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Agri-Traveller: Small Projects Pay Big Dividends in Rural Brazil

Bob Thomas: The Agri-Traveller A hand up……….not a hand out. 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 festas 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. Bob Thomas farms in southern Ontario and since 1991 has been volunteer Project Manager (South America) for the S.H.A.R.E. Agriculture Foundation, which supports projects with small, campesino farm groups in Brazil and Central America. Since 2000, he has also been taking groups of North American and European farmers on South American Ag-Ventures to see firsthand what is happening in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. He can be reached when traveling at robertwilliamthomas@hotmail.com and welcomes your comments and questions about South America’s agriculture and socio-economic conditions. His website can be found at www.rwthomastours.com This commentary is for informational purposes only. The opinions and comments expressed herein represent the opinions of the author--they do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Farms.com. This commentary is not intended to provide individual advice to anyone. Farms.com will not be liable for any errors or omissions in the information, or for any damages or losses in any way related to this commentary Pictures: Gardens at the Sal e Luz property.

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