periods. The inner fibers are dried to make twine. Even some cacti can contribute up to 15% protein in an animal diet. There are now more state financed dams or “acudes” to trap runoff which can be used for irrigation. Perhaps the Sertao is not your image of Brazil................but it is a reality with its own culture, dances, music and a strong will to survive.

Agro-ecology at WorkBob Thomas

Celson’s head nodded as he tried to nap during the 10 km bus ride in to Assentamento Contestado. He had been waiting for my group of 18 Canadian & USA farmers to arrive....... and we were late. Our large bus could not navigate the many ruts and washouts on the dirt road caused by recent heavy rains in Parana state, Brazil, so we all transferred to this dilapidated school bus with no muffler and a door that wouldn’t close. For my group, it was a “first exposure” to this Land Reform settlement on 3,270 hectares of bankrupt property that became home to 108 families in 1999.

And it was also their first exposure to Celson’s mandala...a circular arrangement of 2000 square metres of garden around a central pond which was home to Tilapia fish and also the source of irrigation for more than 200 varieties of vegetables, fruits and trees. 70% of the year round production is sold to generate a monthly income of 1,000 Reais (approximately $500 Cdn) for his family of 4 in addition to supplying all the staples of the family’s diet on their 15 hectare plot. Organically grown, many of the names of plants were foreign to us, but they all were either destined for food, or for medicinal purposes.

Agro-ecology is a way of life for these people. In 2005, the Latin America School of Agro ecology was started here and now has 200 students from Brazil, Paraguay and Venezuela enrolled in a three year program involving alternating 90 day semesters of teaching, followed by a similar time at home to apply and pass-on the information they have learned. With state, federal and foundation support, teachers from the Parana University provide assistance and the program is free to those campesino youth who are fortunate enough to be nominated by their community to attend the course. The school was born out of the World Social Forum held in Brazil in 2003. There are approximately 1 million families in similar land reform settlements throughout Brazil, and many are encamped under black plastic tents awaiting a slow, bureaucratic government to implement the program elsewhere. It is a fascinating “other side” to Brazilian agriculture, which together with other small farmers, supplies about 3/4ths of the Manioc and Black beans in the country, nearly half of the corn and approximately 1/3rd of the coffee and rice from about ¼ of the arable land.

Seeds of Progress - Bob Thomas

Jose Leandro Brum Vargas (age 31) is one of 11 children. His father was a small farmer in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. There was not a lot of future for Jose to remain on the farm. So he worked in labour jobs in Uruguay and then returned to join the Land Reform movement in Brazil.

Brazil celebrated 500 years of independence in year 2000, but the contrasts between rich and poor still remain evident. In this vast country of 190 million inhabitants, 16% of the farmers control 76% of the farming area. This leaves 4.4 million small farmers with about ¼ of the productive land area. But their cumulative contribution can be significant: Manioc and Black beans are staples in the Brazilian diet and small farmers produce 87% and 70% of these respectively. Over half of the Milk, Poultry and Hogs come from small farms too. Some are small independent farmers and others like Jose are part of the estimated one million families on Assentamentos, or Land Reform Settlements. In accordance with Section 186 of the Brazilian constitution, unused land can be appropriated by the Government. It’s a 3 step process. First, INCRA (the National Institute of Agrarian Reform) examines the property to see if it qualifies as underutilized, owing in tax arrears, or other factors. Second, the Judiciary decides on the property’s fate, and finally the landowner is reimbursed and the property passes to campesino ownership. But it is not quite that simple. The process can sometimes generate conflict and often takes years to complete. Once established, progress is often quite rapid. If we look at the numbers, we can confirm that agrarian reform does work. Today, there are about 400 agricultural associations in the areas of production, marketing and services, 49 Agricultural and Cattle-raising Cooperatives (CPA) with 2,299 families participating, 32 Service Cooperatives with 11,174 direct partners, two Regional Marketing Cooperatives and 3 Credit Cooperatives with 6,521 members. There are 96 small and medium-sized cooperatives that process fruit, vegetables, dairy products, grains, coffee, meat, and sweets. All these enterprises generate employment, income, and revenue that benefit about 700 small towns in Brazil’s interior.

Jose and his wife have been on this land reform settlement in southern Brazil for over 5 years, along with over 1800 families on various settlements in the area. On their 15 hectares, they produce staples, but also grow onion, pumpkin and carrot seeds for of the successful marketing cooperatives mentioned above. It has growers in other states as well and is a major source of organic seeds supporting the growing organic vegetable market in Brazil. A recent book on the land reform movement in Brazil is available through Amazon and Chapters Indigo and is entitled “To Inherit the Earth: Brazil’s Landless People and the Struggle to Transform A Nation” (Authors: Angus Wright, Wendy Wolford)

The Chicks Are Hatching - Bob Thomas

A few years ago on the land reform settlement of Terra Nova in the remote droughty area of Ceara state, northeast Brazil, a group of youth asked SHARE for assistance to start a poultry project. It was a new idea. In this region the traditional crops of manioc and beans have been the staple for generations. So there was some skepticism towards the idea among elders. But the proposal made sense. A screened shade house, some initial feed supplies, purchased chicks and lots of available labour...why not? I took the proposal to SHARE’s Project Committee for analysis and then to the SHARE Board for approval and, in September 2009, funds of $3,000 Cdn were sent down to the group to get started, with the technical assistance provided by Ag Techs in that area.

Now it is a micro enterprise on the doorstep of expansion. The original 12 young people have diminished to a dedicated six, as some have moved away in search of employment, and others were not prepared to share the workload. Batches of 100 chicks achieve market weight in 2 months at a selling price of $12 Reais each and are supplying a local restaurant at the rate of 15 per week. The poultry house is divided into three rooms so batches can be staggered. They are now on their 5th batch and have changed to a faster growing bird. They have also entered a contract to supply the local school lunch program with 130 kg of poultry per month. When asked what the group was doing with their profits, leader Antonio Hilton (age 23) replied “We’re banking the profits and have plans to expand the enterprise. We’ve planted corn and manioc and want to reduce purchased feed costs and increase production”. Another group on a nearby land reform settlement tells a similar story with sheep. Within their first year, they have expanded their herd to 61 head from the initial 32 purchased. Pasture, some corn and sorghum silage are the main feedstock with only dewormer, vaccinations and mineral as their only purchases. Sales of 10 head resulted in $600 Reais in the pockets of the four youth involved...the first money they had ever earned. But their smiles and pride are worth much more.

While Brazil portrays a reputation to the world of vast economic progress, the contrasts are stark. The dry areas of the northeast will never be developed to the extent of the Cerrado areas as this area lacks water and good soil...but not “attitude”. There is a rugged survival instinct that only needs a “hand up” to get to a level of sustainability, a few youth have avoided the pitfalls of drug addiction in urban hand at a time.

It’s a One Way Path to Disaster - Bob Thomas

The sandy soils of the southern coast of Santa Catarina state in Brazil are ideal for growing Tobacco. But it is a one way road leading to ruin. In this region are many small farmers of limited financial strength and capabilities, and the system works something like this. The multinational tobacco companies lend you the money to erect greenhouses, curing barns, provide the chemicals and technology and guarantee to buy back the harvest...on their terms & their price. The promise of big profits with no money down sounds attractive. But crop failures and weather hazards can often result in an insurmountable accumulated debt from small farmers to the paternalistic monopolies. So when SHARE Agriculture Foundation was approached to help find a solution, we met to discuss alternatives with the group.

The meeting of over 40 farmers a couple of years ago was a stark contrast to the meeting this time. Where there had been mistrust, suspicion and lack of direction, there was now gratitude and optimism. They had requested a Veterinarian and technical help to enable them to develop livestock enterprises to eventually replace tobacco on their small farms. On a one year trial, a recent Brazilian Vet grad was hired. The Municipality provided office support and paid 50% of his salary. SHARE paid the rest plus his expenses. Now, a year later, everyone at the meeting tells stories of their achievements and looks to future developments.

Elvis Cardoso Raup, age 30, is married with 3 children and has reduced his tobacco crop from 5 to 2 hectares. Meanwhile his crossbred dairy cow herd has increased from 4 to 16 head producing 120 litres per day. The 3.5 hectares of pasture is divided into 32 fields for daily pasture rotation and he is planting higher protein grasses to replace native species. This year he is experimenting with silage from manioc plants & stored under black plastic. He is improving genetics through A.I. and recently purchased a bulk tank. His debt to the tobacco companies was $20,000 Reais 6 years ago and now he owes $ 2,000 Reais which can hopefully be fully repaid this year, and he will be free of the monopoly control. Elvis’ future looks promising.

Rafael de Souza, a young Ag grad from a small family farm background in this area whom I have known for several years, was responsible for SHARE coming here in the first place. His constant emails of invitation produced results. Over pizza and cerveja, he tells me he is now organizing 3 communities of farmers and wants to get them involved with value-added processing of milk and fruit crops. “How is it going?” I enquired. “It is a lot of emails, phone calls and many miles of travel on my motorbike,” he enthusiastically responds. When a World Bank program finished, he lost his job as their ag technician. He and his wife then opened a self-serve ice cream store in the small town of Sao Joao, but his heart remains in farming. I think SHARE may be getting more requests from this natural leader in southern Brazil. Maybe the one way path won’t lead to disaster after all.

And We Take it for Granted... - Bob Thomas

I expect that it is the last thing you thought about today. And undoubtedly it is the single most important aspect of your daily life. Water! You probably started today with a morning shower….how many litres did that require? Coffee and breakfast...more water! What about washing your clothes, washing the car, or cleaning the house?

We could learn a lot from our northeast Brazilian friends. The first time I visited the sisal growing area near Santa Luz, Bahia, where SHARE now has projects, they had not had rainfall for 2 years. On another occasion, I recall when Marge & I took a quick shower while staying with Betty Szilassy in Tacaimbo, Pernambuco, she asked us to trap the water we used in a large pan and this would be used to flush the toilet, water the garden or recycled for other cleaning needs.

But I believe that things are improving. With government assistance, large “dams” have been built to trap scarce rainfall into ponds. Yes, the evaporation is very rapid in these hot, dry areas, but the rains can be torrential at times and this water was formerly all lost quickly. An amazingly successful project began in Brazil a few years ago called One Million Cisterns whereby NGO’s, Government, and Foundations have pooled resources to build a cistern for each house that will trap roof runoff and provide sufficient water for a household of 5 for one year. About 1/3rd of this goal has been achieved to date, and it is continuing to forge ahead. Phase II of this project is now expanding to trap water in large rock or cement catchments to be used for irrigation of crops and thus enabling diversification from monoculture.

But, perhaps the most important aspect of water self-sufficiency is the political independence which it gives to poor, rural inhabitants.

Traditionally, the wealthy landowner’s fazendas would include a monopoly over the only local lagoa or other water source. He could then use this power to coerce votes, to enforce his decisions, and to control subservient employees to accept unfair working conditions, biased sharecrop agreements, substandard housing and pittance remuneration. The pride and independence of a campesino that now has his own cistern is a joy to experience.

Think about it the next time you head to the water fountain. Do we really appreciate the water Canada has been blessed with?

Everbody Loves Cashews... - Bob Thomas

Everybody loves Cashews...come on, admit it. But ever wonder why they are so expensive? Well, after closer investigation of the vast cashew plantings near Fortaleza in Ceara state, Brazil, I now consider them to be under priced.

It was a very hot, very dry January 26 when we visited the land reform settlement named after Che Guevara near the village of Ocara. Forty five families have called this 1,388 hectares home since INCRA, the Brazilian federal land reform agency officially granted them legal title in 1999. Prior to that they were encamped for a year peacefully protesting the government to follow up on their constitutional right to undeveloped, abandoned, or land parcels in tax arrears. There were 180 hectares of cashews on this plantation………..but little else. With meager assistance, they built modest homes, constructed cisterns to trap scarce rain water from their roofs, planted gardens of mostly manioc and beans, and took day labor jobs whenever possible, which wasn’t very often. Many families added sheep, cattle, chicken, or bees on a very modest scale. But what they lacked in resources they overcompensated with heart and ambition. It is a story I have witnessed many times in northeast Brazil……….and one that recharges my batteries every time I am with these people. The visit this time was to show hardcore horticulturalist, Mark Cullen, exactly what went into every cashew that he unceremoniously popped into his mouth.

Enduring the bureaucratic process of applying for grants through Fundacao Banco Brasil, SEBRAE (training program) and EMBRAPA (ag department), they were able to construct a processing facility for their cashews in 2005 and thereby sell them for $R 14/kg rather than passing them on to middlemen for $R 1/kg ($R 1 = $.51 Cdn). In addition, this setup provides local employment for 27 members of their community.

But back to the processing story. Hand harvest will stretch over 4 months and starts in November. Dry years (like this one) can reduce yields by 50% or more, but a “normal” yield would be 500 kg/ha of cashew nuts. The nut actually grows on the bottom of a pear shaped cashew fruit that can be processed into very pleasing juice. But cashew fruit spoils quickly and only brings $R 1 / 20 kg, so often it is left to rot under the trees. SHARE is supporting various women’s processing groups to encourage more value added and less waste. But cajuinha juice is not well known and competes with innumerable other Brazilian fruit juices.

Following harvest, the nuts are graded by size and then roasted at 65C for 10 hours followed by 3 hours of steaming and a 1 hour cool down. Each nut is hulled by hand, followed by additional scraping to remove any discolored areas. Grading to remove broken pieces is also laborious and includes more sorting by size, shape and color into many grades. Although produced organically, the 10,000 kg of cashews which Che Guevara Assentamento markets monthly is not certified organic………that is the next step. With support from CIDA, SHARE is presently assisting Assentamentos in this area to achieve organic certification and hopefully tap into international markets.

A hand up ... not a hand out - Bob Thomas

On the wall of their simple church is written:
"Nao podemos atraz e faxer um novo comeco Mas podemos recomecar fazer uma nova final"
How true it is. “We are not able to go back to make a new beginning; but we can make a new ending.” I was meeting with the Sal e Luz (Salt & Light) youth group in the small town of Cha Grande in northeast Brazil to discuss their proposal to SHARE for funding of a screened shade house to raise peppers and tomatoes. The congregation has achieved amazing success. Buying property & building a simple church 13 years ago with their own labour, they have now expanded with 4 classrooms for teaching 100 underprivileged youngsters from kindergarten to grade 4 for which they receive grants from the municipality. Three years ago they purchased 8 hectares a distance of 2 km outside the town for $R 73,000 and through the production of vegetables and fruit, they have been able to pay down their mortgage to just $R 13,000 ($C 6500) which should be fully paid by May 2009. Four families live on the property and receive 80% of the production in return for their work. Crops like chu-chu, passion fruit, beans and other vegetables occupy 2 hectares. But of greater interest is the fact that this “sitiu” provides a focus for 20 children from bad home environments. A retreat center is under construction where meetings and fiestas can be held on the site.

The group is appealing to SHARE for assistance to construct a screened shade house enabling a wider range of vegetables to be grown with protection from heavy rains. It is not a decision that I can make on site. SHARE’s procedure has always been that I will gather the facts as volunteer Project Manager for Brazil, visit the site, and then the proposal is taken to the 12 member SHARE Project Committee back in Canada. With many farmers on this committee, there is always much discussion. Sometimes additional information is required, other partners may be sought, but finally the proposal may be denied or approved to forward on to the SHARE Board for final scrutiny. A “pass on” is requested for all projects whereby the recipient group is obligated to multiply the benefits they have received by passing on some tangible or intangible aspects to other needy groups in their area. Finally, funds are sent to the recipient group to commence the project. I will return annually to monitor their progress and look at any new proposals.

I guess you could call it grassroots development...a hand up...not a hand out.

Encontro Organico - Bob Thomas

Perhaps it was a response to a “need” whose time had arrived. Perhaps it was an intense desire to give our campesino friends a “hand up”. Maybe it was an untested long shot to hasten their road to sustainability. Or, possibly it was just a simple gut reaction to do a Samaritan act for these small Brazilian farmers whom I had called friends since first monitoring SHARE projects in Brazil in 1991. But, let’s avoid paralysis of analysis. The spark that started this gathering of small organic farmers from 4 of Brazil’s poorest states is now a warm, roaring fire.

I had long witnessed techniques and methods that were working well in one location of SHARE’s Brazilian projects, but were not always known or replicated in another. When I asked if they thought there could be benefits from “coming together”, their response was a resounding “Sim”. So in 2000 the “Encontro” was born. SHARE funded bus transportation for a couple of leaders from each region to meet in Ceara on the small farm of Antonio Amorin, a natural leader and innovative organic farmer. Some traveled over 30 hours by bumpy bus to reach the remote location where Amorin’s simple house provided headquarters. “Loaves and fishes” appeared from nowhere (perhaps attributable to “connections” of Sister Clarice). A large wrap-around verandah served as discussion center and then converted to dormitory for our group of 12 who fell quickly asleep in swinging hammocks after long days of discussion and demonstrations. If you survived the night amid mosquitoes armed with “chainsaws”, there was a refreshing, gravity flow shower awaiting you under the precariously perched water tank outside.

Times have changed. In nine short years, the attendees have now grown to close to 100. They formed their own committee to plan each year’s theme and agenda. The meeting rotates annually between the northeast states of Ceara, Bahia and Pernambuco. We’re now also funding transportation for representatives from SHARE projects in the southern states of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina. The current 2008 – 2011 SHARE/CIDA project budgets $10,000 C annually, but as costs increased, they have sought outside partnerships and contribution…….food items from one group, mattresses from another, a place to house the group from another, etc. The January 10 – 14 planning led by Betty Szylassy (MCC) and a committee started planning many months ago. The agenda has expanded to include topics like value-added marketing, micro-credit, leadership development and, of course, lots of sharing of production techniques. This year, around the theme of “Food Security & Sovereignty” the 88 participants discuss their challenges from the perspective of family, municipal, state and national levels.

It is perhaps appropriate that this year’s four day event will be based at the Pernambuco Center of the largest Social Movement in the world, near Caruaru. In this region, the 105 members of nearby AMAGravata group sell 20 tonnes of organic fruit and vegetables monthly into 8 organic markets to generate up to $ 9,000 Cdn monthly. In nearby region of Brejo, the Terra Fertil association president, Mauricio Batista da Silva states “the growing organic movement not only promotes quality of life, and preservation of the environment, but also generates a spirit of cooperation”. It can be profitable as well with organic prices often 10% to 40% higher.